[Updated July 13, 2021]
Leave it to Naomi Osaka, who wore a Breonna Taylor face mask heading into her first-round U.S. Open victory last year, to once again speak up for Black women without saying a word.
Osaka’s decision to avoid speaking to the press — and to prioritize her mental health over public opinion and official pressure — is a liberating act of kindness for all of us. Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
The Rise and Rise of Naomi Osaka
Amid the controversy that ensued, Osaka withdrew from the French Open and later Wimbledon and got herself some rest. As a sports radio host derided her suggestion to update the format of press conferences as "the dumbest idea," Osaka took the break from routine she needed to get ready for her July 23 return to the court at the Tokyo Olympics. She enjoyed a weekend jaunt with friends. She slayed on the red carpet at the ESPYs, where she was named female athlete of the year. She tweeted words of encouragement to youth as a new Barbie doll in her likeness sold out within hours. She dropped the buzzed-about trailer to her Netflix documentary series. She played with her adorable new French bulldog puppy. She revealed a Sports Illustrated cover, shot last year.
But why was there official and media pushback (most recently by Megyn Kelly) on soul care at all? Research shows that quality rest helps to fight depression, anxiety, diabetes, obesity. It supports longevity by restoring the nervous system, sustaining the body’s energy and conditioning the mind. This is essential, especially in a sustained period of global unrest, a health crisis and racist activity.
Yet, when you’re known as a high-performer, it’s expected that you say, “I got this.” As our work product becomes more and more valuable, our personal needs are often seen as less so. The stakes are high. You do what’s required. Period.
Is it any wonder mental health suffers? This observation, though not about Osaka, sheds light on the performance toll demanded from the 23-year-old phenom since she turned pro at age 15. Elayne Fluker, in her new book on seeking support, Get Over ‘I Got It,’ writes, “I … know what it’s like to hide your depression and your feelings for fear that it will tarnish your image. … And I know how isolated I felt when I, someone who was always praised as the “good girl,” who had it all together… attempted suicide as a teenager by swallowing a handful of pills and ended up in the hospital.” Also an influential podcaster, Fluker encourages women to drop the stigma associated with setting boundaries and asking for help. Her movement’s mantra: “Support is Sexy.”
Leave the grind behind
I can relate to how trying to just manage it all harms health. Fifteen years into a career I love, my spirit was broken and my mind was fried. Coleading a major product launch, I began my workday at 3 a.m. and pushed on toward 5:30 p.m. Then, I labored lovingly to be present as a parent — along with my husband, whose critical job as a police detective is among the most demanding. Once our two little girls were tucked in, it was back at my laptop — at 9 p.m. I often worked until midnight.
Each day, though my soul felt crippled, I pushed through. In a vicious cycle, the more debilitated I became, the less entitled I felt to restorative time off. Instead of scheduling my personal sabbatical, an employee benefit that I’d finally earned after working for seven years, I read articles, books and devotions about how to tackle stress, reclaim joy and not give a [expletive]. It didn’t work.
At a breaking point, I stopped beginning my workdays at 3 a.m. I still awoke in the wee hours, with an urge to be productive. Instead, I just laid there. And I breathed. Sometimes slowly, sometimes anxiously. I’d finally found the off-switch for my compounding burnout. It was nothing more than stillness.
Rest is so much more than sleep
The Nap Ministry, founded by performance artist, activist, theologian and community healer Tricia Hersey, asserts that “rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.” Rest is a right. It is necessary repair. It is a form of reparations. Rest is also both an act of self-love and a pathway to it. Getting quality sleep is a key part of that. But it’s not the whole picture, according to thought leaders in emotional wellness. Here are ways you can reclaim rest today:
- Enlist others to take things off your plate. When I finally reduced my hours, my project didn’t topple like a Jenga tower. Its high value to the organization demanded that I get support. So I asked for it, and my managers encouraged me to hire help and delegate.
- Check in with your body, not just with your calendar or spouse, before you RSVP. When we say “no thanks” to the overflow of events and commitments, we’re saying “yes” to our souls.
- Consider which activities bring you into balance. Contrary to conventional beliefs, rest is highly active. Matthew Edlund, M.D., author of The Power of Rest, observes that a combination of (healthy) food, activity and rest (FAR) empowers us to shift toward wholeness. Can meal prepping salads support that balance? What about a daily 30-minute walk with our friends at Girl Trek?
- Make time for a spiritual practice. Yours might be prayer, time in nature, listening to praise music or quiet contemplation. From the Loving Kindness Meditation: “May your life be filled with happiness, health and well-being.”
- If you observe a Sabbath, keep it sacred. In the Biblical creation story, God chose to rest on the seventh day. This demonstrated to humankind a practice of holy restoration that not only honors the accomplishments of the previous six days but, more importantly, honors what’s to come. It’s a gesture of gratitude. Regardless of our faith tradition, we can observe the unforced rhythms of grace.
- Incorporate quiet movement, such as a solo run, bike ride, tai chi or laps in a pool into your fitness plan. Practices, such as Yoga Nidra, or restful yoga, encourage beginning or ending each session with a quiet moment.
- Enjoy companionable silence. You know that quality time with people who matter that doesn’t require words to be wonderful. (For example, one of you reads the sports pages, the other tends plants or does a puzzle.) Silence, while in the company of others, strengthens our listening muscles, which in turn supports happier relationships. A single mom I know gifted herself with a rare getaway at a silent retreat. She told me that she also gained a greater appreciation for those with whom she held silence — a feeling of sublime communion. Buddhist monks also revere silence, even in community.
- Nourish the soul at mealtimes. Get out your fine dishes. Initiate with intentionality (for some of us, that’s saying grace … and meaning it). Savor each bite before starting the next. Learn more about mindful eating here.
- Awaken your senses and self by journaling about the present. Find a quiet, comfortable nook. Deeply inhale and exhale. Write down five things that you see; four things that you hear; three things that you feel; two things that you smell; one thing that you taste. Now that you’re fully present, begin journaling about whatever is on your heart. This practice emphasizes the power of now, not yesterday or tomorrow.
- Surrender your thoughts and just be. One way to calm a racing mind and reconnect with our vital energy is to realize that who we are is separate from what we are thinking at any moment. Focus on your breath and let your mind align with your heart.
Our hearts open to bliss when we set aside time to quiet the mind. We hear the universe speak. We cultivate ease, joy and flow. Joy is merely light, in any form, at any moment. Reclaim your light, Sis.
And rest well, sister Naomi. We’re holding you in light.