One morning, in Waitrose, I watched worried looking people who were on their way to work drive into the car park. Each hurried from their car to the store, dispensed a large coffee from a machine at the front, then scuttled back to their car, cup and mobile in hand - and drove off to their office. In a rush, most were texting or talking to their phones, a couple of them attempted to eat a muesli bar at the same time. In contrast, the week before I was in Spain, in a sleepy street cafe where a few customers relaxed in silence over a coffee cup, each at their table alone. They were taking time out, nursing a small cup of coffee and staring into space. There were no cardboard cups, no take out and no rushing - the ‘ food to go’ culture hadn't hit this part of Spain (yet), in fact, the purpose of going to a cafe in Spain is to pause and slow down.
The pace of life is getting faster, we tick off one thing then move to the next. You’re constantly expected to achieve and perform, as a parent, citizen, employee, friend, in your hobbies, even in your yoga, you try to live up to expectations and (as Sting used to say..) 'do, do, do'. Living fast feels good sometimes - your’e getting things done, but there’s a price to getting stuck in busy-ness… If you often have an underlying sense that there isn't enough time, you’ll forget to feel yourself and get lost in activity and compulsive thinking - physical stress sneaks up on you and you end up run down. It happened to me, I was rushing through life instead of actually living it.
This was reflected in my yoga, I was driven by the need to perform harder postures, too look good. Entering postures quickly without properly sensing my body, I would ‘tick off’ each and and quickly move to the next shape, there was ambition in my yoga practice. Most yoga is taught this way - as an exercise routine (with some old Hindu ideas mixed in and a bit of relaxation at the end). But true yoga is not exercise.
What if yoga could be used as a way of not performing? - to directly release tension and dissolve the compulsion to achieve and do, do, do ? What if the movement toward the asana was the vehicle to mindfulness and deep connection to the moment? - The word yoga means ‘to connect’.
Mat yoga is practice for living in the real world, so these days I practice yoga slowly - to really notice, feel and explore what’s going on. It helps me notice myself and protects me from the virus of rushing when I leave the mat. But, there’s two other important reasons to practise yoga in slow motion:-
1. Deep awareness - you can’t slow time down technically, but you can learn to slow down your perception of it, and delve deeply into the present through yoga…it can be used to instantly reduce compulsive thought activity. It’s easy to calm your nervous system and mind with slow yoga. Slow motion means more mindfulness. Fast motion yoga, mechanically performing postures in a routine, at pace makes it harder to be mindful and develop the curiosity needed for a really deep connection in the moment.
2. Release tight muscles - tension is unnecessary effort, we carry habitual tension in our bodies. By entering postures quickly, you usually take the tension with you, the result is discomfort or even pain in the posture. Slow yoga can allow you to sense tension then let it go, so movement feels easier. Faster, achievement driven yoga (striving for the shapes and performing sequences) can multiply the tensions. So, when I notice myself going in to performance mode - going too fast or contorting my body toward the ‘glory’ of a shape, (i.e. increasing the tension) - I back off.
We need to perform and achieve to function in life, but do we need to be addicted to doing? We can at times, pause and choose whether be fast or slow. Slow allows us to notice what’s helping and hindering our wellbeing - to sense what’s sweeping us away from the present (things like; negative people, mobile devices, deadlines, targets, pride, competitiveness e.t.c) - we need them but they don't have to dominate. Slow means going against the addiction to achieve. Slow allows opportunity to pause, sense space and sense the now, as is.
Yoga, and lifestyle choices should do no harm and nourish the individual. The focus of good yoga, (and therefore living), isn’t striving to perform shapes in photographs or what you see others do, it’s about noticing your self deeply, in movement - and learning undo what isn't needed. So, my yoga and my days are lived at a pace that permits that…what a privilege !
That’s me done - I have to rush off now ! …(get it ?)