Mindful rest and conscious relaxation creates a cascade of health benefits in the body. This is because our bodies and minds function best when they have a chance to reset themselves. Crucial processes for maintaining health engage best when we allow our bodies and minds to come into deep rest.
From a stress perspective, our biology is designed to experience stress as a response to an immediate threat. When that immediate threat passes, our stress response ramps back down and the body returns to a calmer, more relaxed state. However, modern stress involves few immediate threats and a lot of ongoing, low-level threats, which means that we don’t usually complete the stress cycle and return to the relaxed state.
This is why mindful rest is such a powerful practice. Our mind is one of our main means of assessing threats, and we can redirect that mental energy toward rest instead. Not only does it help turn off a driver of escalating stress responses, but helps to actively counter those responses with feelings of rest, relaxation, and safety.
When we consciously turn our attention to resting and releasing tension from the mind and body, it helps reset the nervous system. The heart rate slows, breath deepens, and blood pressure lowers. Tension begins to drain out of the diaphragm, the pelvis, and the neck and shoulders. As muscles relax, nutrients, oxygen, and blood are able to circulate more freely to nourish and repair tissue. When tension releases along the spine, vertebra are able to make subtle adjustments toward alignment. The nervous system is also able to turn down the volume on pain signals to the brain and improve regulation of body systems like digestion, circulation, and sleep.
The more we practice mindfully resting, the better we are able to teach ourselves how to relax. We are using neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to learn and change, in order to cultivate stronger paths to relaxation in the nervous system. Over time, this changes our habits and patterns of stress and tension, allowing us to return to a restful state more easily.
Mindful rest and conscious relaxation is a practice, which means that it is most effective when done regularly and on purpose. By peeling away layers of stress and unwinding tension, we are able to support the natural biological processes that support and create health.