Shaya Kass
Focus, Flourish and Fly using science

Shmita for the brain

Photo by Sage Friedman at;

In this week’s parasha we are introduced to the commandment of shmita. One year out of seven, or 14% of the time, we are supposed to let our fields go fallow and just rest.

Once upon a time, our fields were our source of sustenance and perhaps wealth. We also are supposed to let our bodies rest 1 day out of 7, or 14% of the time. Then, most of us worked with our bodies to get sustenance and, perhaps, wealth. But today, as Sir Ken Robinson said in his TED talk, for most of us our body is, “a form of transport for [our] heads” to get to meetings. And with all our lockdowns, even that is barely true.

Perhaps we should consider giving our mind a rest for 14% of our day? Heck, even 15 minutes out of our 16 waking hours or about 1.4%.

But wait, what is a mind at rest? Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and colleagues write that our brain has two systems, one for paying attention and processing information called the “task positive” network that focuses on looking out to the world from inside your mind. Another network is the “task negative” network that becomes active when subjects are asked to stare at a plus sign or to just relax. When the task negative network is activated the brain is in “default mode”.  And, of course, only one of these networks involving a bunch of different regions of the brain can be active at once. If one network is active, the other is less so.

One thing that is important to note is that the more fully a brain “rests” while in default mode, the more active it is for the task positive network when it is trying to learn or do something. And other studies have shown that if you train your brain to enter default mode by training introspection or meditation, you will improve skills for keeping your attention on the task at hand when you are working on something.

Really surprisingly, there is research that shows that having a higher IQ is correlated to how your brain functions during the default mode.

How long do you have to spend in default mode? Just the length of a reflexive pause in a conversation. Dr. Immordino-Yang tells about a research subject who heard a compassion inducing story. While talking about it, the subject paused for just a few seconds and was able to make deeper, more meaningful connections to ho his own life from the story.

Given all this evidence that allowing “down-time” for your brain helps when you are trying to concentrate and be “active”, how do we give ourselves default mode time? We give ourselves time to daydream. When was the last time you took a cup of tea out to your garden and did nothing? Just daydream? Another way to get into default mode is meditation. I wonder if other mindfulness activities like drawing ZenTangle® art gets our brains into default mode?

What will you start to do to get into default mode? And when will you start?


The article discussed in this newsletter is Immordino-Yang, M. H., Christodoulou, J. A., & Singh, V. (2012). Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(4), 352–364.

About the Author
My clients Focus, Flourish and Fly after I educate them about the best mindfulness techniques and exercises to support them. You too can get the benefits of my experience as a Life Coach and my 35 years in education. Go to and learn more.
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