You have probably heard of the Slow Food movement. Our fast food nation is faced with a health, heart, and planetary crisis that slow food can help heal. If we eat what grows locally, and cook that fresh and local produce at home, we not only eat healthier food, but we learn to slow down and take nourishment form a real meal, eaten with attention.
Convenience gives the illusion of more time and more ease but we are learning that the opposite is true. The more convenience we have, the more we cram into our lives with less value and connection overall to our lives and our communities.
The Yoga world is also becoming a Fast Food environment with random classes everywhere, drop ins on ClassPass, and the overall speed and intention of practice designed for mass consumption and instant gratification. Harder, faster, louder styles of yoga are becoming the norm and students expect to be entertained and applauded just for showing up.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there is another way.
Slow Yoga is like slow food. It requires you to pause and look around long enough to find a studio and a teacher you are willing to settle into practice with. Slow Yoga is both the speed of asana you practice as well as the container you choose to practice in.
Like the Slow Food movement, the rewards of slow yoga are profound and deeply rebellious in the best way.
Slow Yoga is yoga practiced consistently in community.
Slow Yoga is yoga seen as a wholistic practice that heals us first and foremost.
Slow Yoga is Yoga that isn’t about gimmicks or quick fixes.
Slow Yoga is asana practiced at a speed that allows feeling and reflection whether the asana is vigorous or gentle.
Here are some of the benefits of a slow practice:
1. Safety and Sustainability – When you take time to come into poses slowly you can set up your base well and make better choices. Coming out of poses mindfully increases your safety and lowers your chance of injury overall. You should be able to stay calm and stay in your breath throughout practice. Your nervous system is in flight or flight a lot and yoga should not be more of the same. If you practice yoga the way you live your life, you will reinforce patterns that aren’t serving you.
2. Improved Alignment – Within every style of Hatha yoga asana there are specific alignment rules that we learn and practice. Over time we gather the requisite strength, flexibility, and attention to execute a semblance of those rules which hold together in a recognizable pattern. When we take the time to set up the base of the pose and we linger a while, we get feedback from our own bodies and our teacher. We can continue to move more fully into a healthy and balanced expression of the posture. Muscular engagement, isometric actions and cross-referencing the body takes time and a skilled teacher/focused student to implement.
3. Improved Awareness – All of this attention to detail expands your internal landscape and helps you uncover a roadmap for your system. In Hatha Yoga we start by paying attention to the body in the most obvious ways but this practice leads towards a greater depth of experience overall. Through attention we shift patterns and grow.
4. Opportunity to Explore Personal Alignment/Core Alignment – Those rules of alignment mentioned above are sometimes standard, but often have more to do with a specific goal or general safety than overall correctness. Alignment is always changing and is often arbitrary. Because of this fact, not only do we need to go slow enough to refine the standard alignment but we also need to have the time to uncover a more personal and universal alignment. In Sarayana Yoga we call your personal alignment CORE ALIGNMENT. It is comprised of three experiential elements, ground, center, and sky. This core alignment is applicable to all poses, all movement, and once it is uncovered it is never lost.
5. Better Relationship with your Feelings – When we live in a state of auto pilot on overdrive we don’t have the time to feel what we are experiencing. The longer we live in this way, the less equipped we are to deal with intense emotions when they do arise. Social media, food, alcohol, sex, shopping, and entertainment of all kinds are used like a super destructive drug of avoidance. Our practice though, offers big medicine for this cultural ill. As we slow down and get quiet, all of those feelings come up. We learn to befriend difficult emotions and eventually clear old stagnant ones that have been clogging up the system.
While Yoga is for EVERYBODY, not everybody actually wants to practice yoga. If you are called to the transformational study and practice of Yoga, I encourage you to slow down and do the work. The rewards are endless.
Lots of people tell the story about how they were dragged to yoga class and hated it at first. They either begrudgingly continued on or didn’t try it again for years. At some point they felt a shift, things clicked, and yoga made sense to them and seemed good for them. That is not my story.
After my first yoga class I went home, plopped onto my bed, and told my boyfriend of that tender decade that I would be a yoga teacher some day. I bought all the books from Barnes and Noble I could find within the first month and spent countless hours in the studio practicing, bugging my teachers for extra help, and trying to build a home practice so I could more quickly progress. Many workshops, several certifications, and a few yoga conferences later I discovered that I was tired and stalling out on my growth trajectory. Exhaustion and even a sense that I didn’t fit into my practice correctly took hold. It was time for a change.
15 years later I can confidently report that the yoga practice is an integrated part of my life, which is inseparable from the rest of my experiences. The changes I can report are vast. The effects of a long and measured practice are staggering as I reflect back over the years. Here is my best advice for working through burnout and carving a personal path in the often standardized and limiting post modern commercial yoga world.
1. Recognize that the rose colored glasses of new love wear off.
If you choose the yogic path as a life path you will inevitably come up against the reality of a committed relationship or a marriage of sorts. In other words, the magic and specialness shift into a new normal and then the work of yoga begins.
Eventually you must come to look at the asana/pranayama/meditation practices as housekeeping for a larger exploration of your whole life. There are two Niyamas of the 8 limbs of yoga to consider here: Tapas and Svadyaya.
Tapas means heat, discipline, and dedication to the aims of yoga. Discipline isn’t always pleasurable and neither is scrubbing your floors. I always encourage students to practice finding the sacred within the mundane. Holiness in dailiness is an ongoing practice of yoga.
Instead of seeking out more and more extreme experiences in yoga, we have to get more and more willing to be intimate with the small normal moments of life.
Svadyaya means self-study and study of the context or philosophy of yoga. Burnout is a sign that you are ready to expand. It means the next layer of yoga is just around the bend!
2. Return to the place you started and know it for the first time.
If you love yoga asana and found yourself inclined to pursue a physical practice that focused on lots of gymnastic variations, chances are, you skipped over some of the really important “basics.”
Foundations are not just understanding the alignment of familiar poses. Building the foundations of both physical and conceptual yoga should happen together. The concepts, postures, and coordinations arise together so it is probably time to take some basic classes again and tend to your connection to the ground and your breath as you move.
Reach out to a trusted teacher and schedule a private session to work on your foundations. It will cost you, but it will be worth it. Drop in Yoga is not the best way to glean insight and gain guidance.
3. Expand your definition of Yoga practice.
Burnout may be an indication that the style of movement you were initially attracted to isn’t serving you. That isn’t uncommon. Many of us start in a system that mirrors our tendencies, likes, and dislikes. We choose a movement pattern and dogma that reinforces our natural patterns. Over time this creates imbalance. Shifting to different movement patterns and styles might be necessary. It was for me.
I’d also encourage you to look at therapy sessions, acupuncture, bodywork, journaling, and volunteer work as yoga practice. Again the practice of Svadyaya ( self-study) can be expanded very broadly as long as you are consciously choosing these things and seeing them as yoga.
4. Establish a working definition of Yoga and the goals of yoga.
You would think this is easy but people have been grappling with these questions for thousands of years and the inquiry is part of the practice. Ultimately yoga is not something quantifiable from the outside. It is a personal and ongoing exploration of the self, an uncovering of truth and freedom.
Studying up on The Yoga Sutras and some of the later Tantric texts can be helpful but look for a teacher and a community to study with.
I hope this advice inspires you to widen and deepen your connection to yoga if that appeals to you.
Know that if you leave the practice behind, you are not failing at anything. Your value is inherent and you don’t need permission to exist and thrive.
That luminous awareness within me
sees and honors that clarity within you.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
― Henry David Thoreau