Thursday, May 12, 2011

Rest as a strategy for economic recovery?

The woman on the phone was a bit indignant; "You don't work Saturdays? I would think that would be a busy day for you." I explained that while Saturdays might be busy days for spas and salons, I've never found that Saturday classes work well and that most people who put their backs out, do so during Saturday activities. It's Sunday and Monday that they need yoga and massage most, and that's when other places are closed.

But that isn't the whole reason. My husband's brutal work schedule leaves very little time for us to be together during the week. Throw in my evening classes and clients and it get's near impossible. Besides, I teach classes or see clients six days a week, I need at least one whole day of rest or by Tuesday I'm dragging. Who wants a tired and bedraggled yoga teacher? Not me.

Moreover, I like to practice what I preach. In class, I'm always reminding students that there is a balance of work and rest. This is why we practice child's pose, legs up the wall and savasana along with warrior, plank and downward dog poses.Certainly, it's good to exert and challenge yourself but there's also a time to rest and let your mind and body restore.

Yet too often I see students with dark circles under their eyes, yawning their way through class. I often receive emails posted at 1:30 in the morning and the same students show up at 8:45 for class. I wonder, caring for small children notwithstanding, what these people are doing up at that hour? Which leads me to wonder what's wrong with us as a society that we shun rest and applaud those industrious folks who work 16 hours a day and live on four hours of sleep?

Teaching yoga puts me in contact with a broad cross-section of the working populous. I hear the woeful tales of budget cuts which force employees to take on the burden of more and more work as their companies either layoff or freeze hiring of people. Longer, stressful days are the norm now. Not that such days weren't before but with today's economy being such as it is, employees are being told they should just be thankful they have a job. (A recent article on Yahoo, however, states that CEO salaries are back to pre-recession levels. Hmm...)

Should they though? Recent studies show that long periods of sitting are detrimental to your health no matter how active you are outside of work. It's not just your posture that suffers but your blood pressure and your cholesterol as well. Other studies show that the longer your day is the harder it is on your heart putting you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. I could go on but it just gets more and more depressing.

I suppose it's easy for me, self-employed as I am, to get up on my soapbox and extol the virtues of rest and relaxation. Yes, I'm a yoga teacher and supposed to say such things, mind you. But as someone who is able to sit back and look at the broader picture, I wonder what good can come of such a hectic pace? At what point do people work so hard that their productivity drops, or they are unable to work because they are sick or injured?

I believe we may be in great danger of running ourselves into the ground and where will our economy be then? Economist predict that by 2010 China's economy will eclipse ours. I doubt the wisdom of trying to extract the work of two people from one to promote economic growth. Perhaps it will help companies' profit margins but the impact on Main street is likely to be burnout, not recovery.

A few years ago I clipped a quote from Yoga Journal that says, "What would it be like if you measured your success by how aligned you are with your deepest values? " Maybe collectively as a society we should be asking ourselves this question. What's more important our health and families or our wallets?

Don't think that I haven't had to ask myself this question. I've turned down plenty of work on Saturdays and given up classes because I felt my schedule was getting too full. I've had to ask myself is the money really worth it?

I hope that by modeling this practice it will help my students to begin to make similar choices in their own lives. It might need to be small steps at first, such as taking that week of vacation instead of cashing it in, or saying no to voluntary overtime to come to yoga. It might not spur economic recovery but hopefully it will ease some of the haggard, stress-filled expressions I see on so many faces these days.

One final point; when Henry Ford started rolling out cars, there was no such thing as a five day work week. As a marketing strategy, Ford began giving his employees Saturdays off so that they could be seen driving around in his cars. The strategy worked and other companies began following suit. Maybe it's time to revisit that concept.

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