The Four Different Kinds of Rest

From the very beginning of our consciousness, rest is a catch-all palliative for any number of maladies.

Cranky? Take a nap. Can’t think straight? Close your eyes. Have a headache? Have a lie down. 

And there’s plenty to be said for that simple advice – rest should be restorative and a lot of our frustrations, modern and ancient, can be more easily worked through in a state of rest.

After all, we know now that chronic stress, too little sleep, non-restful sleep, undernourishment, and unresolved trauma can all keep us rooted in a sympathetic and reactive state.

What we want to do is access a parasympathetic state of resting and digesting, whereby our microbiomes can digest and absorb properly. That keeps the majority of our chemical and hormonal secretions intact, and allows the mechanisms that keep our shoulders scrunched up to our ears to relax and let us be.

The problem is that there are several different kinds of resting, and they’re not necessarily interchangeable.

Sometimes, you really do need one kind over the other, and without knowing what you need when…

Well, you’re liable to “waste” time resting in a way that you didn’t need to begin with. And on top of that, you won’t have gotten the kind of rest you really need!

Let’s talk about the different kinds of rest you can experience, and when they might be applicable to your life…


Sometimes, the overwhelming exhaustion we’re feeling can lead to sensitivity. Specifically, sensory overload.

Most of us don’t live alone in cottages, our lives punctuated by the sounds of trickling streams and early morning bird calls.

We likely live with friends, or relations, or partners and children. And many of us were taught to believe we just need to tune out the noise of those living around us, that the onus is on the offended to deal with the offenses.

Let’s assume that’s true.

If you’re feeling particularly activated by noises not your own – loud TVs, constant chattering, various media competing for volume, running and stomping sounds – a nap might not do you any good.

Consider, instead, either:

  1. Requesting silence or space, if able
  2. Leaving the overwhelming situation and carving out silent space for yourself
  3. Wearing noise canceling headphones when possible while playing ambient/nature sounds!


When your shoulders and neck are in pain, your legs cramp up, or your back hurts, it’s possible that you just… haven’t been still in a long time. You may think that napping, sleeping, or having a lie-down counts as stillness.

But that’s not necessarily the case. More often than not, simply being idle isn’t a commitment to stillness. Fidgeting, rearranging, and tensing can still happen during idleness.

Instead – and even if you don’t believe this works for you – try meditating. Don’t fuss over whether or not you can reach a blank, zen mental state. That will come with practice.

Simply sit on your tailbone with your legs crossed in front of you, scan the body mentally, and concentrate on reducing each body part to stillness. 


Not to be discounted, you really do just need a good, quality sleep sometimes (all times, really, but in terms of resting…)

A no-phone, no-TV kind of sleep. No alcohol, no sleeping pills. No light, no noise. Just you and your breath and the darkness and waking when your body wants to with no alarm.

That isn’t possible in everyone’s lives – which is a shame, since we all need that chance to check out and regenerate. If it feels too tricky to arrange a sleep-with-abandon kind of sleep, work out a trade off with the people in your life to prioritize it when you need it!

You’ll know if this is the kind of rest you need when you’re barely keeping your eyes open, your bones feel heavy, and you can’t concentrate at all. Your body will tell you it needs to sleep – you just have to listen.


Rest? Self-care? Bubble baths?

Maybe! Self-care is about getting out of your own way. If that means you’ve been grinding all the time, raising a family, raising yourself, cleaning the kitchen more often than it seems like is possible – sure, a bubble bath sounds like the perfect rest for you.

But you can also be exhausted from trying to keep up with your finances, and it feels like no matter what you do, you’ve missed a bill or accrued a late fee here or aren’t able to meet your savings goal this month.

Self-care can mean that you sit yourself down and draw up a comprehensive budget while auditing your credit card bill for the last two months to see where you’re falling short. 

It can be a radical and stark look at yourself and your behavior and how it might be hindering your progress. It can be a look at how you’re making yourself tired, and what you can do to energize yourself instead.

The next time you feel rundown, sit with that feeling and be careful about what you prescribe yourself – make sure the medicine matches the malady!

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.