The Art of Pause

How have you been doing the last months? Even though we are in the middle of challenging times, this unexpected situation has brought many gifts. Is there a part of you that has been grateful for getting a pause and resting more than usual? You may have developed new habits of slowing down during the lockdown period and noticed its beneficial effects. The act of pausing is actually crucial for our mental and physical wellbeing. Let us discover how we can incorporate a regular time-out for ourselves and pause, even when life starts getting busier again. 

The Habit of Busyness

Many of us have been very used to living a busy life with the underlying question of “What’s next?”. We tend to keep ourselves occupied with rushing around from one task to another, managing our lives, trying to keep everything under control, planning, overthinking, talking, snacking on the go and keeping ourselves occupied with the use of technology.

Most of today’s societies value getting things done, achievement and constant doing. This kind of culture will most likely leave you feeling lazy, unproductive and wasting time when you take a rest and pause. Our bodies and minds work best when we keep the balance between activity and rest, otherwise we end up being overstimulated from our senses, accumulate stress, overwhelm and exhaustion. 

The last months of being in lockdown might have forced you into slowing down your life, having more rest than usual and being still. And you might have even realized that the art of pause and just Being has been neglected in your daily life in midst of busyness and Doing. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to be still, to face uncertainty and meet your emotions. But there are so many gifts in incorporating regular times for rest and pause, even when our lives start to go back to a “new normal”.

Why regular pauses and rest are so important

When you are constantly active, when you tend to overthink, feel stressed or anxious, it is very likely that your sympathetic nervous system is overly active and stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline flood your system. Being in this so called “fight or flight” mode for longer periods of time can lead to imbalances in your body and to diseases of various kinds. Our bodies need time to “rest and digest”, with the the parasympathetic nervous system being sufficiently activated. Besides getting a good night’s sleep, it is necessary to nourish ourselves with regular pauses for our bodies to relax, recover, regrow cells, detox, digest and heal. Not only our body benefits from pausing, but also our mind needs it to process and assimilate our experiences.

The Beauty and Sacredness of a Pause

When we truly pause, we cease all doing, let go of any goals and step out of the busyness of our lives for a certain time. To master the art of pause means to focus on the present moment and appreciate stillness. A sacred time of stillness can mean to practice meditation, but also to take time for contemplation and allowing the mind to settle in the same way as sand settles at the bottom of a glass filled with water, if we just leave it without moving it around. When this happens, we are much more in touch with ourselves and with our inner world.

Something precious is lost if we rush headlong into the details of life without pausing for a moment to pay homage to the mystery of life and the gift of another day.

Kent Nerburn

Have you ever been struck by the intensity of stillness after a touching piece of music or a moving speech? We would not be able to appreciate the beauty of music it we did not have pauses in between the notes. We would not be able to understand anyone if there were no gaps between words. This is the power of a pause. Pauses enrich our experience and allow us to cherish the beauty of the Now.

How to pause?

Pausing does not mean to take a break from work just to grab our phone and scroll through the social media feed or watch TV. A true pause helps us to slow down both the body and the mind. It has a lot to do with being mindful of the present moment and intentionally stop doing what we are doing for a certain time.

As you pause, become aware of your immediate internal and external experience such as impressions of your senses, thoughts and emotions – without controlling or managing any of them. Pauses become our teachers to meet our vulnerability and radically accept the present moment. As meditation teacher Tara Brach writes so beautifully: “Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises.”

Here are some ideas to incorporate more pauses into your day:

  • Before you jump out of bed in the morning, place your hands on your belly and chest for a few minutes and just Be. Take time for yourself before you meet the world and become active.
  • When you are taking a walk in nature, find a bench to sit on for some time to enjoy the sounds, colors, textures and smells around you.
  • In a conversation, you can practice listening deeper by being still and taking a few moments before responding.
  • When you drive your car or bike, each red traffic light can be a reminder to be mindful about what is going on inside you and around you right in the moment.
  • When you feel stuck or a bit drained during a task on the computer, close your eyes, take 10 conscious breaths and just let your mind wander for a few minutes before you resume your work. You might notice that creativity and flow comes back after having a break from what you are doing.
  • Lie down to listen to relaxing music with binaural beats or sound healing instruments (you find lots of it on YouTube) or a Yoga Nidra guided relaxation.
  • Practice regular Yin Yoga, a meditative form of Yoga where you hold the poses for several minutes in stillness. This is especially great if you usually practice more dynamic styles of Yoga or do mainly active workout sessions.

Pause as Practice for Self-Growth

Besides helping your body to stay healthy, pausing can do so much more for you. It can become a daily practice to increase presence and attentiveness, clearing and calming the mind in order to have better discernment and healthier choices, getting to know yourself better, accessing your essence and showing up for yourself. Filling your own cup first is an act of true self love and makes sure that you can be the best version of yourself for yourself and for others. Inspired action come from a place of stillness and clarity. Let us not miss this opportunity for self-growth by having times of stillness, pause and rest, no matter how busy our lives may be.