There are four primary pillars of health – like the legs of a chair, missing even one of the legs can result in a collapse of the entire system. These pillars are movement, diet, quiet/rest, and happiness/purpose/dream-creation/legacy-building.
In our modern, face-paced, productivity-oriented living environment, I find the pillar that is most often neglected is the pillar of rest and relaxation and quiet “non-doing.” I find that those that don’t make time to rest effectively are the same ones that don’t make time to move their bodies, eat quality foods, and get clear on what bring happiness and fulfillment in their lives.
One of my first recommendations to anyone I work with is to get at least eight hours of sleep every night, getting to bed no later than 10:30 to optimize the body’s inherent circadian rhythm. This in itself can have a huge impact of every other aspect of your life. I promise that whatever you’re doing is most likely not as important as getting to sleep.
Now even this simple advice can be a challenge for many people. Some people are already so overly stressed that they can’t properly wind down enough to get into a good night’s sleep.
This is where implementing a spiritual practice comes into play.
I know there’s a lot of baggage around that “spiritual” word so let me clarify:
By spiritual I simply mean connecting to a greater and greater whole. Another way to look at is to take responsibility for what you’re creating moment to moment.
Not that scary, right?
A spiritual practice is simply a practice of eliminating distractions and being with yourself long enough to start to become aware what you’re creating through your thoughts, words, and deeds. The more aware you become of what you’re creating in your life, the more you realize how much of a connection you have with everyone and everything around you. Ultimately, the more this awareness grows, the more control you gain over the life you’re are choosing to live.
This practice might look like a seated meditation in silence; it might look like a slow stroll through nature; it might look like breath work; it might look like Tai Chi; it might look like gardening; it might even look like washing the dishes. The point is that you’re intentionally stepping away from your regular scheduled programming to cultivate some awareness of yourself – not getting sucked into the same patterns of thoughts and reactivity.
This shift from productivity to receptivity also does wonders to alleviate stress and aid in recovery. This is a big deal if you’re an athlete looking to perform at a high level. We don’t realize how much unnecessary stress can be eliminated just by “simply” becoming more aware of and taking responsibility for what you’re choosing to create moment to moment. I put quotations around “simply” because anyone that’s tried to sit in silence and meditate for 10 minutes knows just how daunting of a task that can be.
So take an honest look at your life. Are you doing as well as you could be in each of the four pillars? Is there any one that’s lacking more than the others? What actions (or non-actions) need to happen for you to improve any area of your life that may not being doing so hot? Do you have a dream big enough and clear enough for you to do what you know needs to be done or are you more comfortable in the discomfort of your familiar uncomfortability?
My advice is to sit with yourself long enough without distractions to get clear on what you want and to see what self-generated stories may be getting in the way. Take some time to do this every day. If sitting still is too hard find an active form of meditation. Even five minutes is better than nothing. The consistency is the most important part. On top of that, it’s free.
As an athlete constantly training hard and pushing their body and mind to the limit, getting good sleep usually isn’t enough. It’s important to implement other kinds of restorative practices throughout that. A consistent spiritual practice of at least 15 minutes every day is a very effective way to not only improve your performance by mitigating stress and increasing restoration, but by becoming more aware of yourself (and ultimately, your SELF), you can begin to see other areas of your life that may be adding additional stress that can be adjusted or eliminated.