Consider the Siesta...

Streets in Palma, Mallorca (Spain) during siesta.

Streets in Palma, Mallorca (Spain) during siesta.

When I was a child my mother was very good at tricking us into nap time. I tended to resist naps like most children. I wanted to stay awake like big people do. My mother always responded to my resistance by saying, “You don’t have to take a nap M’ija, just lay down and rest your eyes.” It worked every time.

Throughout my life I have had the privilege of living in other countries where the siesta tradition is alive and well. When I was in Oaxaca, siesta was 2 hours long. In Greece it was 4 hours long! I attribute some of the magic of these places to their siesta culture. Everything gets peacefully quiet. The shops are closed. There are few people in the streets. People are home having lunch with their families. Except it isn’t lunch. It’s dinner. It's a little like a big-meal holiday, but everyday.

I always thought siesta meant nap. But siesta actually means a lot more than that. It means unplugging from work and giving daily attention to the simple things that make our lives rich. Like family or friends. Or nourishing food. Or enjoying a quick swim and nap on the beach.

When I started my business, I chose to build my schedule around a two-hour siesta for a couple of reasons. One, I had suffered from extreme adrenal fatigue and needed to take long breaks to restore my body and learn more about honoring my physical limitations. Facing the riddle of how to build a business that honored my need for rest is what led me to acknowledge my second reason: I did it because I could. 

I do realize that my life has some luxuries, just as I had the luxury of a stay-at-home mom while growing up. But each of us have many luxuries that we might be taking for granted, and we might be forfeiting them when we tell ourselves that we should be busy all the time. This is the mantra of an industrialized culture. Many of us have learned that multi-tasking is a badge of honor. We eat on the run, while working at the computer or on the road. These habits keep our bodies in a state of stress (which is toxic to our lymph and our immune system) and also weaken our digestive health, which is the foundation of our wellbeing. 

There is research which indicates that attentiveness and productivity increase when people take a regular afternoon nap, or an extended break during the day to unplug from work. One study, which worked with Google employees, encouraged people to take off one day a week to break away from work. The studies indicated those who did so performed better.  I myself am a big fan of Ayurvedic practices, one of which is to honor our body clock. According to Ayurveda, our digestive fire is at its peak between 10-2, this is the best time to eat a main meal and metabolize it. Since our health is only as good as our gut, it’s worth taking time to enjoy our food peacefully, and relax so that the body can tend optimally to this all-important task. The history of the siesta pre-dates the industrial revolution, and may be aligned with when our behaviors were more in sync with natural cycles.

I never found a sign posted in any city that said when it was officially siesta time. Siestas are a a time-honored collective agreement. Our culture is not going to turn itself into a siesta culture any time soon; but we are free to create our own micro-cultures, even if it is with ourselves. Make your own agreement and find what is the right amount of time that works for you. Keep it free and simple. Just as our cells need empty space to be alive and well, so we feel a greater quality of life when we have spaces around our activities in which we can digest and reflect on them.

My personal experience has been that 2-hours is just right. I might walk the dogs or water the plants. I might call my mom. I might meet up with a friend. I might lay on the couch (on my left side, of course, to encourage better digestion) and let one side of a record play while I “just rest my eyes.” I feel very grateful for this time. But I also think of my grandmother who was a very hard-working woman. A commuter, she always took her lunch in her work room and looked out the windows as she savored her meal. Then she would walk to a back room where there was a couch and kick off her shoes, elevate her feet on a stool, and rest her eyes. It may have been only an hour break. Maybe less. But there were no phones, no media. Just a good, old-fashioned time-out.

Related Articles: Why Your Body Needs More Downtime; Siestas Are Good For You; Should You Take a Three-Hour Afternoon Siesta?


Alicia Morris