The Benefits of Moving Slowly

Several years ago there was a study conducted in Europe comparing the rate of heart disease between the French, who have a very low rate, and Austrians, who have a much higher rate. In an effort to explore why there was such a vast difference, a group of Austrians were put on a diet similar to the French.  But there was very little impact on their rate of disease. Researchers then looked at the speed at which both groups ate – The Austrians took 10 minutes to finish a meal, while the French took 40 minutes. They found that going more slowly helps the body to assimilate food properly and be nourished by it. Conversely, inhaling your food can be like an assault on your digestive system that renders it much less able to do its job effectively.

With the advent of technology the pace of life has sped up exponentially, and choosing to slow down has become a radical decision. Like nearly every other aspect of modern life, the trend in yoga over the past decade in has been to go faster and faster.  The quickest moving practices 2 decades  ago when I first began teaching now seem slow in comparison.  While I absolutely believe that there is not just one style of practice that’s right for everyone,  I do believe that going more slowly and savouring movement, sensation and breath will take your practice to the next level.

More and more experienced teachers are acknowledging this. J Brown, an American yoga teacher and host of the widely listend to podcast J Brown’s YogaTalks has coind the phrase ‘Gentle Is The New Advanced’. Another well-known teacher, Jason Crandell, describes 5 ways that going more slowly will deepen your practice, and if you’re teaching, will benefit your students:

Moving slowly builds more strength than moving quickly

Your muscles have to work intensely when you transition slowly and sustain postures. Your muscles work less when you rely on constant momentum. If you have any doubt about this try a simple experiment: Spend 5 slow breaths moving from plank to chatturanga; then, spend quick 5 breaths moving from plank to chatturanga. Observe which one is harder and more likely to build strength and power.

Moving slowly honours your breath

Ask 100 vinyasa teachers what the most important aspect of the practice is and 100 of them will tell you it’s the breath. Yet, many classes move at a pace that rushes the breath. There’s a dissonance between what we may say is the most important thing and what the style of practice allows for. Flow, yes, flow, but flow at a pace where each inhalation and exhalation can be full, deep, and unrushed.

Moving slowly balances your nervous system and focuses your mind

A strong, fluid, dynamic asana practice does not need to be rushed. In fact, most of us spend so much time rushing here to there and multi-tasking that moving more slowly and mindfully provides a much-needed rebalancing of the nervous system.

Moving slowly helps you savour the journey

How many times have you driven for hours to arrive at a destination and realised that you can’t remember anything about the journey? There’s a pacing “sweet spot” where your body gets an intense workout and your mind fully engages with your experience. If you move too quickly, you may have a good, valuable practice, but your body and mind are less likely to learn and engage with the process along the way.

Moving slowly decreases the risk of injuries and deepens your practice

The biggest setback that most practitioners encounter is having an injury. To be fair, there are many ways to injure yourself on and off the mat. But, the quickest route to injury on the mat is moving at a pace that is too fast to pay attention to the sensations that are present and manage them with skillful alignment and modifications. Rushing to get somewhere in your practice invariably has the opposite affect.

I came from a family of 7 where the slow eaters at the dinner table didn’t get much to eat. I was raised to be a fast eater, but since I heard about the benefits of eating like the French, I have been consciously working on savouring my food and slowing down.

How can you slow things down this week, on OR off the mat?

© Julie Smerdon 2021

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