kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

Comment: Learning to relax, relaxing to learn

TAKE A BREAK: Not all rest is unproductive

I THINK it would be fair to say that my regular readers know that I love going for walks, having a morning coffee and, when I have time, watching the world go by from the vantage point of my local coffee shop.

Quite often I will arrive at my favourite place and sit down quietly, and sometimes appear to be daydreaming.

I actually find it quite enjoyable doing not much at all and doing this as I wait for my morning coffee is restful and gives me times for reflection and introspection.

In the area I live some new places have opened up offering an array of types of food and the usual coffee and tea.

I particularly like a new Arabic coffee shop and restaurant that has opened up near me which serves excellent coffee and baklava as well as a range of sumptuous offerings to make the mouth water.

Once or twice as I have enjoyed this "downtime". I sometimes fret and think that maybe I ought to be working or checking this or that.


My common sense tells me, however, that my ability to enjoy time to reflect, even perhaps to daydream, is not as unimportant or invaluable as some may think.

I have written on this theme before in different ways and as always it seems that the common point of reference for me is my time spent at the local coffee shop.

However, what I want to draw your attention to today is not so much the delights of Arabic cuisine, which I could write for days on end.

Nor will I regale you with my opinions on the joys of good espresso.

I will refrain from focusing on the epicurean pleasures that can be had indulging a love for baklava as a mouth-watering addition to a good strong coffee.

Finally, I won't tempt debate by asserting the argument for good raw sugar over white sugar in espresso for those like myself with a sweet tooth.

I shall avoid these and the myriad of other issues that foodies the world over can discuss with gusto.

Rather, I want to draw readers' attention to some research that tends to support the argument that it is important to have time to rest, reflect and exercise our introspection.


The research I want to draw your attention to is by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Joanna A. Christodoulou and Vanessa Singh who in an article titled, Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain's Default Mode for Human Development and Education surveys the existing literature on neuroscience and psychological science to discuss the issue and advantages of giving our brains time to rest.

Immordino-Yang et. al point out in the opening paragraph of the article that "clinicians and teachers often discuss the benefits of 'downtime' and reflection for making sense of one's experiences and decisions about future behaviour.

"For example, many experiential education programmes emphasise the importance of time for introspection, and interventions and therapies that teach skills for quiet reflection and mindfulness produce benefits especially for social and emotional functioning (see Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Joanna A. Christodoulou and Vanessa Singh, Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain's Default Mode for Human Development and Education, Perspectives on Psychological Science (2012) Volume 7, Number (4): pages 352-364)".

The authors also point out that "emerging conceptions of brain functioning reveal that neural networks responsible for maintaining and focusing attention into the environment appear to toggle with a so-called default mode of brain function that is spontaneously induced during rest, daydreaming, and other non-attentive but awake mental states (ibid, page 352)".


What this research suggests is that relaxation and even daydreaming can play a very positive role in mental development. According to the authors of this research, "relaxed daydreaming is potentially important for deriving and sifting through the social and emotional implications of everyday situations and relationships and connecting them to personal experiences and future goals (ibid, page 359)".

Understanding the processes of constructive internal reflection is critical to appreciating the interesting and, at times, perhaps paradoxical ways in which we learn and develop.

The research by Immordino-Yang and others is particularly interesting since it delves into the "black box" of the mind in ways that may have significant impact on our educational theories and approaches in the future.

This research meshes with the everyday observations that resonate with many of us. According to Immordino-Yang et. al: "As therapists, teachers, and parents who discuss the benefits of 'downtime' well know, as does anyone who has had a creative insight in the shower, rest is indeed not idleness, nor is it a wasted opportunity for productivity.

Rather, constructive internal reflection is potentially critical for learning from one's past experiences and appreciating their value for future choices and for understanding and managing ourselves in the social world (ibid, page 360)".


So I come back to the time we spend reflecting, resting and sometimes even daydreaming over a cup of coffee.

My view is that many of us have intuitively seen such downtime as enabling constructive internal reflection in ways that we may not have been able to measure or quantify.

The key point, I guess, from all of this is that not all rest is unproductive.

For those interested in the research I have referred to, the full text of the article is easily available.

For others, let me assure you that quite often your time having a break, reflecting and enjoying a good coffee or cup of tea is not always mere idleness.

By James Campbell Source: The New Straits Times Learning Curve 05 August 2012 

Tags: break, learning

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