Are there any other moms out there besides me up for changing Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" mantra to "Eat, Pray, Sleep"? This feels more appropriate for moms caught in the pursuit of peace and happiness, no Bali in our crystal balls, and running around like pet gerbils to make spaghetti dinners, help with homework and organize sleepovers.
I really wanted to be one of those seven million who bought Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Eat, Pray. Love," inhaled it as soulful medicine, and felt an inner spiritual shift at that final page. But by the end of the book (no, really by the end of Gilbert recounting her divorce) I wanted to throw it in the toilet. "Eat, Pray, Love"? You've got to be joking.
Let's be real, a mother who is feeling miserable in life isn't going to disappear for three months, eat her way alone through Italy, pray in India at an ashram and go study with a shaman in Indonesia. Most moms of Gilbert's socioeconomic status set up weekly therapy appointments with an LCSW off of their insurance plan and cry in their minivans. Three months off isn't on the menu for moms.
It starts with maternity leave. That's the "welcome to motherhood" moment where new moms are faced with a world that gives them two paid weeks off to have a baby, recover from childbirth, breastfeed a baby, get the baby off the breast and sort out a whole new life. In an instant a woman's life goes from Gilbert's romanticized "Eat, Pray, Love" to a mother's practical devotion to "Eat, Pray, Sleep." At least that's my story.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about sleep and what moms need, because early last year I had one too many cry-in-the-minivan moments. My kids were nine and 11-years-old, hardly the age where you'd think I'd be crying in a minivan. But the past three years have been Elizabeth Gilbert tough -- 10 moves in five years, one to Africa, a violent robbery, my kids changing schools, coming to terms with my oldest son's severe learning challenges, and leaving all my women friends, just to name a few.
Sitting in my Honda Odyssey at the edge of a nearby children's park in a thunderstorm at seven in the evening last February I let out a wail that I was sure would summon the local police. I ran out of tissues, wipes and rest area napkins in five minutes. Telling my husband I needed to drive off in our minivan at dinner time to scream felt nuts; suggesting I was going to set off to travel alone for three months like Gilbert would have sounded insane, even to my feminist husband. Opting out of motherhood isn't possible, right? I had to find myself where I was: in the belly of my life of laundry, shuttling kids to activities and trying to find my brain when it was time to work.
There is no formula for happiness, but what 44 years on this planet has taught me is that life is a circle. Good can turn to bad, and bad back to good -- sometimes instantaneously. Gilbert's story seemed to show that this could happen as long as we ran away from all the bad for a few months to get our head on straight. My story is different. I'm a mom. What if you can't escape the bad? What if you must ride the circle right where you're at?
On my bright days I went through my Rolodex of resources to feel happier. Bali would be nice, but a local Shaman might work too. See an acupuncturist. Take Happy Pills. Find a therapist. Scratch that, I had traditional therapy and it sucked. Join a women's group. Do yoga. Attend kirtan classes. My list seemed endless and enticing, I tried some of it, but none felt like the right fit until I discovered a five-letter word that rocked my mommy world: sleep.
After my minivan cry-fest I fell into a deep 20-minute nap in the driver's seat and emerged like a recovered amnesia victim. Forget shamans in Bali, moms. Sleep is all we need. After my nap I remembered that: (A) I loved myself; (B) I wasn't a Loser Mom; (C) my kids were terrific (even though Jacob always leaves his socks in the living room); and (D) my husband was a honey (not the evil guy who goes on two week international work trips).
I also remembered how much I loved going to a yoga nidra class when my kids were little. Yoga nidra is an ancient form of yogic sleep where you lay on the floor and the teacher guides you into a meditative state. It's that simple. But was I really going to start napping regularly?
I was never a napper and frankly I considered people who nap lazy. Michelle Obama surely doesn't nap, right? If you believe the newspapers she's hosting State dinners at night and then gets up at five to exercise. That would mean she gets about five hours or less of sleep.
Maybe that works for Michelle, but my body loves to sleep. After my minivan nap I realized since motherhood I wasn't giving myself what I love. So last winter I signed up for a yoga nidra class buoyed into action by a statement on yoga nidra that I found all over the Internet:
My head began to do the calculations: if I was getting six hours of nighttime sleep and then did one hour every day of yoga nidra that would mean my body would feel as if it had 10 hours of sleep. Yoga nidra could quite possibly be a busy mother's dream-come-true!
A month later I flew to Arizona to lay on a blanket and learn how to nap with yoga nidra guru Richard Miller whose integrative restoration method of yoga nidra is showing remarkable results in dramatically helping war veterans recover from post traumatic stress disorder. This is great news for moms because so many of us are just like PTSD victims: injured from our unresolved traumas of over-medicalized childbirths or working jobs without affordable childcare, good pay and reasonable mommy hours.
It's hard not to buy what Richard Miller is selling. In his book "Yoga Nidra: The Meditative Heart of Yoga" he tell us that yoga nidra will lead you to:
Profound relaxation, release of chronic stress, better sleep, resolution to many of your life's conundrums, and a greater sense of harmony in your daily life and relationships.
And if this wasn't scrumptious enough, he declares:
In its ultimate revelation, Yoga Nidra points directly to your True Nature, to peace that is beyond description and your birthright.
Ironically, this also seems to be Gilbert's conclusion in her book. When we're in our True Nature we will experience peace. Gilbert left her life behind to find her True Nature, but what if you don't have to leave your life to get your groove back? What if sleep like yoga nidra was the key to finding your True Nature and enjoying life more?
On Mother's Day this year I decided to take a yoga nidra nap every day for a year and write about it. I made it 40 days and then my mommy nap time collapsed as my work commitments and kids' summer break collided. By mid-summer I considered myself a Loser Napper. Who was I kidding? I don't have time to nap.
And then my doctor told me at a routine visit that I was exhausted (really?), my gynecologist thought I looked awful (and by the way had a growing cyst on my ovary), my dermatologist said my skin wasn't clearing due to tiredness, and my nutritionist said every organ in my body was severely exhausted.
Their recommendation? Sleep. So now I'm napping again, not compulsively every day but I'm committed to sleep. The bottom line is that when I do, I feel better. And when mama's happy the household is happier. Mine sure is.
Here are five ways as a busy mom I'm making a commitment to sleep more and so can you:
- Twice a week get into bed by 10pm. If you have to get up at six am you've got eight hours!
- On a day that you will be out late (like Back to School Night or a work commitment) take a 15-20 minute yoga nidra nap. 20 minutes will energize you more than you ever imagined. And since a 20 minute yoga nidra nap is equivalent to 80 minutes, you're getting more for less which is exactly what you need on those busy nights. Do a yoga nidra nap with headphones in your office during your lunch break, on the train or bus going home, or before the kids get home.
- At least one night a week put the kids to sleep and then go to bed. I know, there are dishes to do, permission slips to sign, and that very important e-mail to send. Forget it. Sleep will make you happier. You can do family chores another night.
- Go on a sleep retreat. One week of good quality rest can recharge your batteries and get you firmly on your sleep journey. Yoga nidra retreats are offered through Richard Miller or at places like Omega Institute and Kripalu.
- Recruit your entire family to support your commitment to sleep more. Sit your kids and partner down and tell them, "Mommy needs more sleep" and then regularly go off for a "mommy nap." In the beginning accept that you are going to feel like you're moving a mountain to get that nap, but it won't take long to train these puppies. Soon you'll be saying "I'm off for my nap!" and no one will bat an eye.
"Eat, Pray, Love" worked for Gilbert. For moms, I think "Eat, Pray, Sleep" is our essential mantra. I've got an inkling "Love" might follow.