Celebrating the Ebb Tide

You are an ocean. You’re about 60 percent plain water, with an admixture of chemicals that approximate the sea in which your most ancient ancestors evolved. Also like the sea, you are tidal. You ebb and flow. Your heart and lungs continuously contract and expand.

Your circadian rhythms alternate between alertness and sleepiness. You also have ultradian rhythms, multiple physical systems that ebb and flow within each day. Ultradian rhythms control things like your hormonal levels, heat regulation, appetite, and nostril dilation. (Yes! Nostril dilation!)

Unfortunately, you’ve had your natural rhythms disrupted by a culture that praises you for working continuously, and makes you embarrassed or ashamed of the need to rest. But in high performing roles, from musical performance to office work, human beings function best in bursts that max out at 90 minutes. These work periods are interspersed with at least 20-minute periods of R&R (I myself find that 70 minutes on, 30 minutes off, is the best way to get things done).

Here’s my life-coachy challenge for this month: Try tuning into your innate rhythms, allowing ebbs as well as flows, and see what happens. When you settle into work, or play with your children, or clean the house, set a timer for an hour. Before you start, rate your energy level from 1-10, with 1 being “I am so close to dead I can see Grandma beckoning from heaven,” and 10 being “I am on crack and plan to take over the universe.” Work with full attention until the timer rings, then check your energy levels again. If you feel like resting, even a little, do it. Lie down. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket. Read a book. Close your eyes and feel yourself descend into an ultradian peace. After 30 minutes, check your energy again. If you feel like working, set the timer and dive in again. If you don’t, rest a bit longer, then re-check. All day, follow your own rhythm.

Just paying attention to this will tune you into your own best working pace. If you can keep yourself from comparing your rhythms with others, or insisting on mechanical consistency, or panicking about everything that’s still left to be done (dear, there will always be infinite things left undone) you’ll eventually find yourself working more powerfully and resting more deliciously.

Just to reinforce the importance of ebb, as well as flow, let’s celebrate the resting times. Go to Facebook and post a photo of yourself letting the tide run out. Show us how you curl up and rest, cuddled up, eyes closed, nostrils dilated out to here, and trust that when you stop fighting the pull of the tide, the ocean in you will bring everything you need.

7 replies
  1. Kathi Ganz
    Kathi Ganz says:

    This sounds lovely. I just wish I didn't work in an 8am-5pm office where my boss frowns on my resting/napping every 60-90 minutes. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Michelle Ballinger
    Michelle Ballinger says:

    I just returned from a delicious 1 week yoga retreat. It was so wonderful because I am a caregiver to two men, one my husband of 40+ years and one my neighbor of 30+ years who has no family and needs my help. I have been trying to find respite during the day and this resting in between spurts of work (caregiving) is one I have need of immensely. I am going to do the timer thing on my phone so I am the only one who knows so when the timer goes off, I will give myself permission to take a rest or a restorative walk. Yahoo. Thank you Martha for putting this rhythm in my mind. It makes so much sense.

    Reply
  3. Elaine Patrick
    Elaine Patrick says:

    I am 78 years old and trying to recover from back surgery. It is taking longer than I thought it would. So, I find myself criticizing myself for my lack of energy, need for rests, and general discouragement. I hope the advice on timing and checking my energy levels and need for rests to help me find my own rhythm.

    Reply
  4. Phyllis Le Chat
    Phyllis Le Chat says:

    I appreciate this suggested exercise, and because I don't have any appointments tomorrow I will see what happens with my energy as I do this. At this point, doing any activity, even sitting, is exhausting but this exercise is good motivation.

    Reply
  5. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I spend so much time resting that the dog hair tumbleweeds are plotting a take-over. Then again, I have health issues so I guess that shouldn't surprise me. But it would be great to be a little more productive.

    Reply

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