Slow down, you move too fast.

One of my yoga class participants recently said that she’s never still – she’s always busy doing something, gardening, cleaning, community projects, etc.. This is all great, but it left me thinking about our cultural programming around stillness and busyness. We’re taught to value constant productivity. It’s not okay to just be still.

What I mean by stillness is really mindful being or meditation/contemplation/prayer or even just reading a book. Remember books? I suspect what she meant by stillness was the dangerous state of being a couch potato. These are two different things.

Our country thrives on do more and do it faster! And that mentality has given us some amazing gifts like outta-sight technology, for which I’m very grateful.  But that mentality has also seeped into our nervous systems, and done so to such an extent that anxiety and sleep disorders are a national epidemic. We no longer know how to slow down, to be still, to connect to ourselves.

And yes, it’s in our nervous systems. The autonomic nervous system settles into patterns at an early age. When we’re constantly looking for the next thing to do, we’re in an exteroceptive state (constant external stimulation) that’s fueling the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system). When we slow down and relax, especially when we let our selves feel that state of relaxation (interoception – internal awareness), we move into the rest and digest part of the nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system) where the body restores and heals itself.

So what’s a person to do? Take a mindful moment. Notice what your senses are offering you: what do you see around you – even if it’s mundane, really notice the colors, shapes and textures. Then notice what you’re hearing and smelling. Notice the textures on your skin or temperature of the air. Notice what your breath rhythm is feeling like right now. Take a moment to think about what you’re grateful for today.  Notice what if feels like to just be still for one minute. Then go for broke and try 10 minutes.

What does it feel like to do nothing, to just be? Did thoughts come up like, I don’t have time for this or is this really doing anything? What you’re practicing is mindfulness – noticing what’s really happening in this moment. And when you do it regularly you’re rewiring your brain (that’s cool). You’re teaching it to slow down, pay attention and maybe even relax.

If you’d like to get better at this come to my meditation class this fall or to any upcoming Yoga Nidra and Meditation events.

Chill Out – Deep Relaxation

All yoga classes end in a pose that is designed to take you into a state of deep relaxation. The pose is called savasana and, in my class, I also weave in elements of Yoga Nidra. During this deep relaxation, the body enters a hypometabolic state. Here it restores and regenerates tissue and this is what happens every night when you sleep. However you can also experience this kind of ‘reset’ from even a short restorative session. 

In class I offer several poses for entering this state: savasanalegs up the wallconstructive rest and legs on a chair. Choose one of these poses and move into it slowly and mindfully. Close the eyes and tune into the movement of your breath. If the mind is very chattery you can use one of the concentration practices we’ve worked with like breath counting. If you fall asleep, that’s okay, but ideally you will just move into a calm, meditative state. Ten to fifteen minutes is a good amount of time for this. Come out of the pose slowly, taking the time to gently come back into the present moment. What is the feeling-tone in the body? Do you feel refreshed?

We live in a world that prizes the go-go-go behavior, that goal-oriented striving that gets so many things done, but may leave us feeling anxious and depleted. Perhaps we’re evenaddicted to busyness. This incessant striving triggers the stress response. The next time you feel stressed, note how that feels in the body. This stress, especially chronic stress, suppresses the immune system. Yikes!

Know that you have the tools to counteract this stress. You have the power to change your inner chemistry with these yogic practices. Use them to help you move toward more vibrant health.