Life is fast. Perpetual movement. Continuous noise. Unceasing pursuit of purpose. A moment for relaxation and we fill it with ads, data, stories, more unbroken noise.
This is the world we live in now. We are the products of industrialisation, more money (for some), more resources, more opportunities (less for some). And so, we are swept along this tidal wave of perpetual, fast paced, motion.
Before the rise of industrialism, the cycle of seasons regulated people’s lives. Then came an entirely new concept of time, based on rigid clock discipline that divorced us from the patterns of nature. Idleness was considered the root of evil in influential religious groups. Imagine going back to the ways of 13th century peasants that worked their farms 150 days a year, alongside family and friends, finding joy in each present moment.
So how does this relate to yoga? I feel yoga can unwittingly follow this same pattern of moving too quickly. We focus on getting longer muscles, stronger muscles, clearer minds, fitter bodies. Still we are striving. We step from our fast-paced day to a fast paced vinyasa flow, and continue to watch the clock. Now I am not saying that there are not benefits to a vigorous vinyasa practice, a huge part of this style is to lose yourself in the flow of movement, thoughts fading and mind quieting but yoga may also provide us with a safe space to cease running, seeking and striving, and practice the art of moving slowly.
Listen to your yoga teacher when she says, “leave your worries and cares outside the door”. Enjoy the presence of your yoga community without the need to start moving. Feel easy, be in your body, feeling the season within you. Detach from the outcome and move in a way that feels good. Notice if thoughts of guilt arise when you choose to move lazily, then let it go.
Okay, sounds nice, but why move slowly? Why? If it is ingrained in us to work hard, and we have the resources and opportunities now to make big gains and make loads of money, or make an impact, then why would I want to slow down?
I absolutely get it. Having purpose in life is important for our happiness and mental health. However, something that is vital to your physical health and mental wellbeing, is to spend time resting in your parasympathetic nervous system – a physiological state where your body heals, digests, absorbs nutrients, and repairs. We aren’t in this state when we are rushing, instead we are in our sympathetic state, also known as our 'fight or flight' mode. As you can imagine, we weren’t built to sustain long periods in our sympathetic nervous system, this state was intended for short bursts only to deal with issues threatening our survival. Nowadays, many people don’t take their foot off the pedal all day.
This is one basic but key physical reason why the art of moving slowly is important.
Imagine now, how it would feel to be perfect. To see your life as perfection. Without always reaching for the most challenging pose, or focusing almost always on progression, we can rest in this wonderful feeling that our practice is perfect. Because we practice the art of rest, the art of the mallow, the art of peace, calm and simple existence. Of being in tune with the seasons within and around us, and connecting with the people right beside us.
So how do we do this? And what if we actually get joy out of challenging ourselves?
Moving slow is definitely not the easy way out. And it most definitely is challenging if you want it to be.
First, try holding a pose for a long time. Even a relatively easy pose will become challenging, as isometric contraction (when your muscles are contracted but not moving) is a lot of work.
Now breathe. Yoga comes to life when you focus less on keeping up with the cues of your teacher and drop deep into the rhythm of your breath and the subtleties of the body. So, create a smooth, slow, even breath and let this carry you through your practice. Link your breath with your movement, and when you want to challenge yourself in a long hold, or an advanced pose, only do it for as long as you can maintain this same slow, even breath. I sometimes will say in my class, “hold the pose, not the breath”. Because as soon as we hold our breath, or start breathing rapidly, we are sending signals to the body and mind that we are stressed.
So, my beautiful readers, I hope this inspires some of you to gift yourself some slow paced yoga practice, that feels healing and lovely. And maybe even inspires some to simplify and prioritise your days, so that you can ease your foot off the gas a little, and spend more time appreciating the natural ebb and flow of life.