full rest

What is full rest?

Did you ever try looking at a tree and then shift your vision to see the spaces between the leaves? It is still the same light coming into your eye but the conscious shift changes the experience.

I have been doing this with movement and what I see between movements is rest, the time spent not moving. Sometimes it is very long as when I look at my sleeping spouse beside me at three AM. Other times it is mere milliseconds as when a dancer lands a jump and has not begun the next.

These observations made me ask, “What is rest?”


The short answer seems to be – no volitional movement through space, as when I drop onto the couch and put my feet up. But what about the offensive lineman down in his stance waiting for the snap of the ball? He would be the last one to tell you he is resting. Even more extreme is isometric exercises where muscles are contracted fully without generating movement in space. In fact, the usual instructions are to fully contract a muscle group by pressing on an immovable object like a wall for eight to ten seconds then “rest” for eight to ten seconds and repeat. So rest, full rest is more than not moving. What else is there to this?


full rest movement education

The missing part in full rest is not moving through space AND a coordination so that you are not pulling on yourself internally (that is all muscles can do, pull).

Full rest is both a muscular and neurologic cessation or diminishment, no matter how brief, that results in minimal activity in the body or any given part of it.

Consider this – if movement in a body part, say the left arm below the shoulder, is stopped, but the muscles that can generate movement there are not dialed down to the minimum needed for overall balance, then there is still tension in the arm. Excessive tension, which strains the arm internally. If, during a brief period of quiet in an activity, the motion AND the strain are at minimum then full rest can occur.


Good pianists know this. They can play a fast or difficult passage of music but when they get a chance to rest a hand, even just a few beats, they fully rest the hand, losing the tension of the previous passage before they continue. The ones who don’t do this get fatigue and strain in their arms by the end of the piece and the audience can hear the difference.


Rest shapes and balances movement. The sharpest musicians, quickest athletes, and most compelling dancers know this, and during whole body movement they let the body parts that are not engaged in active, volitional motion rest, even if just for milliseconds. It makes all the difference in the world in the quality of their performance.


So if you or I are not fully resting - we are stopping motion through space but not the tension underlying - then what can we do about it?

I have been working on a technique called ReTensioning that teaches people how to re-coordinate so they really can stop moving and use minimal tension at the same time. Other methodologies like the Alexander Technique, CranioSacral therapy and yoga provide approaches to the problem from different angles but they all look to address, in part, restoring the ability to fully rest. Which makes me realize what a great idea that is! I am going to go take a nap.