I love the fresh start offered by each new school year. However, it takes a lot of energy to get a new year going. In my early fifties, I began to need an afternoon nap for the first few weeks of school. I napped guiltily, embarrassed at what I saw as a retreat from adulthood. A couple of years ago I started taking yoga classes and learned a resting pose called “Child’s Pose.” One enters Child’s Pose by getting on all fours and letting one’s front half sink to the mat, arms outstretched, while one’s fanny remains slightly elevated. The position is undignified but comfortable; it induces a mini-nap so the muscles can recover from more strenuous poses. In Child’s Pose I have made peace with my adult need for naps.
Adult naps have a long history in virtually every culture except our own. For eons adults have recognized the restorative power of a temporary return to the simple needs of childhood. Naps provide rest from work and worry; naps give the brain a chance to process and learn; naps restore resilience and energy.
My mother, raising three young children in the 1950s, was advised by her doctor to nap so she wouldn’t be tired when her husband arrived home. After my first child was born I was advised to nap when he did. It was good advice, but it was hard to ignore the siren call of all the work that didn’t get done when my son was awake, and it was impossible to resist making stealthy trips to his crib while he napped to make sure he was still breathing.
In those days, napping was for women and children. Nowadays, it seems our American disinclination to be caught napping is on the wane. When I mentioned napping in class recently, my students, male and female, nodded enthusiastically and said they take survival naps between afternoon activities and nightly homework sessions. I’ve read about “relaxation rooms,” EnergyPods where one can sleep (and snore) with impunity, CEOs with eye shades and headphones going down for a twenty minute power nap.
When I lie down to nap, I tacitly admit that the world can get along without me for a little while. I relinquish my professional status and become a child again. Tucking myself in, I remember my mother humming under her breath, stroking and smoothing my ears so they will lie flat. As my breathing slows, I remember the delicious weight of a sleeping child in my arms. Napping, I am child and mother, young and old, I snuggle down into the wide, deep body of human experience that connects us all. When I wake, the tension in my neck has eased, and I feel at peace. I believe in the power of naps not only to refresh body and mind but also to renew the store of kindness in my heart. As I rise and re-enter the adult world, I hope that everyone I meet has had a nap.
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