Controversial

Do you dare – slowing down?

Does anybody still remember when yoga was just plain weird, potentially dangerous and certainly a devilish Hindu practice? When you’d don your baggy cotton trousers and a shabby t-shirt in order to, well, just sit and breathe?

Well, I don’t remember any of this. Maybe my parents would. Actually, my mum does and when I started doing yoga she looked at me, really puzzled, and said: “Oh dear, I don’t recognise any of this.”

All this has been talked and written about at length. But what I wonder is this:

What does the style of yoga that is predominantly being practised at a certain time, in a certain country, tell us about society?

What kind of society is it that makes people push limits, target goals, and once reached, set them higher? What makes people sweat at over 30 degrees with the relentless urge to detoxify? Why do we feel attracted by a practice that is based on the strict repetition of a series? Why does ‘power yoga’ sound like such an immensely alluring choice to us?

Maybe it’s simply this: The yoga we practise reflects our mental state.

We live in a society where from early on we’re being told to “power on“, “push on“, in order to never fall behind, never be outdone.  Only the very best get a place at an elite university, only the smartest get the top jobs. Who stagnates is already falling behind. Don’t stop and breathe. Keep going. Power on.

But isn’t the idea that by being quick we can outrun the rat race? That we can escape the hamster wheel by pushing harder, being more determined, more committed? Come on, really? How about those days when we just feel like sitting on the mat, breathing, calming the mind – does that mean we’ve been failing?

I’ve done quite a bit of Sivananda yoga. They do the weirdest thing there. They make you lie down between postures. Particularly between challenging postures. It’s in order to bring your heart rate down. For you to assimilate and digest the posture. To calm the mind. To truly reflect on what you are doing right now and how that makes you feel.

I remember having to chuckle when the teacher first introduced this idea, so alien to me at the time. But now, overwhelmed by the number of power and hot yoga studios, I wonder if there is still room in our society to dare – dare slowing down.

Savasana, anyone?

~ Andrea

Image credits here and here.

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23 replies »

  1. Fascinating post! What you said about our society being a lot about power, pushing, and succeeding, is very interesting. I feel as though sitting down, focusing on our breath and meditating is something we all need, especially those who are always “powering” through.

    This Zen proverb comes to mind when I read your post “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

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  2. I really love this post (and am so happy to have found your blog!). It’s SO challenging for so many people to slow down. I find that the people who would really benefit from a slow practice are most drawn to the super-power yoga practices. Not that they don’t serve a purpose too…but a little savasana or legs up the wall are good for what ails you 🙂

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  3. Reblogged this on Soul Surf n Yoga and commented:
    Do you see yoga as a work-out, or a ‘work-in’? I used to think that Power Yoga was the right kind of yoga for me. But that’s not really yoga, is it? Yogi Andrea Leber reminds us of the benefits of slowing down…

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  4. Yes I’ll take that Savasana! So important to keep in mind the ‘real’ original yoga, where the focus lies on connecting to your breath, keeping it long & steady, subtle & smooth. When I started doing yoga I did the ‘power yoga’ for a couple of years. Then, I did my YTT and yoga has never been better. Honoring individual processes feels so much better than trying to keep up with the teacher or your class mates.

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  5. I “remember” sitting and breathing. It was yesterday. All styles of yoga exist today. When yoga became tied in to weight loss I think is maybe when “the industry” appeared. When it became a fitness craze, when it appeared in gyms, when a commercial industry took notice and took advantage of people’s need to buy. I don’t remember any specific sutras about weight loss… finding comfort and balance, sure. I’m not so sure it’s just about our current culture but also in the powerful machine of materialism, marketing, and money. It’s so easy to be bombarded with particular information and so hard to find the rest of the information. Yoga will never change – but what people decide to label as yoga is wide open and ever changing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m still struggling with this concept myself. I love restorative yoga and yin yoga, and practices with fast-paced sun salutations scare me because I’m never sure if my alignment is correct. Yet I gravitate towards the latter because I feel it’s the right thing to do for someone who’s trying to lose weight like me. I mean, it’s bad enough I’m doing yoga instead of running and weight training, right? Oh, but how I love the “powered down” sequences! And the delicious feeling of falling into savasana.

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  7. Thanks for your thoughts Andrea. I teach in a community where the largest demographic is retired people. “Power Yoga” is not an appealing idea to many of them. However, I am continually astounded by the incredible power of “restorative” yoga. By far the most popular classes here are gentle, slow, maybe somewhat stretchy, and definitely all about letting go of old patterns, and connecting back into the inner world, into the body as it is, with compassion and equanimity. I welcome all styles of yoga and encourage students to gravitate to the one that honestly serves them the most, and to remain curious and open to other approaches. My greatest wish is that students would learn how to modify any yoga practice to suit their own body, in each present moment, so that they could really go to any style of class, and find some way to participate that is appropriate and effective. If we understand the underlying purpose of a pose, we can modify to suit our own current situation; be that youthful exuberance, anxiety, depression, age or injury etc. Sometimes it makes sense for some people to “power on” and sometimes those same people need to chill out. The breath never lies.

    Thanks again for your observations and thoughts. I always enjoy reading your blog.

    Blessings,
    Ken

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    • Hi Ken,

      Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot!

      Yes, you’re so right, modifications are everything. Sadly, learning how to teach modifications or how to offer them during a class (particularly during fast paced classes) is not something that is extensively covered in every TT programme. It takes a lot to stand your ground and be the only one modifying a pose in a class of (what feels like) over-achievers.

      But I’m definitely familiar with that phase in my life where all I wanted and maybe needed was to “power on”. Looking back on it now it seems rather strange 🙂 I guess which practice we go for tells a lot about where we are in our life….

      Andrea

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  8. I really appreciate a yoga instructor who keeps bringing the practice back to the internal, who keeps reminding the class that the point is to connect with your own being, find internal strength, patience, wisdom. For me, yoga is only partially exercise, it is more about transforming and becoming- if the spiritual is missing, I think it can tend to get pointed toward competition (even with the self).

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    • I know – I love those instructors! It’s really, really hard work, trying to make people connect with their internal strength and their own being. Definitely more work than making them connect with their core strength! 😉

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      • I was recently in a class where the instructor kept us in pigeon pose forever (like 3 minutes) and she said two or three times during, “This is where we find the will to keep going. Smile, breath, see if you can let go of what you’re holding on to.” It was such a profound thing to come to terms with the idea that physical discomfort is no different than emotional discomfort and that we can use the same tools, if we choose. That’s why I go to yoga and not boot camp

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    • Yes! I just sometimes feel that in world where being busy is a great thing, slowing down seems to equal “being lazy”. But as you say, contemplation can lead to more target oriented and thought through action 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Slowing down is something we have to learn… since we were trained in being procuctive. As you say, taking time outes, slowing down or simply enjoying life is viewed as lazy. But, honestly, who cares? In the end you are the one that has to deal with your life. Most people are only jealous when they see others doing what they actually would love to do. 😉

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