I don’t know about you, but I look forward to my yoga practice as a way of quieting my thoughts and finding a sense of calmness in a world that never seems to stop running.
Slowing down on my mat helps restore the balance that I try to maintain in my life, and helps me put aside the worries and anxieties that accompany an endless stream of text messages, e-mails, and phone calls during my day.
The moment that I step on my mat and lie on my back, reclining in order to flex my ankles and windshield wiper my legs, I can feel my body letting go of stress. With each movement, my mind shifts, my thoughts slow, my pulse lets go of tension.
Often, I find myself counting softly as a way of being mindful of my breath. The simple act of counting helps synchronize the movements of my body with the movement of my breath, and I can follow the inhale and exhale of my breath with a kind of mindfulness that is often missing at other times of the day.
If I remember to return to my breath, to stay in the moment of that breath’s inhalation and exhalation, I notice how the world around me slows down even more, just as the world within my mind slows down.
And if I learn to slow down in my poses, to breathe in and into each pose, I can begin to hear my body speaking. I can hear it telling me where I feel tight or constricted, vulnerable, exposed. I can feel the pain in my knee or hip or wrist, and adjust my poses so that I don’t do further harm to that part of my body.
One day I might hear my muscles whispering “Give us a rest!” while on another day I might hear them shouting “We need more stretches!” Slowing down gives me an opportunity to listen to these voices, to what my body needs. Often, slowing down reveals the way that I need to go in my practice.
Slowing down can mean no longer needing to push so hard to improve myself or strive to become a better yogi. It can mean simply shifting my practice to a gentler form, a practice that doesn’t demand anything more than being in the moment.
Over the past few weeks, since I started attending an inspiring Yin Yoga class at Yoga Libre in Sarasota, I’ve thought often about the benefits of slowing down. On the first night of class, my teacher, Nancy, suggested that the class was about “learning not to strive,” and her insight struck a deep chord into how I might practice yoga whenever I step onto my mat.
Now, as I move into a pose, I try to notice the different muscles that help me enter and stay in the pose. I may not know the names of the muscles, but I can feel them working. I can feel the parts of my body that come into play when we stretch out in Restored Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana), for instance, or lean forward in Forward Seated Bend (Paschimottanasana).
There’s a rhythm to my practice. And I can feel that rhythm not only within each class or session, but within my life, too.
Some days, I might need an energetic and demanding practice that challenges me to go fast, build strength, gain stamina.
But other days, I might need the opposite—a calming, less active practice, or a class that challenges me to slow down, develop patience, accept my thoughts as they arise and learn to let them go in the same way that I let go of each breath.
What kind of practice I create for myself depends on my needs in the moment. It also depends on my ability to listen closely to what my body asks of me.
Today I hear it asking these questions: Can you practice without striving? Can you accept yourself as you are in this moment?
Practice Journal: How do you restore balance in your life when you feel it’s spinning out of control? Are you able to slow down? What questions is your body asking you? Can you accept yourself as you are? Write: 10 min.