Four Ways to Slow Down and Make Life a Yoga Class

by Valerie Reiss

Think about the word fast. Close your eyes. What do you see? I see a blur of cars, the color red, an e-mail inbox filling faster than I can click. Now what's happening in your body? I get a little panicky, scared, overwhelmed, worried that I can't keep up, that I'm missing out, that the world is going by without me … WAIT UP, world! WAIT FOR ME!

Whew! Maybe you like fast, though. Maybe for you it's like zipping around an ice rink, flying, rushing—and that's your buzz. Either way, we can all—slow walkers and fast talkers alike—benefit from a reduction in speed, especially during the packed holiday season. There's nothing wrong with doing things quickly—speed can definitely be achieved with presence and grace—but much of the time, something gets lost when we rush: a certain attendance to the moment, to our breath, to hearing our inner voice, and other's voices. We miss things.

It’s healthy and sane to make sure to establish, at least a few times a day, a pace in which you can take a nice, slow deep breath, feel yourself internally expand, and have your thoughts float around you, like long hair blooming in water. Slow is good medicine in a culture that rewards speed over excellence, doing more than being. It's why we practice yoga, why we meditate, why we create eddies to allow our true center to be.

But in daily life, those eddies are often surrounded by rough waters: I cannot tell you how many times I‘ve arrived at yoga class sweaty and panicked and breathless. But I‘ve learned a few ways to slow things down, even living in a city with a much faster inner metronome than mine. Of course, I often forget and get all sped up, but then I remember to slow it down again by keeping these things in mind:

1. Smile. So obvious and simple. But when I share a real smile with a stranger—on the street, in a store, on the subway—it plops me right out of my racing-head brain and into my here-now body. Friendliness slows us down, in a good way.

2. Take photos. I heart my smartphone. It's such a portable, easy way to slow down and see the world around me. When I'm looking for pretty flowers, or even piles of garbage that somehow seem artful, I'm attending to beauty, which is an automatic down-shifter. You can take pics of the graffiti in a bathroom stall at the mall, your prettily swirled latte, or your feet on some interesting carpet.

3. No passing. Try, for a little while, not overtaking someone walking ahead of you slowly. Your brain might holler, faster, faster! But are you really in that much of a rush that an extra 60 seconds will make a difference? If you slow it down, you might get a moment to experience compassion for an elderly person making it up the stairs with a steady shuffle, notice a mom who could use your help with a stroller, or actually get to chat with a stranger. Slowing down gets you to new places, right on time.

4. Detour through nature. In a car or on foot, is there a route that will take you through a park, or a pretty scenic area? Nature is a proven blood-pressure dropper. It also allows us to feel more connected to the planet and our fellow creatures great and small. I try to walk through a park whenever possible, and if I'm feeling extra crunchy wild-woman, I'll even stop and hug a tree. If you see me, you can take a picture with your phone, while not swerving around me. I'll smile back.

Valerie Reiss is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more.

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