The Seasonal Medicine of Naps

Since the summer solstice, you’ve likely noticed the days becoming shorter. Ayurveda teaches that as sunlight wanes between summer and winter solstices, this signals to our body that it is a time of decrease and depletion.

By observing nature during this transition from summer to fall, you'll notice the leaves and flowers losing their appearance of vitality, vibrancy, and lushness. Eventually the plants and trees will go through their natural cycle to prepare for winter, essentially entering a state of hibernation in anticipation of the return of longer daylight.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel a similar loss of vitality, vibrancy, and lushness in this half of the year. The end of summer may mark the experience of burnout, overwhelm, and exhaustion for some.

While there are several self-care practices and herbal formulas to consider to counter this sense of depletion, one of the simplest and most effective practices is at the heart of many other cultures’ daily routine: the nap.

Counter-Cultural Friction

The concept of mid-day napping to the American mind may result in a barrage of thoughts, opinions, or judgments:

“Who has time to nap during the day?”
“That just sounds lazy. Suck it up and get through your day like the rest of us.”
“There are too many things to do. My productivity would suffer.”
“Naps are for rainy days, Saturday afternoons, and sick days.”
“I love naps, but rarely make time for that kind of luxury.”

I concede that generally our lifestyle is not conducive to napping in the middle of the day. If you work a standard 8+ hour daily schedule, it is unlikely you’ll be able to zonk out between 1:30 and 2:00pm without consequence.

However, even if we do have a lifestyle that permits an afternoon rest, it is likely you might run up against some form of the judgements listed above either externally from others or internally from yourself.

Whether a nap is a daily option for you, or something you can only fit in on your days off, read on to learn of the importance and reasoning behind this as a form of self care.

Preempting and Countering the Impact of Burnout

The fiery aspect of our constitution is responsible for our sense of drive, ambition, and direction. In a balanced state this makes us productive, active members of society who can achieve our goals. However, many of us may have higher expectations of productivity than our true capacity actually allows.

Regardless of season, fire-driven individuals may experience periods of burnout and exhaustion throughout the year. However, if we can tune into the rhythm of nature and listen to the subtle signs of intensity, overwork, and stress, it is possible to get ahead of the “inevitable” fallout of depletion. As the adage goes, “prevention is the best medicine.”

Taking time to rest or nap, or even simply pause, in the middle of your day can interrupt the momentum of intensity that can overrun the mind and nervous system that eventually leads to this kind of burnout.

Restoring and Nourishing Your Buffer

Our deep well of vitality and immunity, the ayurvedic concept of ojas, is easily depleted, but not always so easily replenished. While balanced digestion, right food choices, and appropriate output of effort are all important aspects to consider when managing your reserves of ojas/deep vitality, giving the body the opportunity for deep rest is top of the list.

Ojas is burned up by fire and dried out by air elements, which are overwhelmingly prevalent during summer and fall seasons. By giving your system the chance to rest and recharge, you naturally cultivate the qualities that help counter the negative impact of those elements: stillness, grounding, nourishment, ease, effortlessness, and softness.

When your system is holding less tension and outputting less effort, your energy can go to the places which need rejuvenation and restoration. You may find that the 20 minute window of a nap could recharge your system to complete the tasks of your day with greater ease and enjoyment. In effect, you don’t necessarily lose productivity, you just lose the stress.

Creating Your Practice of Restful Rejuvenation

Consider how you can build moments of decompression, relaxation, or even deep rest into your day. If you don’t have the opportunity for a full nap because of your work environment or schedule, get creative about what you CAN do.

A Small Practice of Breath and Awareness

Set an alarm on your phone at a point during the day when you know you can take a few minutes to yourself. When that alarm goes, walk through the following steps:

  1. Close your eyes or direct your eyes away from any screens/visual stimulation.
  2. Placing your hand(s) on the abdomen, become aware of the movement of your breath.
  3. Count your breaths backwards starting at the number 10, counting one exhale at a time until you reach 0. As you count backwards, allow each breath to be an opportunity to release physical tension, mental activity, or emotional buildup.
  4. Repeat the countdown again if you feel you could release more.
  5. Once you feel content, bring to mind an image, a memory, a person, a feeling, or a phrase that supports you. It could be an image of being in nature or a place you love, a person who encourages or loves you, a time when you felt at ease and empowered, or a personal motto, affirmation, or mantra.
  6. Hold that reference point of support for several breaths and then slowly blink your eyes open into the space.
  7. Continue on with your day.

You can do this practice once or several times a day. While not a nap, it is a way to disrupt what could be the build up of an unsupportive or unhealthy momentum in your daily rhythm.

A 5 to 10 Minute Practice of Guided Relaxation

If you can escape for a 5-10 minute window, but aren’t able to lie down, then use a 5-10 minute recording of a guided relaxation practice. Pop in your ear-buds and sit comfortably as you take a journey of deep relaxation.

A few practices I recommend can be found at the end of this article.

A 20-30 Minute Nap

If you have an afternoon opening to fully lie down and shut your eyes, by all means take advantage of it! Set an alarm for 20-30 minutes so you don’t fall so deeply into rest that it’s difficult to wake up and get on with your day.

This is also an opportunity to use the longer 20-minute guided practices listed below if you find your mind will just run rampant instead of allowing you to rest.

Maybe your weekly schedule only allows a nap 1 or 2 days a week. If that’s the case, give yourself the nap on those days. See about building in one of the less time-consuming practices shared above.

The Results

I still encounter a bit of judgement here and there about taking a nap. I feel indulgent by deciding to make napping a regular practice for me this season. My inner critic loves to make me feel guilty about taking time to nap. It is definitely counter-cultural to listen and respond to the needs of our bodies and minds, but it’s also necessary and important.

As I have started scheduling time for a regular nap, I notice my energy levels becoming more consistent and my sense or productivity is actually improving. I am able to focus on my tasks during the day without feeling overwhelmed. My desire to numb and disconnect through TV, food, alcohol, etc is also decreasing. I’m more frequently able to enjoy my time with others and be more fully present to the rest of my life without the “work hangover”.

I support you in making the choice to take time for conscious relaxation. Counter-cultural self-care warriors take naps and don’t apologize!

Resources & Downloads

The following practices come from fellow yoga teachers and healers whom I trust and have experienced myself. The links will direct you to their websites for purchase or streaming.

Guided Awareness & Energy Practices by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan

Elizabeth weaves a beautiful blend of traditional yogic meditation with energy healing and somatic methodology for a unique and potent experience.

You can purchase and download your choice of practices from Elizabeth’s website. At the time of publishing (Sept 2019), she is offering these downloads at a generous discount.

Guided Yoga Nidra Practices by Mia Park

Mia brings the Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Nidra to life with three tracks of varying lengths to suit your lifestyle. The 5 and 10 minute practices are wonderful for when time is short, and the 20 minute practice provides that just-right balance of sinking into rest without feeling groggy afterwards.

You can stream all 3 tracks on the Spotify app (search: Mia Park Deep Relaxation Yoga Nidra). Find more resources at Mia’s website.