Rest: A Pathway Back Home
Updated: Apr 1, 2022
This is an unedited extract from my forthcoming book entitled Enough! Healing from Patriarchy's Curse of Too Much and Not Enough.
It is easy and understandable to feel swamped by the enormity of the patriarchy monster. Left unchecked and unchallenged The System will continue to reside within our relationships with ourselves, our loved ones, family systems, work places, education system, health, bodies, economy, justice system, policing, medical establishment to name just a few places where patriarchy makes it self at home, often unquestioned, playing havoc with womxn’s sense of enoughness. Making a conscious choice to rest (not in front of Netflix but with sacred, uninterrupted time) may begin to work its magic by letting the inner voice of wisdom come through so you can become aware of the subtle and not so subtle influence of patriarchy’s favourite tropes; too much and not enough.
You will discover that throughout this book I will invite you to try the resting practice of Yoga Nidra. The cool thing about Yoga Nidra is that it is a triple header of yumminess; it is a practice to explore rest, a technique for deepening rest and the manifestation of a Goddess. Yep, you read that correctly! Yoga Nidra is a different kind of sleep. A space beyond the states of waking, dreaming and sleep where the body and mind rest, while consciousness remains awake. Taking time and space for rest is an essential aspect of taking care of ourselves and each other. Regular rest in deep relaxation or Yoga Nidra can help relieve stress and support healthy nervous system responses, which can alleviate the sympathetic nervous system from being ‘stuck’ in high alert. When the sympathetic nervous system is rather too active people may struggle to be still, be bothered by anxiety and feel unable to relax into rest. Regular rest can help to ‘calm and connect’ with body and mind, a welcome relief from overactive ‘fight or flight ’reactions. The impulse for fight for flight is appropriate when the body needs to evade an unexpected threat, but not so helpful for us if the adrenaline released by these protection reactions becomes the backdrop for daily life. Living under patriarchy can feel anything from mildly irritating to debilitatingly anxiety inducing. The more that we can coax body and mind into rest while letting our awareness remain calm yet awake, we give the nervous system an opportunity to recalibrate, and restore the inner sense of fullness otherwise known as enoughness.
I would bet money on the assertion that the more a person experiences deep rest, the level of clarity as to what needs to be let go of from life will increase.
As a yoga teacher I like to play with the idea of Atman which was woven into Yogic philosophy from Hinduism. Atman is a Sanskrit word that means the inner self or spirit. Throughout life we build up layers of personality, defence mechanisms, beliefs, coping strategies along with ancestral pain inherited from the lineage we are born in to. Some beliefs and strategies are helpful for our success or survival, others are not. A belief of mine is: I am too much because I am emotional kind of person, so it is best to try to supress how I really feel to keep myself palatable for others. Generally, this belief and coping strategy world work for a while until my nervous system would get overtaxed, trying to keep up the appearance of looking like I always had my shit together. I would bottle up important things like tears and so-called negative emotions (also known as low vibration emotions within the spiritual community) because when I was a child, I rationalised that people get annoyed by tears. We all have our own versions of these beliefs and behaviours which our egos concoct to keep us safe from real or perceived threats such as social ostracization or abandonment. Our ingrained beliefs and behaviours get layered on top of Atman. Atman remains but we have less chance of hearing our own true voice of wisdom because Atman is squashed under our beliefs that are all too often influenced by the curse of too much and/or not enough.
Rest gives the thinking and logical parts of the brain, which reside in the frontal cortexes, a much-needed break from its myriad tasks which include behaviour regulation and self-control. Simultaneously, resting the body also signals to the older parts of our brain that they need not alert the Autonomic Nervous system for an episode of fight, flight or freeze. These three Fs are to be reserved for when we need to make a quick getaway, defend ourselves or for when the nervous system perceives that it would be safer for us to freeze and do nothing rather than try to fight or flee. It is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), part of the Autonomic Nervous System, which generates these appropriate and lifesaving reactions, especially if a person finds themselves under extreme duress, danger or trauma inducing events. Thankfully humans have evolved to keep these essential functions because the Three Fs are needed for survival. However, the SNS can get ‘stuck’ in activation mode resulting in a person feeling edgy, anxious, nervous and sometimes struggling to navigate interpersonal relationships because the brain may be both scanning for danger and misinterpreting difficult yet harmless situations as real cause for fight, flight or freeze. The ‘stuckness’ of the SNS is often as a result of trauma triggered in a one-off event such as traffic accident, an act of physical or psychological violence, hate crime, hospitalisation during Covid meaning being separated from loved ones, or an unexpected end of a relationship including grief from a break up and/or bereavement. Over a couple of months, the overly alert state of the taxed nervous system may begin to ease as the person takes care of themselves by resting and seeking professional help to cope with what they have endured.
Sadly some people find that the anxiety, jumpiness and intense SNS arousal sticks around for longer than the expected couple of months after the trauma inducing event and may signal that this person is suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Sadly, many people have lived through more than one traumatic event, for example survivors of childhood abuse (sexual, physical, emotional or all three), survivors of domestic abuse, survivors of narcissistic abuse, refugees, war veterans, survivors of racial abuse resulting in race based stress and trauma and survivors of gender based violence. Traumatised survivors of these scenarios may find themselves living with symptoms similar to PTSD symptoms which may include and are not limited to: body pain, anxiety, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, flashbacks, emotional flash backs (see work by therapist Pete Walker), nightmares, hormonal imbalances, chronic stress, panic attacks, difficulty sustaining interpersonal relationships, yet the long period of time over which these events took place may attribute the diagnosis by a medical professional of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). The world is an unjust place and too many people bear the brunt of these injustices, are marginalised and traumatised because of them. Many of these injustices are correlated with living in a patriarchal system, for example; male perpetrated violence against women and the scourge of sexual violence with an estimated 20% of women being sexually assaulted since age sixteen (https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/about-sexual-violence/statistics-sexual-violence/). I am one of these women.
Whether or not you recognise you are living with trauma, PTSD, C-PTSD or a general weariness with life, you deserve to receive compassionate, patient professional medical intervention to help with what you may be experiencing. Learning to rest can complement professional interventions as a way to heal and undo individual wounds. Saying yes to rest is saying no to the system of oppression that keeps people too busy to take real rest. Perhaps you sense that your weariness or trauma may be linked with a lifetime getting acclimatised to surviving a system that does not honour difference nor honours the sacred feminine and sacred masculine aspects of yourself. Perhaps you are angry and exhausted about constantly adjusting yourself to avoid being too much or compensating for not being enough. I promise you that resting will help you remember who you are and that who you are is enough.
None of what I have written about traumatic events, C-PTSD and challenges around rest may apply to you. I sincerely hope you have not been subjected to a traumatising event. Socio-economic privilege may mean that you have not faced poverty, or you do not have to work, therefore giving you more time to rest than most. I don’t know that for sure, only you will be able to recognise any unearned privileges you hold should you choose to explore the matter. The point is, no matter the circumstance, everybody’s body and mind will benefit from real relaxation. Yep, even those elites who run the world (unless they are the narcissistic or psychopathic ones) would benefit from stillness, quiet, neither asleep nor awake in the liminal space watched over by Goddess Yoganidra, should she grace one with her presence! They might hear what their real self has to say, the part of them the recognises the truth that their own liberation is intricately interconnected with everybody else’s, including those who they oppress and harm. Pressing pause on daily tasks and routines to take rest, or even better, replacing some of the To Do List that may gradually reveal itself to seem extraneous, in favour of pockets of slow movement or rest is a gentle practice of self-enquiry to explore both how too much and/or not enough came to be and the impact of Patriarchy’s curse upon your life.
Living under patriarchy is tiring for so many reasons. Womxn around the world face and fight injustice and marginalisation from those in power, while living with patriarchy’s unspoken yet visceral maxim that we are too much but will never be enough. The curse of too much and not enough lies in wait in our exterior and interior worlds making the possibility of a frazzled nervous system a very real one. I am hopeful though because men, women, communities, smaller strands of The System are taking a new shape, messily finding the way in the dark to different ways of relating which honour the values and traits of the sacred feminine and sacred masculine, no longer dancing to patriarchy’s tune.
Do you feel called to rest with Yoga Nidra? Come to a Hatha Yoga & Yoga Nidra class or Have a peek at my Yoga Nidra audio recordings. Make yourself comfy and enjoy…
You can read more about rest and recovery from Patriarchy in my forthcoming book Enough! Released in 2022, published by The Unbound Press.