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Mindful : June 2015
not the same as unending work. Even Olympic ath- letes must train and rest or they get hurt. Fruit trees forced to produce for more tha n one season, without being allowed to rest in the winter, lose their ability to bear fruit altogether. We sometimes forget we a re humans, not com- puters. Like other a nima ls, humans are governed by circadian and ultradian rhythms. Most people a re familia r with the concept of our circadia n rhythms. In the 24-hour period when the sun rises and sets, we sleep a nd wake in predictable cycles. When we travel into different time zones, our circadian rhythms get out of whack, and as a consequence our lives can feel simila rly discombobulated. Our bra ins a nd bodies also cycle in “ultradian rhythms” throughout the day and night. An ultradian rhythm is a recurrent period or cycle that repeats throughout the 24-hour circadia n day, like breathing or our hea rtbeat. Even in our sleep, we don’t just exist in a singula r, steady state. We cycle between drea m- ing and various types of non-dreaming sleep. Our bra in-wave patterns a lso cycle when we a re awake. About every hour and a half to two hours, we expe- rience a significant “ultradian dip,” when our energy drops a nd sleep becomes possible. When we work through these dips—relying on caffeine, adrena line, and stress hormones to keep us alert instead of letting our bodies and brains rest—we become a nxious a nd jittery, and our performa nce falters. We ca n live more like olive trees, which produce olives for hundreds of yea rs, than like our iPhones, which are built to last only a couple of years. We can take a school day approach to life, in which we work and learn and produce a nd create in predictable periods of time, and then we have equally predict- able periods of play and rest and recovery. And... we take recess. Re-Learning To Play We need play. We need to laugh and delight in small things, like the smell of jasmine at dusk, or the sum- mer sun streaming into the kitchen after breakfast. We need to play peekaboo with babies. We need to sing our favorite songs at the top of our lungs. We need to dance with our children and lovers and friends. And because we humans are so wildly cre- ative, we are consta ntly inventing amazing technol- ogies, tools that save us time and effort. The key question rema ins, however: What will we choose to do with all the found time and energy that we’ve invented for ourselves? Today, take a good old-fashioned recess in the middle of the day. Go ahead and do your hardest or most dreaded work—or whatever you need to do—but after about 60 to 90 minutes of focused attention, honor your ultradian rhythms and take a break. Rest. What do you find rela xing or rejuvenating? Is there an article you’ve been wanting to read for fun? Does your most vivid fa ntasy involve a nap? Do you want to spend a few minutes looking at pictures of pretty living rooms on Pinterest? Perhaps you long to go outside into the great outdoors (or the plaza across from your office) and let the sun shine on your face. Just do it. The only rule is that what you do during recess must be restful or playful; it can’t be “instrumental” in any way. Anything that you have to do anyway (shower, eat lunch) doesn’t count, and neither does anything that exists on a to-do list anywhere. Have fun! ● We need play. We need to laugh and delight in small things. From The Sweet Spot by Christine Carter, Ph.D. © 2015 by Chris- tine Carter. Published by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reser ved. 40 mindful June 2015 resilience