Let us define what is meant by proper rest: Ideally it means freedom from work or physical activity, freedom from disturbance of mind or spirit, peace of mind. The purpose of proper rest is to restore - to bring back to a former or original condition.

There are presently many theories as to why we require rest or sleep, what happens both mentally and physiologically while we sleep and even how much sleep each individual really needs. Based on the information that we have, a rational approach serves to unravel some of the mystery surrounding sleep and the essentials of proper, adequate rest.

When individuals are sleep-deprived their most common complaints are mental fatigue or confusion and musculoskeletal discomfort. Subsequent rest relieves these conditions. We therefore may extrapolate that sleep is essential to maintain mental clarity and to neutralize structural stress. The physiology behind the restoration of mental capacity is not yet well understood, however it would appear to be associated with renewing neurotransmitter chemicals and cell membrane potentials throughout our bodies. These processes in turn are dependent, at least in part, upon the length of rest, the quality of one's nutrition, and the state of one's mind. Rest also provides time for your logical, analytical 'left' brain to relax its dominance and thus allow the emotional and imaginative 'right' brain valuable time for creative expression. Thus, one of the keys to effective rest is learning how to turn down the volume of your 'left' brain while you tune into your 'right' brain! This is where the regular use of an exceptional guided imagery tape can be so useful.

The physiology behind the other major function of rest and sleep, structural recuperation, is more apparent. There is relentless force acting upon our physical structure, day by day, week after week; that is the constant force of gravity. The more effectively one learns to be aware of this force and to deal with it intelligently, the less destructive its influence. Failure to pay heed and to effectively reduce the effect of this downward pull on our bodies, often results in chronic and recurrent musculoskeletal discomfort (stiff, sore shoulders, neck, and back; hip, knee and ankle distress), degenerative disc and joint disease, myo-fascial problems and even headaches.

How then may we better cope with these stresses, especially with those related to the earth's gravity? While most of us are aware of the need for a good night's sleep, too few recognize the need for proper rest during the day. Both those who are engaged in heavy physical labor and business executives or white collar workers alike are subjected to a variety of physical stressors throughout their 'working hours'. There is mounting evidence that those who manage to obtain some rest and more resourceful postures during the day, not only live more comfortably and work more effectively, they also live longer! Once convinced of the benefits, how does one go about obtaining proper rest during business hours? Proper rest refers to "those inactivates which serve to aid restoration of optimal mental and physical function" (i.e. good health).

Our goals here include assisting the nervous system in its ability to cope with the variety of stresses imposed upon it, and assisting the physical body in compensating for the wear and tear of manual activities and the effects of gravity. All that is normally required is 15 to 20 minutes, twice daily, (in addition to your usual night sleep) to counteract the onslaught of stress-related fatigue and wear and tear.

One of the most effective practices involves getting off your feet, and/or derriere, and laying supine on your back on a firm surface. Any carpeted floor will do nicely. The knees should be bent up toward your chest until your thighs are at right angles to your trunk, perpendicular to the floor, with your lower legs resting on a chair seat, couch, or even a box with padding on top. In this position, your back is flat against a firm surface and your legs and feet are elevated above your chest, improving venous blood circulation. To give your neck better support, place a small pillow preferably contoured) or a towel roll behind your neck.

Begin by inhaling deeply through your nose and slowly, counting "one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand" as you inhale (try not to think in terms of dollars, you're relaxing remember!), then hold for at least that long or better still twice that count (twice as long) before you exhale slowly yet forcefully through your nose still and contracting your abdominal muscles slightly, - and then repeat at least 10 times. Learn to breathe through your nose and from your lower rib cage, allowing your abdomen to relax and your lungs to fill more efficiently. You will note the incredible release of emotional tension as you learn to unwind in this fashion. (See "Deep Abdominal Breathing Exercise.")

This procedure, when done correctly while concentrating on rhythmic breathing, alters brain wave patterns and helps one approach 'alpha rhythm' - a state in which mental relaxation and rejuvenation is maximized without actually falling asleep. Playing baroque music softly while clearing yourself of mental clutter can assist accessing this state. Embarking on any of a wide variety of guided imagery audio excursions can be of great help here. Some favorites here are "Journey to Health" by Dr. Larry Herdener and the "Inner Smile" by Dr. Linda Berry. Try these, you'll love them! For those simply looking for a brief escape from gravity, just assume the position and catch some soft tunes if you can!

These mini vacations will allow you to enjoy the benefits of better energy; improved circulation and they will aid greatly in the restoration of muscle balance and tone. If your work habits or environment are such that you can only take one rest break a day, the best time would be prior to eating your noon meal. A second such rest could be taken upon arriving home after work, and prior to your evening meal, thereby helping to improve your digestion as well. The change in your general health will quickly become apparent and equally important - you'll feel a very definite increase in your energy level.

The need for sleep varies considerably with age - infants sleep most of the day, adults require an average of seven to eight hours and the elderly often require as little as six hours of sleep each night. In the case of the elderly, they may also 'cat nap' for varying periods of the day. The state of one's health can also have a profound effect on the need for sleep. Aberrant sleep patterns not only relate to mental stress, they can also be indicative of declaiming health and/or inadequate nutrition.

Millions of dollars are spent on drugs for the purpose of inducing sleep. Common sense should tell us that sleep for a healthy individual should be as natural as breathing. Drugs are certainly not the sensible or the health-promoting answer to poor sleeping habits. If you are one of the many who are not satisfied with your sleep habits, be certain to bring this to the attention of your health practitioner so that he/she may support you in the identification and the correction of the contributing factors to your sleep challenges. This is an essential step in the restoration and maintenance of one's health. Please be certain to address this area promptly. The answer may be as simple as changing your diet or nutritional supplements or getting more natural light, fresh air and/ or exercise each day!

Generally two of the most neglected aspects of sleep are sleeping posture, and the type of mattress on which we sleep. The combination of a sleeping posture that permits good circulation and a pillow and mattress that provide well distributed support for your skeletal structure are of primary importance. If you spend one third of your life sleeping, it only takes a quick calculation to determine that the least costly investment you'll ever make is the purchase of a sensible mattress and pillow. A sensible mattress is neither stiff as a board or soft as a sponge - it must be firm enough to provide support yet supple enough to mould to your body shape without creating pressure points.

The two best sleeping postures, on a sensible bed, are on your back with a pillow or bedroll behind (underneath) your knees, supporting your lower legs and assisting circulation, or on your side, knees drawn up slightly toward the chest, with a pillow between your knees. There are also pillows available that are specially formed or contoured to provide both head and neck support. Be certain to discuss such a pillow with your practitioner. Use of this type of pillow is as important to your neck as good footwear is to your feet! If you sleep on your back with your legs out straight and you have any history of lower back problems, you may be better off with a little support in the small of your back, such as a rolled towel or a small pillow.

Many consider their time spent while seated to be adequate rest time. Several factors must be considered here however. First, one's posture while seated dictates whether one's structure is indeed being 'rested' or in fact further 'stressed'. Thorough understanding of proper posture and constant vigilance is required here. Needless to say, most people are contributing more to stress and strain than to rest, by the seated postures which they adopt.

Proper seated posture is efficient posture. Efficient posture is the posture which requires the least amount of muscle function to maintain, thus allowing for more relaxation of muscle tone and enhanced circulation to both muscles and joint structures alike. Just imagine your torso 'dangling from a string' attached to the center of the top of your head. How would your back and shoulders be positioned? Go ahead, close your eyes, sit tall and dangle! When you think you have it, open your eyes and without moving, note the position of your head, neck, shoulders, and back. Remember that you are dangling from the center of your head, being drawn upward, your shoulders, head and neck cannot be slumped forward or arched back.

You will feel different in this posture but comfortable and you will be able to maintain this posture much longer than any other less efficient posture and remain comfortable.

Now look for seating which allows you to comfortably maintain this posture while supporting the natural forward curve in your lower back (lumbar spine). It also helps to support your lower back and pelvis by elevating your feet on a small footstool, box or crate to raise your knees just higher than your hip joints.

The reference of 'dangling from a string' will also help you orient yourself as to efficient standing posture. Try it, you'll like it, even if it feels different or awkward at first.

Whether you eat or you consume any liquids prior to going to bed is a matter of habit and individual metabolism. One person's almond and sunflower seed 'sedative' is another's 'guaranteed insomnia'. The best indication is how you feel in the morning, but generally speaking we are best making our supper the last food that we eat before bed.

If you arise with renewed vitality and fewer aches and pains than when you retired, then you are probably on the right track to proper rest; if you do not, then be sure to discuss this matter with your healthcare 'coach' as well. Proper rest is essential to good health - the 'rest' is up to you.

The Fresh Air - Relaxation Connection:

  • Fresh, oxygen-rich air is your most vital need. Without it you would die within six minutes.
  • The quality of the air you breathe is so important because of the vital oxygen which it contains. Your blood and all your cells must be oxygenated regularly or death occurs. In your lungs there are a billion tiny air sacs, where your blood is purified, supplied with oxygen and sent to the rest of your body. As you breathe out, you expel carbon dioxide and other toxic waste gases. Proper breathing eliminates as much as 75% of your body's wastes!
  • Exercise greatly assists in both the oxygenation of your cells and the elimination of their wastes. Go for a walk, a cycle or any outdoor activity each day. These activities are even more beneficial when near a beach, a park or lush vegetation, where the quality of air is superior.
  • The best source of air is the outdoors, of course, away from large cities. Nature constantly purifies and cleans the air. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, while rain and oceans constantly recycle and clean the air all over the world.
  • Keep a window open in your house and have numerous plants around to help cleanse the air. If you sleep in a room with the windows and doors closed, you will be breathing in air that has less oxygen and more carbon dioxide.... this is not desirable.
  • Another important consideration is the fresh air - relaxation connection. When breathing in deep from lower in your chest your body receives more oxygen. How you breathe affects how you feel. When you breathe deeply from lower in your chest, it is a full complete breath and relaxation follows immediately. Go ahead - try it! People generally breath from their upper chest, however, and continue to wonder why they feel constantly 1stressed'.
  • The more quickly and shallow you breathe, the more tense you become. You become more peaceful and relaxed when you take a deep slow breath. Breathing affects your emotional state; it accesses different states of mind. This deep "abdominal breathing" as we refer to it, is the key to relaxation and to improving the oxygenation of your body.

Deep "Abdominal Breathing" Exercise (For Beginners):

  • You can be in either a sitting or lying down position. If sifting, keep your spine erect: sit with your back straight and reach for the sky with the top of your head.
  • Place your hands on your abdomen - one above the navel, and one on the navel.
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose - and focus on "filling your abdomen with air": feel the navel swell out first, then feel your breath slowly rise up into your chest, expanding your entire rib cage.
  • As you breathe out, the hand positioned above the navel will sink in first, followed by the lower positioned hand. Be sure to exhale through your nose as well and slightly contract your abdominal muscles to ensure complete exhalation.
  • You can now experience deep abdominal breathing taking place.
  • Conduct this deep breathing exercise for at least five minutes at a time, several times daily - you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
  • As you breathe in, count to four, hold for a count of four and release the breath over a four-count. IN..l..2..3..4.. HOLD..l..2..3..4.. OUT..1..2..3..4.. HOLD..1..2..3..4.. and continue to repeat this pattern until done.
  • Note the wave of relaxation which comes over you.
  • Remember, practicing relaxation is like any other exercise.  The more you do it, the better you get.

From Health Coach International



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