Stories from the Yoga Mat: Sleep as Spiritual Necessity (Part Three-Final)— Feminism, Sleep and On with the Revolution by Marie Cartier

This is a follow up to my summer 2013 blogs: “Stories from the Yoga Mat: Sleep as Spiritual Necessity” –  part one and part two.

“The nicest thing for me is sleep. Then at least I can dream.”
–Marilyn Monroe

In the past two months I have written extensively about “sleep as spiritual necessity.” The Dalai Lama believes spiritual practice suffers without sleep. Sleep is important—all things in life work better if you have a good night’s sleep under your belt before undertaking them. But—how many of us slog through the day without that good night’s sleep? In my first blog on this topic I posted information about how women get less sleep than men. And last month (August) I followed up with yoga therapy techniques to combat insomnia—postures, meditation, and helpful techniques such as the use of aromatherapy.

Marilyn Monroe -- stock photo

Marilyn Monroe — stock photo

This month I want to end this trilogy of sleep blogs by addressing sleep deprivation rather than simply insomnia – and attach this information to thoughts about feminism and spirituality. Recent research indicates that women need more sleep than men and suffer more not just from insomnia but from sleep deprivation. While women need less sleep as they age (6 and a half to 7 hours of sleep in their 60s down from 8 or 9 while they are younger)—this is also dependent on the ability for older women to take a nap in the afternoon. Not being able to get enough sleep—less sleep/enough sleep can affect memory loss. And as I noted in the first blog in this series sleep loss is associated with coronary disease as well as a host of other problems. Obviously sleep is vital for good health…and getting what’s vital for good health is important for functionality.

“A lot of high-profile companies are recognizing the benefits of power napping. . . . It’s like kindergarten all over again.”
Stefanie Weisman

This means that getting enough sleep must be a feminist issue. While I am not the first to suggest that sleep is a feminist issue I may be the first perhaps to suggest that sleep and feminism are tied to spiritual necessity for women: getting enough sleep is a feminist spirituality issue. To re-phrase Audre Lorde’s iconic quote then, “Sleep is not a luxury.” (And neither is poetry; “Poetry is not a luxury.”) Sleep has been seen however as a luxury. A nap is seen as a luxury. If one way older women combat the body’s phase of sleeping less at night is to get in an afternoon nap—well, they have to believe they deserve an afternoon nap. But women have to see the necessity of these actions, rather than viewing them as luxuries.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that sleep and getting enough of it can either be your reason d’être/Holy Grail—struggling and trying to fit yourself into some pattern that seems “correct” or “enough” –or you can work with what you’ve got. Getting “enough” sleep for you seems inextricably tied to figuring out who you are and what you need – apart from other’s ideas of what that might be or “should” be…and isn’t that the feminist challenge? Figuring out who we are and how to work with ourselves in the world, rather than living within the structures provided for us by society, our mates, our children, our families, or our culture’s expectations of us, is often how many of us also figure out we are going to be feminist.

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.
Rebecca West

Relationality has been (finally) studied as a benefit to women, and has been shown to have benefits also for a culture that has previously valued individuality over relationality as a life strategy. However, realizing that true and useful relationality must also include care for the self, as part of the community in relation, can have deep and profound meaning for women who are trained to value the relation over the individual, namely the self.

This is where process thought—the many becoming one—“us” as part of a relational group—can come into play to help women, in particular, deal with the challenges that getting enough sleep can pose.

“If one believed in angels one would feel that they must love us best when we are asleep and cannot hurt each other; and what a mercy it is that once in every twenty-four hours we are too utterly weary to go on being unkind.”
Elizabeth von Arnim, The Solitary Summer

“Flaming June”- painting by Frederick Leighton, 1895

“Flaming June”- painting by Frederick Leighton, 1895

Part of being able to get enough sleep is not however as some have suggested just a mind change to where we see that we deserve more as women than we are getting, for instance as in – it’s not fair that we feel sleep is a luxury. We need sleep (like poetry); it is essential and we can switch our mind set and our lives. What is also true is that it is not just women’s fault and their mind set that creates a world in which women are sleep deprived. Women do have more to DO, argue many writers, than men have to do.

This often creates life situations where women don’t get enough sleep.Women are expected to get up with the baby crying and to nurse—women who work and have children are among those who are the most sleep deprived. This is not simply because it is hard for women to indulge in the luxury that is getting enough sleep. It is also because the world around them is structured to support the relationality that women’s relation to their community is geared to servicing the needs of others. So while the baby cries, the children need lunches made, the spouse expects breakfast, the boss expects you to get in early—and these expectations are not countered by anyone other than yourself—it is hard for the woman herself to recognize these relational dynamics as damaging and also, even if she does recognize them, it is hard to fight against the status quo—especially if you are the only one doing so.

So, although there are tips for sleep (see blog one in this series)—knowing who you are, as I suggested in the last blog, helps you to get to sleep better than a list of standard tips. For instance sleeping with the lights on, and sleeping with animals are supposedly not great for sleep—but in the photo accompanying this blog you see me getting a great night’s sleep — with the lights on and sleeping with two dogs!

“There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.”
Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

author with animals- photo by Kimberly Esslinger

author with animals- photo by Kimberly Esslinger

Part of being in right relation within our community and in our family of choice is that we know who we are and we make space for that, sometimes argue for it. For example, I really don’t want laptops, or cell phones in bed however I often do want the lights on as I read to fall asleep. It is worth the effort –the conversations, and the challenges –for our spiritual selves as well as our physical, emotional and intellectual selves to figure out our lives so that we can get “enough”—and sleep is one of the “enoughs” we must figure out—not a luxury, but a necessity.

While this blog ends this brief three-part series on sleep as spiritual necessity and the need to incorporate feminist politics in our quest to curtail insomnia and sleep deprivation, I would love to continue to dialogue with you regarding any of the issues and ideas brought up in the series.

Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed.
-Brahms lullaby

Wishing you all the sweetest of dreams.

Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

Categories: Body, General, Spirituality

Tags: , , ,

3 replies

  1. Thank you for this wonderful series, I find your take on this to be very interesting. You’re absolutely right, when it comes to sleep and relaxation – as with everything, really – we are intensely individual, and it’s something we need to figure out ourselves. That said, you’ve really inspired me to go ahead an take up yoga, an idea I’ve been toying with for a while! At the very least, I will be elevating my legs tonight before sleep. :)


    • wonderful!! please post how that works out for you…If possible stay in the pose for over 5 min. for restorative benefits..I use that pose all the time..and sometimes meditate or end up taking a nap with my legs up against the wall :)..thanks for posting and many blessings on your journey — enjoy your new path of yoga should you decide to engage in it!


  2. I have always slept a lot. Often 10 hours at night. Now I don’t feel guilty. I also have been blessed with good health. Perhaps there is a relationship. Thanks for your words on this subject. As I said in an earlier response, I also meditate (clear my mind) while watching tv. Ah well….to each her own. Should I add I live alone with 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 2 tortoises, now of whom keep me awake at night–well the dogs do bark sometimes.


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