All around us, nature is slowing, cooling, preparing. Leaves are turning rich warm colors in anticipation of being shed. Nights are frosty as the days shorten and nights lengthen. And—when it is out—the sun no longer has the power it did during the summer months. Autumn may be a season that you relish or it might bring you great sadness.
For many years, it was the latter for me. Despite the beauty of the gilded forests, I knew that they were harbingers of inevitability: winter would soon be here. Winter has often been a struggle for me. The long, dark nights, the cold, and the inaccessibility of the mountains I love to roam through often seem too much to bear. However, over time, I’ve begun to listen to the quiet lessons whispered by the rustling leaves of Fall—it’s time to rest.
If you wander through the forest right now, you’ll see plants turning color. Behind the scenes they are amassing carbohydrates in their roots to survive the winter and be reborn in springtime. Bears and other hibernators are gorging too, investing in their winter fat stores. Those that stay awake, like many rodents, are hoarding food. Nature is busy preparing for rest.
As an athlete, I’ve experienced injuries and burnout. They’ve almost always been tracked back to inadequate rest. Unlike most of nature, we humans strive year-round, seeking an unattainable—unmaintainable—level of productivity or fitness. Yet, everyone needs rest. Some more than others. Just as bears and squirrels prepare for rest differently, so too will we. But the truth remains: nature maintains balance through rest and activity and—as part of nature—we need to be mindful of our own need for balance as well.
These days, I cherish the beauty of Autumn and those slight shifts in temperature and light. I marvel at the way that animals prepare for and survive harsh winters intuitively. That even the largest plants—trees and bushes—can be reduced to bare sticks, yet survive. I see these as reminders to invest in myself. To take care of niggles before they become injuries. To nourish my body with sleep when I need it. That it is ok to run less in the winter—and, more than ok, quite necessary.
Autumn reminds us that it is natural to have an off-season, where we either engage in our main activity a bit less or switch to an entirely different one. It’s ok to lose fitness, but maintain a base to build from in the spring. It is ok to rest.
Three ways to honor rest in your daily life now and all year ‘round:
Schedule Down Time: This is time when you’re not busy with anything. This means not scrolling, folding laundry, or making to-do lists. While it doesn’t have to be meditation (more on that below) it’s an opportunity to let you body and mind relax. Personally, I like to sit and sip a cup of tea slowly while gazing out the window, but any method that you enjoy works. You’ll be amazed what even a 5-minute reset like this can do to your mood and productivity.
Meditate: Taking the down time mentioned above a step further, meditation is a focused opportunity to be present rather than distracted. Contrary to the standard imaging, you can meditate in a variety of ways: sitting, lying down, walking, while doing yoga, etc. The key is to bring your attention to your body and current environment through your senses. This is a crucial mental rest for brains that are often busy ranging far into the future and through many list-making and what-if scenarios.
Build in Off-Days: While it’s important to move your body daily, if you run or hike or lift (or any other sport) daily it’s good to plan one day a week where you don’t engage in that particular activity. This gives your body the chance to make adaptations to training load and reset to perform optimally the next day.