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Exploring Downtime on Sabbatical

Hello from the East Cape of southern Baja, where the humpback whales are breaching, lobtailing and frolicking with their calves. We are camped on the beach, where the ocean & desert seem to stretch endlessly; a perfect spot for some extended Downtime.


Our sabbatical has moved so swiftly that, at times, it’s difficult to comprehend three months have passed. Yet, March is here and it feels we are only just now understanding the possibility to thoroughly unwind and let go. This time that our sabbatical has provided, feels like the greatest gift we have ever received. We feel blessed to have the ability to deeply explore both of these spaces (unwinding & letting go) through an immersion in Downtime.



Misako & Ryan in Southern Baja with the humpback whales

...time is time and place is always and only place and what is actual is actual only for one time and only for one place, I rejoice that things are as they are...

-TS Elliot


Does the oft repeated query "keeping busy” sound familiar? For me, this cultural norm reflects the misunderstood importance of ‘capital D’ Downtime. Although the health values of Downtime have been known for millennia by many cultures, (it is a foundational concept in Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM)), modern research is deepening our understanding of the how & why. Research indicates that several regions of the brain coordinate when we focus our attention inward (versus focusing on a task); these regions collectively are referred to as the Default Mode Network (DMN). Brain imaging suggests that the DMN is disrupted in a host of conditions, including: chronic pain, depression, ADHD, PTSD, insomnia, and even chronic stress.


What is Downtime?

This is a tough question to answer. However, it most definitely is not, scrolling on our phones while waiting in line! Ultimately, my Downtime may be different than yours, as it depends how engaged the mind is. For me Downtime can occur listening to music only if there are no lyrics (or in a language I don’t understand). In short, Downtime seems to occur when our brain is able to wander, e.g. not focused on directions, emotions, or outside stimulus like your phone.


Southern Baja surf

How Much Downtime Do You Need?

Like most things in life, it varies. Looking to the principals of TEAM, it is suggested that we allow for Downtime throughout each day. Two key timeframes are with meals and before bed (more on this below). Here are some common indicators that you may not be getting enough Downtime:

  • Feeling stressed and/or unable to turn “off”

  • Frequent sense of anxiety

  • Inability to focus/engage with new tasks

  • Insomnia, rumination

  • Several medical conditions, such as ADHD, chronic pain and depression


I have NO time to add more…

In short, we can create space for Downtime if we allow ourselves to be comfortable (again) with ‘being bored’ and simply ditch the phone/news/podcast to enjoy some silence. This shows up in our everyday lives in numerous moments; our walks, commutes, chores and even the bathroom. A few ‘tweaks’ to your current routines can help free up space to incorporate some Downtime.


Here are few examples:

  • Waking up: Too many of us wake, brew coffee, and listen/watch to the news. Perhaps a new routine can be initiated...without the news? Create Downtime space to enjoy the start of the day and see what comes. Maybe you gain insight from the dream that you can’t quite recall...

    • As an aside, TEAM has a rich history of dreamwork interpretation…and according to Jeremy Taylor (one of the teachers I have studied with), “Dreams come in the service of health & wholeness”

    • As another aside, ideally, skip the caffeine first thing in the morning; have some herbal tea or just a glass of water.

  • Meals: These are often a social time, but when we eat alone, use the opportunity to just eat; don’t read or listen/watch the news. TEAM principals suggest this allows us to focus our Qi to our stomach to aid digestion/absorption.

  • Sleep: Ideally, ‘wind down’ before you get into bed. This is a quiet, reflective time for us to limit the concentration/brain stimulation. If this isn’t feasible, at least power down the electronics. Once in bed, plan on 5 minutes of mindfulness. For those of you that have seen me in clinic, think of the breath work that we practiced. Follow your breath and focus on the stillness/space that occurs after the exhale.

    • Try one of the many meditation/mindfulness apps; look for routines that allow for the mind to wander.

  • Bonus: Have a ‘chunk of time’ free? Consider what we refer to as ‘Scheduled Unscheduled Time.’ Block out a few hours with no agenda other than to allow for reflective time to allow your body/mind/spirit to wander. Maybe a walk, some gardening or enjoying the beauty of art/nature.


If we look, there are opportunities to enhance our health and wellbeing in our existing routines. This foundational principal of TEAM is referred to as "Proper Lifestyle" and an imbalance is the leading cause of sub-optimal health & wellness...


I think it’s time for a walk on the beach, the sound of the surf and feel of the sand on my feet is calling…

 

 

In health,

Ryan

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