Why is that lady lying down?
The little boy who asked the question pointed to where I was supine on my platform, leading the dozen sweaty yogis arrayed on the grass near the downtown Des Moines library through a twist. We were headed toward Savasana, corpse pose, in the nearly noontime summer sun. The boy’s mother whispered quietly to him: “She’s doing yo-ga.”
Your yoga teacher will remind you that even though we might joke at the end of class Savasana is the “nap part,” the goal is not to sleep. It’s not to think, either; certainly not to let a swirl of brain activity take over. Quite the contrary—it’s the absence of thought, a deep relaxation more restorative than a brief nap. When you sit up after Savasana, you should feel more rested and rejuvenated for the balance of your day than if you had just taken a twenty or thirty minute nap.
That said, I love naps. I went down for an especially long and deep one a couple of days ago, more than two hours. I slept so hard that I woke up entirely unsure of what day it was, thinking it quite possible I had slept through my evening yoga class. In fact, it was about twenty minutes before I was due to leave—nearly enough time to come to. By the time my class did start, I found myself awake and refreshed, feeling reset. It is the way I always hope to wake up feeling, but good sleep is often illusive.
My mother tells me that I’ve been an early riser since I was very little. It’s not just early mornings that I like, however. I also enjoy staying up late. I sacrifice sleep so I won’t miss anything, won’t leave anything undone. I probably run on a sleep deficit most of the time.
It’s not that I don’t like to sleep—I really do. I even cherish the memory of a few legendary nights of sleep. Once when I was in graduate school, my mother bought me a feather bed and a new down comforter. I disappeared between them and slept nearly sixteen hours. For the rest of that winter, warm in my bed on a sleeping loft in the one-room schoolhouse where I lived, I slept solidly in spite of the midnight oil graduate toil burned.
I remember, too, nights when being awake has been a marvel. Last December on the solstice I got everyone in the house up to see the full moon’s lunar eclipse. One by one my family members staggered back to bed, but even though I knew my alarm would ring in just a few hours, I stayed outside watching, wrapped in furry blanket, as the moon came back from behind the earth’s shadow.
Like Savasana, sleeping well is a practice. I got out of the practice of sleeping deeply and without interruption when my first baby was born. Even though I snuggled him up against me so that I barely had to move when he woke for middle-of-the night feedings, a pattern of waking was established and I have been prone to waking at odd hours ever since. Most nights I can check the time projected onto the ceiling in red numbers nearly big enough for me to recognize without my glasses, listen for the assorted breathing of people and cats around the house, and drift back to sleep. Some nights I lie awake and watch those clock numbers change, observe the shift of reflecting lights from cars swooshing past outside, and mutter to the cat who instead of sleeping has arrived with one of her most rattily toys.
But here’s something I am trying, and it seems to be working as two nights of good sleep and my long nap suggest. I changed the direction where I place my head.
It started because I pushed the bed to the center of the room to accommodate a drawn-out and long-overdue redecorating of the room. The wallpaper is down and the next steps include washing the walls, mending the rough spots and holes, and then applying primer. Only after that will I have the joy of painting a new, shimmering color and finally moving things back into place. In the interim, the room is a pushed-in version of itself, the furniture crowded to center. But the bed is square, so it makes no real difference which direction its occupants sleep. After six and a half years with the pillows in the north, I tried one night head in the south and then opted for head in the west, feet in the east.
The morning after the first night I woke up calm and rested. My good night’s sleep plays into a theory I have about sleeping—that we have a compass orientation we gravitate to. Sometime before I awoke that first west-to-east night, I had a dream about the first house I ever lived in. I was walking up the wide wooden stairs of that house, heading toward the landing and my very own room. The dream house had the enormous proportions a small child might feel, but I was very much me today in the dream. I got to the doorway, walked to the bed, and sank in. As I fell in the dream into a comfortable slumber, I understood my very first bed was oriented west-to-east. In the waking, sleeping, meditative, dream-state I was in, I felt like I had arrived home.
Wishing you sweet dreams during this full green corn moon, Rxo