One of the 30 Ways to Practice Self Care I am promoting on this blog in 2021 is the daily practice of adding a little R & R time. Reserve some time for yourself to rest and relax, even if it’s just a few minutes.
On my monthly planning calendar, I mark R & R on all the Fridays, to remind myself to slow down and practice R & R on at least one day per week. This is also known as the spiritual discipline of Sabbath keeping. I used to mark in large letters D.O. on Fridays to remind myself that day of the week was my Day Off. Across my monthly planning calendar, I kept seeing the letters DO, DO, DO, DO. Over a decade ago, I decided to mark Fridays with R & R, to remind myself that I am not primarily a human doing, but a human being, and to learn to practice rest and relaxation at least one day a week, by stepping away from DO lists.
I have known many people who have told me they find it difficult to slow down, rest, or relax. They have two gears: neutral and high. Some people only feel alive when they are stressed, challenged, put to the test, or in a high energy situation. Learning to rest and relax is especially important for people who do not have those middle “gears” for plodding along at a methodical pace.
Recently, I met with a professional counselor, and told her that I face anxiety most of the time, explaining that anxiety was like a white noise in the background of my life almost all the time. I’ve known this for years, and have found ways to teach my body and soul to relax, including breath prayer (uniting a prayer from the Bible to the rhythm of my breathing), lectio divina (slow and prayerful reading of Scripture), and playing contemplative music on the piano. Each of these practices help me to slow down, settle my soul, allow my body to come to a resting place, and focus my being upon God’s loving presence. The counselor encouraged me to download an app for my phone titled “Breath 2 Relax,” which I did. The app has a breathing meter, helping the user to slow down their breathing, to do “belly breathing,” what is technically called diaphragmatic breathing, or breathing by using the diaphragm muscle located beneath our lungs. The way you know you are belly breathing rather than chest breathing is by putting one hand on your chest and one on the top of your belly. When you breathe while lying down, watch which hand rises and falls the most. If your chest hand does more rising and falling, teach yourself to breath with your diaphragm, by moving your belly hand to rise and fall with belly breathing.
I found the app Breath 2 Relax unhelpful, due to low-quality nature photos and low-quality repetitive computer generated music intended to help sight and sound senses to participate in learning to relax as I breath slowly in and out. As an acoustic jazz pianist and composer of meditative music, I personally found the music on Breath 2 Relax irritating. But, if you find this phone tool helpful as a way to learn to relax, great.
Music is a powerful tool for learning to rest and relax. I have many songs and artists that I love to play when I spend time sitting, praying, relaxing, resting, meditating with God. I also love to sit at an acoustic piano, to pour out my soul, my anxieties, my sorrows into music meditations.
Another powerful tool for relaxing and resting is sitting outside in a natural setting, and listening to sounds of nature, including wind in the trees or birdsong. As I write this today, I hear the sound of rain upon the deck and the beautiful song of the sea, as I watch waves rolling in off the Pacific Ocean, breaking upon the shore of the north coast of Oregon.
I also love the slow, prayer reading and meditating upon God’s Word, an ancient spiritual discipline known as lectio divina. Take time today to slowly read and reflect upon Isaiah 30:15, a passage our entire congregation read this month, as we are currently reading through the Book of Isaiah together:
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.”
Oh that you would have something of God’s beautiful gift of rest and relaxation today.