Why We Take Breaks

Muscles work, muscles rest, and sometimes muscles need a reminder to stop working and start resting. The system by which they operate is scalable. For example, in the following passage on muscle function and dysfunction, it's easy to see parallels that apply when we pan out and consider the whole organism, specifically an individual human living in the modern world: 

We move by contracting. Muscles fire, causing them to tighten, shorten, and pull. With repetition and habituation, muscles fire quicker, shorten more, and pull harder. When strength or stability are needed, this rapidity, tightening, and pulling are all very good things.

But muscles that get accustomed to firing quickly or strongly can lose refinement and finesse. Powerful movements become jerky and less precise, as muscles “forget” they don’t have to bring all their motor units online at once. And when it’s time for rest or relaxation, muscles accustomed to fast contraction, strong pulling, and sustained tightening sometimes forget how to simply let go.

That’s where hands-on work can help. By leveraging the nervous system’s built-in regulatory and control systems, skilled manual therapy can “remind” muscles to lower their resting tone when they aren’t working. And using the same systems, hands-on work can also help muscles learn refined, incremental, and nuanced possibilities for action, instead of lurching into unnecessarily large all-or-nothing contractions with every moment.

A muscle must learn to enter full relaxation in order to access full range of power. Have you ever seen Derek Stockton's quad? This is what an insanely powerful set of muscles looks like when fully relaxed. Super-jiggle is not exactly what our culture of "firm and fit" inspires us to work toward, and yet there's no denying this man's elite practice and performance. If we scale up to the whole organism, our culture's projection of what a powerful, productive life looks is also incredibly misguiding and unhealthy. "The Busy Trap" is one of the best reminders of this that I've ever read.

When we lead hyper-tense lives (using our hyper-tense muscles) what is the scaled up equivalent of the manual therapist's elbow, effective in forcing a lifestyle stuck in sustained "work" contraction to relax? Well, Jonathan and I have decided that booking non-refundable plane tickets seems to work for us!

Our first summer of business at Making Movement was successful far above and beyond what we had anticipated -- which is awesome! -- and we are so very grateful to all of you who made it so. The work we get to do with you is a privilege and joy; it is a GOOD thing. But too much of anything can kill you, even good things like kale, oxygen, exercise, or meaningful work. With no previous standard to pace ourselves by, and falling fully in love with our new profession, we slipped into overworking so easily we didn't even realize it at first. It was only July when this happened, and a full two months of the busy season still remained! Almost accidentally -- but thankfully -- plane tickets had been booked well in advance so that we would be forced to take a fall break.

During the month of October Jonathan and I closed our practice for three weeks. We traveled back to Bend, Oregon, the city where we trained to become LMTs, and a place where our outdoor adventure spirits feel at home in the landscape. While there, we didn't give any massages, we only received them. We gave our hand and forearm muscles a rest, enjoying the larger whole-body activities of hiking and fishing instead.

Like all of us who are navigating the demands and opportunities of our contemporary culture, Jonathan and I are guilty of the work-hard-play-hard grind. But we also endeavor to practice what we preach -- that rest and relaxation are vital not only for muscles but for people! -- and in order to do this we're learning how to take intentional, even anticipatory, and sometimes costly (plane tickets?) measures. All well worth it to maintain health, balance, and the capacity to live a life in full range of motion.

How can you hold yourself accountable to practice necessary rest and relaxation for the health of your muscles? Your whole body? Your work? What are the possible ripple effects that a vital rest cycle might have on your family and community?

For more information and inspiration check out The Wisdom of Recovery or mull over functional medicine practitioner, Chris Kresser's thoughts on Leaonardo da Vinci.