Slow work on a tractor.

In Praise of Slowness

Once upon a time, many years ago, I sat down with my piano teacher to play a very difficult passage. When I was finished, my teacher smiled, then said to me: “Why don’t you challenge yourself by taking the passage slower?”

At the time, I thought she was kidding. But when I played the same passage at about half speed, I found mistakes where just a moment ago, I had found none.

Years later, when I discovered yoga, I was astonished to find that it worked much the same way. The real measure of how well we know a pose is, in some ways, how gracefully we can do it — at a snail’s pace.

Slow yoga in the studio.

When we slow down, we challenge ourselves to truly stay present – by removing the possibility to be absent. After all, it may be easy to be distracted during a quick sun salutation, but can we remain distracted while holding our powerful pose — for ten breaths? And then moving — mindfully, gracefully, slowly — into prayer twist?

When we slow down, we allow the truth of the pose to come through: the tension of it, the particularness of it, the joy of it. We stop going through the motions and start actually embodying the pose. Where denial becomes impossible, living begins.

Slow yoga in a community.

To slow down our lives, we have to tap into the reserves of courage within us that allow us to resist the common flow of everyday life. We all live in a world that wants us to become “fitter, faster, more productive” human beings — but often, as it turns out, not for our own betterment, but the betterment of someone else’s bottom line. To exercise our right to say no, to unwind, to relax, to have a full conversation, we need our mindfulness practice to create space for us to be free.

Here are a few slowness exercises to try — not for your next day off, or your next vacation, but for right now: this day, this life. Keep the ones that sound the most doable for you.

1. Instead of typing it, write by hand.
2. Instead of driving there, walk.
3. Instead of emailing her, write her a letter or postcard.
4. Instead of texting her, wait until you see her in person.
5. Eat your dinner without any radio, television or cellphones. Don’t leave the table until all family members are finished.
6. The next time you’re talking to a loved one, especially one in distress, take the time to match your breathing to theirs. Listen.
7. Cook, don’t order out. For bonus points, cook slowly — make something you’ve never made before, on account of the time needed.
8. Take a bath instead of a shower.
9. Challenge yourself to drink a glass of water while feeling every gulp. Don’t think of anything else, just experience the water: its coolness, its freshness, its suddenness.
10. Take a different route to work — the longer, more interesting one.
11. Choose something you are genuinely interested in, but haven’t had the time to explore. Set aside half an hour and commit yourself to learning about it, as deeply as you can.
12. Try meditation.
13. Get out of your seat, and open the window.

The good news is, it doesn’t take much to restore our lives to their natural balance. Sometimes even five minutes of meditation will do — or the simple choice to take the slow lane home, with the windows down.

When you’re living slowly, it’s hard to miss the profound mystery that’s all around us. Take a look. And take it slow.

– M. C. J.

[ Images from Flickr: I, II and III ]

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