The other day in yoga class, we were joking about our favorite posture savasana, the luxurious relaxation pose at the end of all yoga classes. Our teacher chimed in and said, “It’s the most important of all the poses.”
As counterintuitive as it seems, savasana is the time when the learning, growth, and change begun in the practice session is fully integrated in our bodies at the neurological level. If we skip this period of rest, we cheat ourselves of the full benefits of our yoga.
The importance of rest doesn’t just apply to yoga. For actors, rest replenishes our ability to create and respond in the moment; to learn and retain lines, choreography, blocking, and to sustain our motivation and overall well-being. Goal-oriented hard workers that we are, we may be tempted to push through fatigue in hopes of getting out ahead of the competition. But a steady habit of creative work with not enough rest leaves us burned out, sad, and at a significant creative disadvantage.
If we consistently carry a load of even low-grade stress, it can become a habit. When that happens, we often don’t even know we’re functioning at a sub-par level. Stress hormones released into our bodies and brains as part of the life-saving fight-or-flight response are designed to remain in our systems for a short period of time, just enough to get us out of danger. Nature intends for us to then retreat and rest in order to bring ourselves back to a state of balance and homeostasis.
But if we don’t give ourselves a chance to rest and recover from a stressful event, our bodies remain flooded with stress hormones which then begin to weaken our entire biological system including the neurological, cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, and musculoskeletal systems and can lead to serious illness or disease.
If you experience any of the following, it’s time to give yourself a much-needed break. Are you:
- Depressed, anxious, unable to access your most resourceful mental state?
- Getting sick a lot?
- Experiencing muscle soreness, cramping, headaches?
- Forgetful, foggy-headed?
- Eating too little or too much?
When we’re in a stressful period, we’re doing everything we can just to function. We know we need to get the right amount of quality sleep our bodies need every night, but sometimes that’s difficult to come by. Even finding the time to meditate or rest feels like an impossible dream.
The good news is that even short periods of rest, quiet, and mindfulness can go a long way in alleviating the negative effects of stress. Slowing down our heart rate and gently quieting our thoughts—even for five minutes—can clear our thinking, energize our bodies, and reframe our outlook. And when practiced daily over time, this simple activity can make profound changes in our brains and bodies. And those changes can ultimately lead to health, success, and longevity in your acting career.
1. Yoga encourages us to breathe through our noses, a technique that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system known as “rest and digest.” The sympathetic nervous system, familiar to us as the fight-or-flight response, is stimulated when we breathe through our mouths. Dirga Pranayam (three-part yoga breathing) reduces stress and anxiety by slowing down and deepening our breath: Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling as though you’re filling your belly, ribs, and chest. Exhale slowly, gradually releasing the breath in your belly, ribs, and chest. Do this a few times and see if you notice a change in mood.
2. The U.S. military teaches a similar practice called Tactical Breathing that triggers the relaxation response: Inhale slowly on a count of four. Hold the breath for four counts. Exhale slowly on a count of four. Hold the breath out for a count of four. Gradually slow the count as you repeat for several minutes.
3. Mindfulness refers to engaging in a moment or an activity with your full attention on the present moment. As you drink a cup of coffee, pet your dog, or chop vegetables, allow all your senses to register the experience in real-time. This subtle shift of attention to something real and tangible can reduce stress and reset your nervous system.
4. Meditation can seem like an insurmountable task when your thoughts are racing and you’re feeling overwhelmed. But even short periods of meditation can yield noticeable benefits. Start small. Commit to a practice of focusing your attention on white noise, a lighted candle, or your breathing for just five minutes every day. Over time, the ability to access a calm, creative, resourceful state will come faster and easier.
5. Instead of staring at your phone, turn your daily walk to the train into a moving meditation. Focus on the information coming in through your senses, regulate the rhythm of your movement with that of your breath, and notice how restful and rejuvenating your daily walk can be.
*This post was originally published on Nov. 6, 2018. It has since been updated.
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