What is the Role of Rest in the Revolution?

Elena Bilheimer, EcoNews Journalist

A Restful Space, founded by Cal Poly Humboldt lecturer and trauma-conscious yoga teacher Laura Johnson, offers personalized restorative yoga in Old Town Eureka as well as an online course and upcoming community rest and eco-grief circles. Learn more at www.arestfulspace.com.

Amidst the various crises playing out on the global stage, the desire to create and implement change has never felt so urgent or necessary. For many people, the feelings of alarm they are experiencing as a result of these crises is coupled with a pull to action and the need to get involved in as many efforts to combat injustice as possible. There is constant messaging about the need to “fight” climate change or to “solve” various social justice issues, all of which are very important and pressing. While each of these issues deserve time and energy, incorporating rest as part of the revolution can help reframe many of the paradigms that capitalism and grind culture have so successfully universalized. 

In both activist circles and in everyday life, productivity and the ability to get things done are seen as the ultimate accomplishment and assertion of worth. Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry and creator of the ‘Rest is Resistance’ and ‘Rest as Reparations’ frameworks, challenges this notion through Collective Napping Experiences, immersive workshops, performance art installations, and her Resurrect Rest School. As part of her framework, rest is a racial and social justice issue, as sleep deprivation and the treatment of certain bodies as disposable was central to colonization and slavery. This has carried over into capitalism, as marginalized communities often bear the brunt of a system that relies on continuous output and invisibilized labor. “When you talk about grind culture, grind culture is simply white supremacist work culture. White supremacist work culture is an extractive culture. It’s hustle culture. It’s seeing productivity as a function of your worth. Whatever white supremacy is doing on a global scale to us and has done, white supremacy has been using the body as a tool for destruction since the beginning of time,” said Hersey in an interview on For the Wild podcast. 

In addition to Hersey’s work, author and scholar Bayo Akomolafe is well known for his writing and speaking on the importance of slowness and reframing the different crises facing the world. He focuses on the importance of challenging binaries, as rest versus non-rest are not opposite states of being that cannot coexist together. “The time is very urgent – we must slow down,” wrote Akomolafe in an article on his website. Slowing down has benefits not only for people and movements, but also for the earth, as the earth and the resources it provides are the basis for how fast paced production can occur. Activist and author adrienne maree brown furthers these idea as she writes on her blog that “there is such urgency in the multitude of crises we face, it can make it hard to remember that in fact it is urgency thinking (urgent constant unsustainable growth) that got us to this point, and that our potential success lies in doing deep, slow, intentional work.” 

The work of Akomolafe, Hersey, and brown have inspired Laura Johnson, a Geography and Environmental Studies lecturer at Cal Poly Humboldt, to open A Restful Space, a small business which features in-person ‘restful healing sessions’ in Eureka while also offering a self-paced online course entitled Yoga for Ecological Grief. Her focus is on using restorative yoga and other complementary healing modalities with a justice lens in order to restore nervous system balance and incorporate rest as a fundamental tenet of societal change. “When we’re reacting from a place of urgency, we’re reacting from the sympathetic nervous system, a state of fight-or-flight. This is a place of fear-based scarcity thinking, of ‘efficiency’ and ‘productivity’ thinking…all of this is what drives capitalism and all of this is what needs to be upended – we need to pause and rest and breathe, we need to balance our nervous systems and tap into our innate compassion, we need to feel and process the heavy emotions, we need to connect to ourselves and to each other, and we need to access a place of gratitude and abundance, understanding that in fact there is enough, that scarcity and urgency is an illusion and a means of control.”

Dreaming. Source: Freepik.com

It is important to note that rest isn’t an excuse to do nothing, but rather a chance to reflect and ground so as to engage in the issues with more creativity and flexibility. Rest can take many forms, and can manifest differently depending on identity, culture, or circumstance. It doesn’t need to look like a spa getaway or an hour of meditation everyday, and in Hersey’s work she invites people to challenge the notion that rest is a privilege accessible only to those with disposable income and abundant time. Making rest accessible is important to Johnson, who offers her sessions and online course at a sliding scale, allowing people to “consider not only their current access to funds but also their structurally determined access to rest, breath, and self-care.” While rest is a human right and is necessary for everyone, there are times when those in positions of power need to not rest and instead leverage their privilege so as to make space for those experiencing oppression to get the rest they need.

“It’s really vital that all healing and regenerative work have a decolonial lens, justice framework, and post-capitalist context. And these practices have to not only be accessible to all bodies, they have to be particularly accessible to those who have been denied access to rest and to the time, space, and resources for processing grief and trauma,” said Johnson. 


Elena Bilheimer graduated in winter of 2021 with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in journalism from Cal Poly Humboldt. In her studies she mainly focused on the importance of incorporating social justice with environmental activism to work towards creating a more sustainable world. Some of her passions include being outside, reading, and cooking.