AJ Sliver of golden moon 20210411

The Art and Science of Repose

- Photography by Alan Johnston

Repose is not a word that is used much these days, but it once was, as seen in this graph of its use over time. Repose is a quality we could perhaps do with more of, so what is it, how do we do it and where do we start?

Use over time for: repose (1)

Repose is defined as:

  1. a : a state of resting after exertion or strain, especially rest in sleep

b : eternal or heavenly rest

  1. a : a place of rest

b : peace, tranquillity

c : a harmony in the arrangement of parts and colours that is restful to the eye

  1. a : lack of activity, quiescence

b : cessation or absence of activity, movement, or animation

  1. : composure of manner, poise. (2)

“The word ‘repose’ is late Middle English: from Old French repos (noun), reposer (verb), from late Latin repausare, from re- (expressing intensive force) + pausare ‘to pause’.”(1)

This tells us a lot about what repose is, in the intensity of life; that after ‘expressing intensive force’, we are to pause, before going into motion again. And this is a cyclical rhythm … we move, we pause, then move again, then pause again …

Repose and motion: breathing in and breathing out

When we breathe, we cannot just breathe out and keep breathing out – at some point, we have to stop and breathe in, before we can breathe out again.

And it is the same with motion and repose. We cannot just stay in constant motion – we may try, but the laws of energy determine that at some point we have to stop, to go into repose. If we don’t honour the natural rhythm of motion and repose, we are not in true motion, but in drive, which is unnatural and must be fuelled by internal adrenaline and outside sources like caffeine, sugar and other drugs.

And if we keep overriding the fact that we have to stop, sooner or later we will have to be stopped. These stops may be relatively gentle at first: a bruised shin, a head cold, a migraine … but if we keep overriding our innate need for rest, for repose as well as motion, the stops will get bigger: an accident, a broken bone, a heart attack, cancer, stroke, or the ultimate stop – death.

We say that such things come ‘out of the blue’ but do they? Or have we just been ignoring the messages, the warning signs along the way?

I know for myself that when I was in too much motion, I could feel something was coming and when I have been stopped, and paused to reflect on why, I knew that I was in a momentum that had to be brought to a stop.

Some of these stops have been big – broken bones, rehab, cancer – and some small, and the more I have learned to honour my body and its natural rhythms and cycles, the smaller the stops have become, to the point where I now take regular pauses, regular moments in life to stop, rest and reflect … to go inward, to nurture my body and being, as part of my every day.

These moments don’t need to be long – a few minutes when I wake up to lie in bed and feel how I am feeling, to reflect on any dreams or insights I have had during the night before I start to move … a few minutes of stretching after exercise in the mornings … enjoying the feeling of my body in the car seat as I drive to work … having a cup of tea … sitting for a moment between patients if I am feeling overwhelmed … going to the bathroom when I need to, rather than hanging on till the break … having a short nap at lunchtime if there is time … taking a moment at the end of my work day to reflect on the day and let go of anything that needs letting go of, before heading home in the car … chatting with my husband after dinner … taking a moment before bedtime to reflect on the day and complete whatever needs completing so I can take my body to bed without a racy head …

I have learned breathing techniques and gentle movements that help me with this quality of repose and they may not be for everyone but they certainly support my body and being and the rhythm and flow of my day.

These moments of repose don’t take long in the temporal sense but they make an enormous difference to how my day flows and how I feel in it. Repose is not just about coming to a physical stop, and the time I take to do so, but about a quality – of confirming myself as a person of value, just for who I am, irrespective of what I do, of taking a moment to appreciate that quality and deepen that quality before expanding it into the next movement.

If I allow myself to get caught up in outer demands (which are ever-present and endless), if I get caught up in time and watching the clock, then I feel compressed – a smaller, denser, squashed version of myself – and I start to run late.

If I allow myself to work in a way that honours my natural rhythm and flow, I feel lighter, spacious, more expanded and loving, and I actually work more effectively and run more to time.

At the end of the day, if I have worked in the clock-watching, time-dependent, compressed way, I can feel exhausted, even if it has not been a particularly busy day.

If I have worked a day in a spacious way, with moments of repose to balance the motion I am in, I feel pleasantly tired, but not exhausted, even if the day has been full, and I feel complete.

Where do you start?

If you have not been living in this rhythmic, cyclical way, honouring the in-breath and out-breath of life, the repose as well as the motion, if you know you have been living in constant drive and it is time for you to stop, where do you start?

For me, the greatest change came when I committed to going to bed earlier. Having been a night owl for decades – staying up late reading, watching TV, eating, drinking, trying to cram as much into the day as possible thinking that the day was not enough and that I was not enough in the day ­– the difference going to bed early makes has been a revelation. Allowing myself to feel settled that the day is complete and that I am enough, even if I have not done everything I thought I wanted to do, allows me to let go of the day and wind down for sleep, honouring the fact that my sleep time is just as important as any time of the day.

This is something I can still struggle with, as I still have the tendency to stay up too late trying to do too much, because I have remnants of old beliefs that I am not worthy, and don’t honour myself just for who I am, without feeling that I need to do something to be appreciated by others and to appreciate myself. But when I do go to bed early, by 9pm or so, I sleep soundly and wake feeling rested and refreshed and vital and ready for the day. If I stay up late, trying to do more, do too much, or getting caught up in external distractions, I don’t sleep as well and wake feeling tired, sluggish and out of sorts.

The repose part of our day is vital, as vital as the in-breath is to the out-breath. Learning to honour the wind-down rhythm in the evening and support ourselves to go to bed early when we are tired, but not yet over-tired and even exhausted, will set us up for a good night’s sleep and support us for the day to come.

At the heart of all true motion is a moment of repose, a moment of stillness, of silence, in which we can connect to our innermost nature, the essence of who we are, the sacred being inside this body of ours. We are divinely designed to live in a rhythm of motion and repose and if we honour this natural rhythm, our days and lives flow in harmony with the rhythms and cycles of nature and the universe… the in-breath and out-breath of all life…


  1. https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=repose+meaning
  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/repose


  1. Love this article – so simply written, explaining the crucial importance of observing the cycles of motion and repose.

  2. Loved reading this Anne – such a great reminder about going to bed early. I too have been a night owl for decades and have been noticing that getting to bed even before 9pm can make a huge difference to how I am the next day. I’ve noticed my body’s natural rhythm is to be in bed by 8pm, and if I push past this, then I can get a second wind and can be up for hours! I have not mastered this one yet – it is an unfolding learning for me, and beautiful to feel the quality you wrote this article in, thank you.

  3. Very beautiful Anne. I have chosen to simplify my life by going to bed early and observe that I am feeling more vital, rested and alert. There have been moments when I have felt pressure from others around me to return to late nights filled with lots of distraction but feeling the difference of living in a body that is being more deeply cared for now has confirmed that this small change is the right one for me.

  4. Anne this is a lovely article I actually felt energised reading it! It confirms what I feel about going to bed early helps me feel well slept and ready for the day ahead….this is still a work in progress for me? I was also someone that would stay up late to get more crammed into the day and in doing so felt better about myself. I now know its the beauty I feel inside that matters and it is not dependent on how much I do or how long I sit up at night.


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