Published May 22nd, 2015
Today, I actually feel a holiday weekend coming on. In the United States! In Tanzania and South Africa it was normal; the last day before a national holiday, people would rush around to get work completed, purchases made before shops closed, and plans made to meet family and friends. For a decade of my life in Africa, I enjoyed holidays, a time to un-plug, relax and rejuvenate. When I came back to the States, I was surprised to see all the shops open on holidays, in fact, enticing people inside with sales and special offers. And more often than not, friends would tell me "Sorry, I can't come for lunch, I have to work." When did anybody relax and rejuvenate?
This weekend is Memorial Day weekend in the United States. Memorial Day itself is on the Monday, and is a national holiday for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. So, we have a 3-day weekend, not as common here as in other parts of the world. Therefore, it should be treasured.
I think I feel the excited energy in the air for a holiday weekend this time around because more people are recognizing they need it. It has been an intense year so far and people have been going full-throttle. A mini-break is necessary.
My friends in Africa often ask me why people in the States do not take holidays, even when they are paid for not working. While there are many reasons, some embedded in the socio-economic culture, one main reason is that U.S. culture values "no pain, no gain", "the more effort, the greater the productivity", "you snooze, you lose", "sleep is for wimps", "the more you do, the more successful you are, even if it makes you un-well along the way."
If you've ever taken a yoga class, you may have heard the instructor saying the last pose in the class, savasana, or corpse pose, is the most challenging pose of the class, especially for students in the States. You lie on your back, on your yoga mat, arms by your sides with palms facing the ceiling, close your eyes and completely relax your whole being. For five to fifteen minutes. When I teach, I tell my students to completely surrender into the earth, allowing the floor to support you. There is no need for any effort, the earth won't let you fall, there is nowhere to go. Many people find this challenging because we spend our days operating at a completely different level. Expending effort, mentally and physically, surviving and trying to push ahead. Even when we sleep, we may not be completely relaxed, as our body-minds are still plugged in.
The truth is, taking some time to relax, restore and rejuvenate is essential for a healthy and alert body-mind. After an active yoga class, savasana helps your body integrate all it just accomplished and 'soak it in.' The blissful feeling you often get after a yoga class comes from the combination of activity and relaxation. You need both to thrive.
This morning as I walked through Vine Pergola I noticed how the vines simply relaxed upon the structure of the Pergola, allowing themselves to be supported by the wooden beams even while they are actively growing and blooming. For plants and other animals in the natural world, this combination of work and relaxation is effortless; for us human animals, it seems to take more work with our consciousness, stronger communication between our body, mind and spirit.
This weekend, give real relaxation a chance. Un-plug for a bit, watch the sunset or sunrise, reflect on everything you have to be grateful for, cook a nice meal or go out to a nourishing restaurant with family and friends and just hang out, enjoying each other's company. If you practice yoga, add a few extra minutes to savasana, if you meditate, add some minutes to your practice, or even an extra session at a time of day you usually don't practice at. Enjoy nature, either in your own backyard or a close-by place. If you are traveling for the weekend, consider not over-booking your schedule and simply take some time to just be. For those of you who need to always be doing something to feel good about yourself, remember that relaxing is an activity in itself. You can use the word "rejuvenation" as it implies readying yourself to do more. Just don't skip downtime. Otherwise, it may force itself on you and you may not like it when it comes that way.
When I emerged from Vine Pergola I saw the colorful Chihuly glass balls floating so peacefully on the water in front of me. I thought about us, our amazing colorful swirling lives, all contained in an individual body. The glass balls just floated, allowing the water to support them. Just be my friends. Take some time to just be. And enjoy your weekend, wherever you are, national holiday or not, carve out a bit of time to relax and rejuvenate, your Self and those around you will thank you. I'm sure of it.