Recently I decided that sleep is the new God. I have two boys, ages 10 and 11, no longer babies or toddlers, a time when society accepts that you might not be able to complete a sensible or grammatically correct sentence. Now that everybody is sleeping through the night, I am supposed to remember every work appointment, listen to my kids and respond on topic, and chose going out on a date night with my husband instead of crawling into bed by nine. But I don't. I want sleep.
No... I worship sleep.
Last Mother's Day I decided to give myself the gift of sleep as a present. I chucked my "I-don't-get-enough-sleep" pity party and made a commitment to take a 20-minute powerful iRest yoga nidra nap every day for an entire year because I was not enjoying just about any part of my life. How hard, I thought, could it be to commit to 20-minutes of lying down per day? I work from home. I can walk away from my computer and sleep on my own bed any time between nine in the morning and three in the afternoon.
It took less than a day to get my answer to the "how hard" taking a nap every day was going to be.
"No mom has time to nap!" my close friend Melissa, mom of a 12- and 7-year-old, told me over the phone the next day. "I've got work, then Connor's got track practices four days per week, Julia's got ballet lessons, church, homework..."
"Which is exactly why I'm going to nap," I told her defiantly.
Instead of my usual mother routine of not feeding my desires first, I spent the day thinking, "I am mother, hear me roar!"
That night my husband Tim came home and announced he was taking a work trip for three weeks to Thailand, Bangladesh and Senegal a week after Mothers Day. By the next morning I was in full agreement with Melissa. What was I thinking? I can't take a nap every day for one year starting on Mothers Day. I'm way too busy.
My mind began to spill out a list of why it is absolutely impossible for me to nap every day, starting with reason number one: Tim's work trip. Not only won't he be around to do the dishes, which I'd calculated adds an hour to my evening mommy routine, but I won't even be able to get him on the phone to complain about how the kids continually insulted each other through breakfast, or how Jacob complained about Aden's horrible electric guitar playing and Aden complained about Jacob's inadequate Lego collection.
And I also cannot nap every day, I reasoned, because when Tim arrives back from his work trip, Jacob will have just had his last day of school for the next 85 days. Yes, summer break -- that delicious time of year when American parents get to juggle their kids for nearly three months, or send them to six weeks of summer camp for $10,000.
Oh, and did I mention that for the first two weeks of summer, my younger son Aden is in school, while Jacob is out of school with no brother at home to argue with and not enough Legos to feed his insatiable habit? Still, my plan was to work at home full time and nap every day.
"You're a braver mom than me," Melissa said on the phone.
"I'm not brave!" my practical-mom side wanted to tell Melissa. "I want to call it off!"
But then I thought about how exhausted I was, how I always say I need more sleep, how my period was out of whack and I thought it was hormones and age, but after energy healers, acupuncturists, midwives, and gynecologists, I still did not know why I felt awful. Delusional as it seemed, I was convinced I must have a rare malignant tumor. Maybe I felt so bad because I had moved 10 times in five years to three states and one foreign country with a family of four, in addition to writing a play, making a short film, inspiring red tent birth storytelling circles around the world and founding a global movement to improve maternity care. Yep, I deserved a year-long nap. So I decided to go for it.
The day after I convinced myself to start napping, family life fell apart. One work deadline turned into three, I received an urgent message from Jacob's school to have a meeting about his smirky, end-of-fifth-grade-attitude towards a kid who was bugging the bits out of him, and while making school lunches that morning, I felt like I was in the tilt-a-whirl at Disneyworld.
Hoping that the room spinning was a result of taking too many iron supplements that morning, I Googled "Iron overdoes symptoms" to find this reassuring feedback:
When someone takes too much iron, the first effect is irritation and ulceration of the stomach lining. This results in nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting as early as 20 minutes after the ingestion. This can be followed by an apparent recovery, which is very deceptive because a few hours later the person can go into profound shock with a severe blood chemistry imbalance.
Great, I had the nausea, abdominal pain and had to rush to the bathroom. Now I was just waiting for profound shock.
To make the morning even more dramatic, my husband Tim sent me an email that he was asked if he would be interested in taking a job in West Africa.
Okay, then I cursed.
So you can see why napping felt like it was not going to make my to-do list for an entire year, let alone one day. Later that day, just as I was about to throw out the whole idea of napping, I remembered a note I wrote on an almond-butter stained paper towel that week as I was sitting in my car at a light. The paper towel was now scrunched up on my staircase. I unfolded it and read the words: "All our striving to become something just brings us to this place where (ultimately) we give it all up."
I'd like to take credit for that, but this is a quote from Richard Miller, the founder of iRest yoga nidra. It was just what I needed. Richard's point is that our suffering will end when we throw away all our striving and just be. I had an inkling what he meant, but at that moment, "be" was so totally not the life I was living. I was striving, big time.
I thought to myself, if a good nap like the one Miller was suggesting could help get me out of this (striving), then I'm in. Totally. Right now.
My commitment to nap began right then.
When Mother's Day rolled around, I was on an unstoppable sleep-quest that was really a quest for becoming -- becoming the person I knew I was somewhere before sleep deprivation and endless to-do lists ruled my life.
When it was time for my first nap on Mothers Day last year, I had been prepping my boys for a week.
"This is it!" I announced that afternoon. "Mom is going to nap!"
"Okay," they said back to me in unison.
One minute passed
"Mom can you take me to the park and shoot hoops?" Jacob asked.
"But did you hear what I just said? That I'm taking a nap now? I need 20 minutes for me."
"Oh, right," Jacob responded.
Sometimes mothers must wrestle for our naps. And that's exactly what I did.
Lying down was delicious, like I just ate an ice cream sundae and retired to a hammock on a beach. I think I let out seven sighs in the first minute. The voice on the iRest yoga nidra CD that I used encourages sighing, and I love that; it feels like I'm releasing black smoke from my mouth and nostrils.
Oh, and the eye bag -- I must mention that! The slight pressure of the bag combined with complete darkness felt like it was giving my eyes permission to rest.
I think the most wonderful thing about yoga nidra is that there is nothing to do. Just listen and remain restful, yet awake enough to hear the guided meditation. At the end, I recited a poem by Maya Angelou.
I'm not going to lie. It was not easy to nap every day. I didn't repeat Maya Angelou quotes after each nap. But for 40 days, I napped in my basement on a blow-up bed, in my bedroom, on the couch, and one night over Memorial Day weekend after a full day at the pool I split my nap up and did the yoga nidra CD until the pizza delivery came, got the kids settled with pizza and a movie, then finished up my nap.
After day 40, I stopped napping.
"I don't have to be a Type-A napper," I told myself, facing the reality that to nap every day for a year was too much. "I'll nap when I can."
But those 40 days changed everything. I dipped down to meet and greet emotions that I had been neglecting for a long time. I stopped making excuses for why I never took a walk anymore. Most importantly, I began to feel like I knew myself again.
From sleep, my body woke up.
At the time, I did not link the importance of 40 days to my mommy-transformation, but now I get it. There are so many instances in the Bible where God made major changes and transformations after the period of 40 days:
- It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to cleanse the world and start over. (Gen 7:12 KJV)
- Noah waited another 40 days after it rained before he opened a window in the Ark. (Gen 8:6 KJV)
- Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (twice) .(Exo 24:18 KJV and Exo 34:28-29 KJV)
Kundalini yoga also explains the significance of 40 days:
Since the mind works in cycles, influenced primarily by the lunar cycle, any practice maintained over 40 days uses the will and intent to break a habit of the mind. The mind is said to release 1,000 thoughts with every blink of the eyes. Consciously, the human being is powerless over these subconscious chains of thought. Therefore, setting an intent and sticking to a practice, such as doing a 90-minute yoga and meditation set over these 40 days, leverages the mind on the sub-conscious level. Over a 40-day period, the cycles of the mind are overcome and the subtle thought-chains of habit can be broken.
Okay, I'm in again. Last Mothers Day, after 40 days of napping, I felt my becoming came out -- the real me -- for the first time in a long time. I have decided to end my "year of napping" by taking a nap every day for the final 40 days until Mothers Day. I am inviting moms around the world to join me. And I plan to blog about it here on The Huffington Post.
Does more transformation await me? I have no idea, but I do know that by Mothers Day, if nothing else, I will be well rested.
Kids: Mommy is sleeping!