Rest, rest, rest

Do you need permission to rest? Here are reasons why you should. Why not take a break?

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You know those days, weeks or months when you are doing too much, when you have taken on too much, when you are trying to be too many things to too many people? Last Tuesday was one of those days. I ended up being crabby and tearful. I write to try and understand myself and what is going on so I wrote a blog on my site which got a number of responses; some from women identifying with it.However, one reply stood out because all it said was ‘Rest, rest, rest’.


I’m not sure that this word is actually a part of my functional vocabulary.I know what it means, but I don’t recall using it with myself and my family. I don’t know that I’ve ever said ‘let’s all take a rest’, or ‘it’s rest time now’. You’re either awake of asleep, rest just isn’t part of my rhythms. Being awake means being busy, productive, thoughtful. Even relaxation is active in my mind; ‘doing yoga’, ‘walking’ or ‘swimming’ to relax, but all are still active verbs.

So I was curious when I read, ‘rest, rest, rest’; just what is this ‘rest’ business?

The definition of rest is:

  • To cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength.’
  • Or ‘allow to be inactive in order to regain strength or health.’
  • It can also mean ‘to be supported’ (as in ‘I rested the stick against the tree’)
  • Or ‘to be in a motionless state’ ie ‘the car came to rest outside the house’.

Interestingly, yet maybe not so surprisingly given our frenetic life, the Latin word ‘rest’ has declined in use since the 1800s. We just don’t talk about ‘rest’ as much as our grandparents might have, and if we don’t talk about it, I suspect it’s because we’re not doing it, we are not resting as much as we used to.

When I reflect on why that is for myself I note that I have some puritanical judgement about ‘resting’ as being ‘lazy’, ‘idle’, ‘useless’. Whilst I could hazard guesses as to where these associations come from, the most important things for a coach, is not to look back to find blame and cause, but to move forward towards change.However, in order to counter balance these negative connotations about rest, I needed some more positive associations. So I started to research the importance of ‘rest’ in different fields. Here’s what I found.


A ‘rest’ in music is the interval between the notes; the pause; the silence.The rest is given a musical symbol in the same way as the notes are; it is written in to music with the precise length of time that the rest should last.

I asked musician friends about the importance of the rest and they couldn’t stress it enough. ‘There is no music without the rest’ said one, ‘the rest is as important as the notes’ said another.I started to pay attention to the radio on the way to work and I really noticed the power of the rest in the music I was listening to.

The silences I heard would create tension, expectation, contrast and emotion. The more I listened the more I could hear that without the rests there would just be continuous sound. The rests make the music.

I loved this way of thinking about rest as it means that ‘rest’ is just as much part of the creative process of living, as ‘doing’ is.The ‘rest’ period helps give the ‘busy’ periods shape and definition as well as harmony and structure.Rest, it would seem is absolutely necessary to create harmony and beauty.


Physics states that an object is at rest when it doesn’t change position in relation to its surroundings. ‘Rest’ is relative. We know that the train is at rest only in relation to the platform it is standing at.So there is no such thing as ‘absolute rest’ as ‘rest’ is relative to the frame of reference or the environment the ‘rest’ is taking place in.

This relativity means that although something or someone may appear to be at rest, they may actually be in movement, but we are unable to perceive it from out relative position. So if we stand and look up to the sky, the earth appears, to us, to be at rest even though we know it is moving. It appears to be resting when it is in fact in motion but we perceive it as still because of our own relative position in relation to it.

So what does all this mean for you and I?

It means that whilst we may think we are at rest, and without movement, we can only see that from our own perspective and it may be that from another perspective we are actually moving forward, changing direction, changing pace. It means that ‘rest’ is not ‘doing nothing’ but it does mean that ‘rest’ is actually movement waiting to happen, waiting for forces to move it. Rest is potential energy. When we think we are resting, we may, in fact be moving forward in ways we just can’t see yet.

This makes so much sense to me. It is in my periods of rest that I have ideas, see things clearly and it is often the time when I see opportunities I wouldn’t have seen if I’d have been rushing by. Just because I don’t feel like I’m in motion, doesn’t mean I’m still.


Rest is critical for sports people as it allows the body to adapt and recover from exertion. Rest allows fluids to be replaced, tissues to repair and muscles to recover. Athletes are advised to take short term rest within hours of the exertion and long term rest for example in the down season. Sleep is critical to balance hormone levels and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Performance without rest risks harming the body and causing a drop off in performance.

So what a huge permission to just slow down and take it easy. Our body needs rest and we need our body to be working well.Without health, all the other areas of our life such as our relationships and our work are impacted upon so we need to rest in order to maximize our performance.


The Old Testament tell us that God created the world in 6 days and on the 7th he rested. Whether you take this literally or as a story, the message is the same; rest is necessary. When Sunday opening arrived when I was a child I couldn’t understand why mum was so against it; she wasn’t religious and we never went to church. Her reply was that Sunday was a ‘family day’ or a ‘day to do nothing’ and her fear was that once people worked on Sundays, there would be no rest days.

She was right.

When I spent time on a Kibbutz, from the first star on Friday night to the first star on Saturday night no one worked. No one cooked, no one washed, no one ironed, no one turned on an electronic device and no one drove. Instead they visited family and friends, read, sung, slept, made love, played with the kids, went for walks and watched the world go by. The great thing was that because nobody worked, everyone had time off together. The sense of community was immense.

So many of us are not religious and the rituals of the Sabbath or Sunday are meaningless to us. Yet I love the idea of a whole day a week where I could connect with my friends who are also free to play and rest.

Permission to rest

I am so glad I did the research to challenge my inner-relentless-task-master. Just telling me to rest has never really been enough as it has seemed like a negative thing to do, an absence or lack. Having looked into it more I really understand how important rest is. I see how rest is needed to give shape to our lives, to allow for creativity to emerge. I understand how important rest is, not only to well being but also community. I also love the idea that even when I feel at rest, that I am actually potential energy waiting to burst into life.

So I give myself permission to rest when I need it and I offer it to you and your family.

Rest, rest, rest.

Julie Leoni

Regenerative living coach, author, podcaster, facilitator, educator, Dr

'Things fall apart, the center cannot hold'

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Go to the profile of Pete McEldowney
over 5 years ago
ALL about REST recently on R4 The Anatomy of Rest - Available now - BBC Radio 4