I am taking a day off from work to take care of my mother today, and took the opportunity to turn off the alarm clock. Yes, of course the disciplinarian in me was not approving, but sometimes I like to see just exactly how much I would sleep if I let my body just take what it wants. In my case, it was about 10 hours of sleep!
I also recall reading the story of an American who went to China to study with a Taoist priest, and who became frustrated with himself because he spent many of the first weeks of his retreat napping and sleeping. When he brought it up with the priest, the priest responded that all of his western students went through the same thing, and that it was typical for all of them to need time to catch up on sleep and rest before they could begin establishing a daily practice requiring less sleep. The priest described that westerners are more fatigued, sleep-deprived and burnt out by their daily living schedules and environmental pollutants than they realize, and that a dedicated period of rest and detoxification is absolutely necessary and nothing to be disappointed with or ashamed of. I have always appreciated that story……just wish I could remember where I read it!
Recently Scott M. Rodell, a very respectable master of the Chinese jian (sword) also made an informative post on Facebook for his Great River Taoist Center that also highlights the importance of rest, as well as the importance of a healthy diet. Although written specifically in refernce to jian training, I believe it is relevant for all martial arts training, and for life in general. Scott M. Rodell shared this excerpt from the Essentials of the Wudang Sword Art by Huang Yuanxiu (translated by Paul Brennan):
FIVE THINGS TO AVOID WHEN TRAINING IN THE SWORD ART
ESSENTIALS OF THE WUDANG SWORD ART
Fourth Prohibition – EXCESSIVENESS
The wonders of the sword art are limitless, but the body’s vitality is limited. This is because one day’s practice is based on one day’s sustenance and rest. Food repairs the essence. Rest restores the spirit. When your essence and spirit are abundant, then your skill will naturally develop. But when you are either overly hungry or overly full, you should not practice, or when you become fatigued in your practice, then you should go for a walk to get some fresh air, or quietly sit to regulate your breath. Moderating in this way, all of your practice will not end up a situation of rapid progress leading to rapid regress.
Daoist Immortal Lü Dongbin
16th cent. Ming Dynasty, China