Tonight I put my five year old son to bed, with his cozy truck jammies on his precious little body, his favorite cuddly under his arm, and our 90 pound dog curled up tight next to his shoulders (we’re having thunderstorms here in Texas, and my dog likes a lap during thunderstorms. Really, really likes a lap.) I held my son as he sighed and succumbed to sleep, and watched his little body go to rest.
As mommys, we put our children to rest – literally with sleep, and emotionally by helping them feel connected to us, nurtured and safe. My heart feels warm and full when I do this, as if I’m doing something vital and important. My son relaxes as he feels cared for and is sweeter to be around.
As strong women – women rising up, growing up, maturing, healing, and letting go of childish things – we also put ourselves to rest. We give ourselves physical rest and nourishment when we tire; we give ourselves emotional rest (self love, self acceptance, and self compassion) when we lose our perspective. Our hearts feel warm and full when we give ourselves this care, because it, too, is vital and important. And we also relax when we feel cared for and are sweeter to be around.
When we’re struggling with food and weight, it’s usually this emotional rest that is missing. Like my son, we reach our limit, and our body, heart or mind says, “Enough!” But do we listen? Or do we keep on keeping on?
It’s ironic that we often give ourselves the very opposite of what we need. When we’re feeling inside out, overwhelmed, burdened, and untempered, we typically don’t give ourselves rest. We add more of what we don’t need – work, doing, pushing through discomfort, often eating to keep ourselves going – and run from the one thing – rest/nurturing – that would bring us into greater balance.
This evening I was cooking dinner, and I was craving all sorts of snacky foods – chips, sugar, dried fruit…. a sure sign that something was up. So I stopped, paused, and took a moment to check in – why was I craving comfort food? As I sat with my feelings I realized that I was exhausted and needing comfort. I decided to put dinner in the oven, change my clothes and head to my neighborhood yoga studio.
When I go to yoga, I typically take a flow/vinyasa class – sweaty, fast paced classes that are wonderful for wringing out anxiety and any cooped up energy that feels stuck in my body. But they’re challenging. In these classes, you’re usually encouraged to stick with a pose, to breathe into intense sensations, and to be with discomfort. So they’re not always what I need.
Tonight I needed rest. So instead of doing vinyasa, I took a super gentle restorative class. (I mostly laid down on my mat. Heaven.) I spent the next 75 minutes being still, being breathed, and letting myself completely surrender to the floor, my mat and my props. The sound of the rain on the roof only added to the sweetness. Delish.
I think that sensitive people, precious souls with food or weight “stuff,” and women in general tend to be really, really good at toughing it out. We know how to push through discomfort. We know how to take charge. We know how to make do, to keep going, to work and work and work. We are used to – and are very, very good at – sticking with challenges, staying with intense sensations (many of us live with chronic pain and so have learned this lesson well), and being with discomfort. We are so tough, and we get plenty of opportunities to practice this skill.
But toughness is only one side of the coin – we need tenderness to balance it out. We can’t push indefinitely. When we continually push ourselves past our limits we become dry, barren, brittle, intense. If we want to have the strength to push through, to give, our bodies and hearts need to receive – to receive our mothering, our tender, loving care from ourselves. What we’re missing is restoration.
I think we speak this truth literally with our behavior, with the foods we eat. For example, when we binge on sugar, what we’re often really saying is, “I’m tired. I feel overwhelmed. I want some sweetness, some comfort, some nurturing, to balance out life’s hardship. I want to be mothered (mommy’s milk?) I want rest.” We eat because we’ve had enough, and we don’t feel like we can honor this limit of “enoughness.” So the food becomes our voice to say, I feel put upon. I’m carrying too much heaviness. I need levity.
My friends and I sometimes joke, “I want a wife.” As in – I want someone in my life whose sole job is to make sure my needs are anticipated and met. I want someone to take care of me. I want a mother. I want rest.
I have a dear, wise older friend who is one of my go-to gals when I’m feeling inside out. She reminds me gently, over and over, how much sensitive, tender souls need nurturing and strong boundaries – honoring our limits; honoring when we’ve reached that point of, “Done!” – to thrive. I suppose she’s saying that the primary mother in my life – the one who nurtures and protects my limits – is me.
Dear one, will you give yourself this precious rest? Will you give yourself this sweet surrender?
Rumi wrote, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” When I sit quietly with the barriers that I’ve built against nurturing, what comes up for me is this: I’m terrified that the only value I have in this world is my toughness, my strength, my ability to endure pain. I am resistant to being gentler with myself because I don’t want to rest so much. I don’t want to honor those limits. Like a child who wants to stay up late, way past his bedtime, I want to chuck the rules.
I keep denying myself rest because some part of me wants to prove how tough I am. I’ve felt so embarrassed by my struggles with my sensitivity, anxiety, depression and food stuff – all my “weaknesses” – so I want to show that at least I’m good at something. And one thing I’m really, really good at is enduring pain. And so I’ve done it, even though it has brought suffering.
Beloved, just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it. Just because you are strong and you can tough it out doesn’t mean you should. Just because you’ve done this since you were really, really little and you’ve had lots of practice doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.
Perhaps this Mother’s Day you can soften that giant SHOULD that says “You should tough it out because you can.” Perhaps this Mother’s Day, and everyday, you can offer yourself the gift of restoration, the gift of rest.
My yoga teachers say that the purpose of restorative yoga is to allow the body to be fully supported by the bolsters, props and floor so that it can come to complete rest; so that it can fully release any tension or tightness. It’s like revisiting the womb.
One of my mentors, developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld, says “all growth comes from a place of rest.” We bring ourselves to rest by nurturing ourselves, which brings up a warm, delicious feeling of being taken care of. We bring ourselves to rest when we honor the “no, you’ve reached your limit” sensations in our body and stop, slow down, or take a break.
We feel safe by this care, by the honoring of this limit. (Loving structure, beloved, is a friendly force in your life!) On a physiological level, we relax as our nervous systems calm down. On an emotional level, we become less reactive and more responsive as we feel nourished and cared for, safe and secure. On a spiritual level, we recenter, we find more space, and we remember who we are (which is not our reactivity, even though it can feel like it!)
Rest is a gift. And so are the limits we invoke to allow ourselves to receive it.
That, my dear, is the purpose of rest. Not to boost yourself up so that you can accomplish more tomorrow. Not to prop yourself up so you can keep enduring. Not to prove how tough you are. No, the purpose of rest is to allow yourself to drop down to receive, to open so completely and let go so fully that you may be filled. When we come to such a deep place of rest, our fight or flight, reptilian brain calms and our higher brain is activated. It is this higher brain that creates growth, tries new things, and helps us live out our deeper values of love, compassion and gratitude.
Rest is the foundation of our goodness. The foundation of our joy. It’s the abundance that allows us to overflow – to ourselves, to others, to our loved ones, and to life itself.
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If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also enjoy these posts:
- How attachment can heal overeating
- Do you have your heart?
- Your heart is big enough.
- How I walked away from sugar when I was really, really tempted
- Stop a binge in its tracks with empathy
For practical tools to create more softness, ease and rest in your life, I highly recommend my workbook and audio CDs, Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life. In Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life, you’ll learn the 6 practices of growing human(kind)ness, a map for putting self love into action. These tools not only help you create a more nurturing relationship with yourself, they’re also the foundation for healing a sugar addiction. I feel so passionate about sharing these tools as they’ve positively changed my life. I want the same for you.