Finally! A spiritual practice that requires no discipline, that is simply lovely, lovely, lovely!
I learned about Daoist Napping several weeks ago, at a retreat held by the Taoist Studies Institute (TSI) at its retreat center outside Seattle, and I have taken a nap every afternoon I could since then.
I never used to nap. If I was hit by a wave a fatigue in the afternoon, I would drink a cup of coffee or tea—which I’ll bet a lot of you do, too.
But a key element of qigong practice is listening to one’s body and tending to its needs—and not just as an isolated entity but in relationship to what’s going on around it, like the changing of the seasons.
The TSI retreat was held shortly after the autumn equinox, and it dealt with ways we can nourish ourselves as we settle in for fall and winter—ways like treating ourselves to restorative, Daoist-style naps.
Here’s how to nap the Daoist way, according to Harrison Moretz, TSI’s founder and executive director:
Lie down on your back with a pillow under your head (and one under your knees, if your back so requires.) Then lay your right hand atop your upper solar plexus, below your heart, and your left hand atop your dantian, below your navel; cross your left ankle over your right; close your eyes, and follow your breath as you breathe in and out of your hands.
The point is not to achieve deep slumber, although Harrison said that if you are sleep-deprived, you will indeed sleep; rather, you’re slipping into a state where your qi rebalances and becomes refreshed—a state from which, at least in my experience, you awake within half an hour feeling pretty darned good.
Should you come to feeling groggy and out of it, Harrison added, assume the reverse position.
Why? And why does the original napping position work?
Harrison wouldn’t tell us until we’d tried it—which we did, after lunch.
I found that the Daoist napping position was somehow very comforting. I soon felt a lot of warmth beneath both hands and then a sort of mooshing, a moving and merging of the energy beneath my right hand with the energy of the dantian. And then I must have fallen asleep, which I’d expected since I’d gotten up way too early that morning to drive to the retreat.
However, I didn’t sleep long, and I felt fine when I awoke. I lay in bed and experimented with the napping position vs. its reverse. The reverse position just felt vaguely disorganized.
When we reassembled after our naps, Harrison explained how Daoist napping works:
He said, as best I understood, that energy in the body tends to move from left to right, so that in the Daoist napping position, energy moves from dantian up the left arm to the chest, where it picks up yang fire energy from the heart. The yang fire energy is then carried out the right arm to the solar plexus, where it merges into the yin energy of the dantian. It is this merging and rebalancing of yang and yin energies that causes the napper to feel revitalized. The left ankle over the right is for grounding: Energy goes up the left leg and down the right and, I suppose, from bed to earth.
But that’s the energetic explanation. The proof of the pudding is how Daoist napping feels, and if you try it, I hope it feels as good to you as it does to me.
If I take a clue from nature’s slowing down and take afternoon naps through fall and winter, should I continue napping through spring and summer, when nature is getting fired up?
I don’t know. Harrison didn’t say. But the fact is, regardless of what nature is doing, at 71 I am definitely in the autumn of my life and perhaps should embrace napping on a year-round basis.
Daoism may have had its Eight Immortals, but I doubt I’m on track to become the Ninth. I think more important messages from Daoism are that aging and death are part of the cycle of life, and that they are as honorable as they are inevitable, despite all those silly sayings like “age doesn’t matter unless you’re a cheese” and “you’re only as old as you think you are.”
What’s more, I think Daoism is also clear that if you insist upon burning the candle at both ends after the summer of your youth is over, you end up with a short candle, and while the diligent practice of qigong may lengthen the candle’s life, there’s only so much damage that can be undone.
When I was younger, being perpetually stressed felt like being productive and alive; now, increasingly, it feels like death.
So, yes, restorative napping may well be in my life to stay.