Thanks to the much blogged about NY Times article by WJ Broad on the risks and rewards of yoga, we’ve all had to do a bit of introspection when it comes to our teaching and personal yoga practices. I know that as a beginning yoga student in 2001, I was extremely concerned about “how good I was doing.” Having originally discovered yoga as a way to improve my tennis game, I was in a competitive mindset from the get go.
I would constantly crank my neck to get a peak at the students beside me without regard to how long they’d been practicing, and I’d force myself much deeper into poses than my body was ready for. I know this now having injured myself in the past not listening to teachers and not listening to my body. It wasn’t yoga’s fault. It was mine. I don’t know why I thought I didn’t have to pay attention as acutely as I did during tennis coaching, but alas and a lack. When you begin training for a marathon, you develop a slow and achievable schedule to build up endurance and strength. Yoga is no different. But more importantly, yoga isn’t about “achieving” anything. In our uber competitive society, we don’t know how to just sit still; to slow down and let the practice unfold for us.
I’m sure my students get sick of my incessant reminders about going slow, easing off of a pose and the ever present reminder that I’ve liberated from a number of mentors, “Remember the 11th commandment, thou shalt not covet thy neighbors pose.”
But this post isn’t about what we shouldn’t do and why, but to emphasize the benefits of going slower. Over the years, I’ve discovered (amazingly enough) that holding a pose correctly for a bit longer actually develops strength and flexibility more than the heat building intensity of consistent flow-only yoga. I found that I get more out of a pose that I was once quick to rush through in an effort to “beat myself” to the next flow.
My new favorite quote from a recent workshop is, “You’ll get there faster, if you go slower.” I love everything about the statement, so other than “to avoid injury,” here are 10 More Reasons to Practice Slow-Ga
- Going slower brings back the awareness of space that I talk about often in my posts, the ‘between-ness’ of poses are poses of themselves and extremely beautiful if you let yourself experience them.
- You will build strength if you hold a standing posture longer. Take Warrior I for example. What does your quadricep say to you if you hold the pose for 30 seconds vs. 1 breath?
- You will feel more balanced physically and energetically. We all have a stronger side whether it’s twists or forward folds. If you become aware of which side needs more time or more care, you eventually equal out both sides.
- The class is at least an hour. There’s no reason to hurry through a flow or jam yourself into a pose that you’ll be holding for 30 seconds to a minute. Take your time to get there, we’ll all meet up in down dog.
- Shallow breathing doesn’t expand lung capacity or build endurance. We’ve all heard it or said it, “let the breath guide your poses.” If you’re huffing and puffing to catch your breath, your body is moving too fast. And, don’t hold your breath. Breathe into the places that are clenching and release.
- You’ll sync up your form with your flow. So, you still want to “achieve” the perfect chaturanga? If you slow it down, you’ll have to refine your form and you’ll notice the places you’re sacrificing good body mechanics.
- You’ll become aware that each pose is strengthening while it’s lengthening. Without getting into too much anatomy, our muscles work in pairs. Agonists are the muscles performing the movement or lets say extending and the antagonist is the flexor muscle, which does the opposite. In Uttanasana (forward fold), agonists are the contracting quads while the hamstrings are the stretching antagonists.
- You might find that you enjoy certain poses more than others. I used to mindlessly flow through my B series sun salutations never pausing enough to find that I actually enjoy Warrior I.
- You will become more present on and off the mat. It’s hard to remain present if you’re off to the next pose in your mind or body. Once you begin to live this on the mat, you’ll begin to notice where you’re cutting corners to shave time off of the mat.
- You hurry everywhere else. Why not actually give yourself the full hour or so you’ve allotted for the practice you just paid for? We fast forward through all other aspects of our lives, ease up a little.
Your yoga practice is only as beneficial as the presence you give it. And, it’s impossible to be present if you’re already fifteen poses ahead in your mind. If you only get through five poses in a 20 minute practice, but give your undivided focus at a turtle’s pace, you’ll be giving yourself a gem that shines throughout your day.
Slow down and play it Namasafe.
– Your Charmed Yogi