As the wise sage Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Ain’t it the truth? As a society, we seem to be constantly looking forward, to the next event, next project, next weekend, next vacation, next year, next decade.
Personally, I’ve become pretty skillful at relaxing over the past several years of living in Guatemala.
There is a thin line between relaxation and laziness. I am sometimes lazy, and I relish staying in pajamas all day and doing next to nothing. I am usually relaxed, even when “working,” because—after much trial and error—I’ve chosen jobs (writing, yoga teaching, mentoring young learners) that I love and that feed my energy instead of draining it.
From my vantage point, it seems that most folks in the U.S. are busier and more frantic than ever, anchored to their SmartPhones and rushing, rushing, rushing. The race to nowhere.
Here are some gentle ways to slow down and savor this moment, this life—now.
1. Be less available.
When you are only online for an hour or two every day or three, the internet becomes a treat and a tool, rather than an always-available toy. Also, you read more books, short stories, poetry—actual printed words on actual paper, or even digital words on a Kindle.
When the internet is an option, it’s way easier and more entertaining than literature or, heaven forbid, sitting and meditating. So, intentionally disconnect, turn off your wifi. Decide what hours you will be online and spend the time wisely, communicating, expressing, posting, reading and learning.
2. “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going to fast—you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” ~ Eddie Cantor
3. Listen to a whole album from start to finish.
Ideally on a record player, if possible. There is something magical about the scratches and grooves of vinyl. Maybe a cassette tape? Or even one of those old-fashioned compact discs? Maybe you don’t have any of those obsolete items anymore? Fine. Use your iPod or computer. But no shuffling, no skipping tracks, no surfing the internet while listening.
Just listen. Drink a cup of coffee or tea, write if you are inspired, dance, sing along, sweep the kitchen floor. Need an injection of new quality music? My current favorite is the Spoon album released last week, They Want My Soul.
4. Have a cup of tea.
Brew the water in a pot or tea kettle. No microwaves allowed! Ideally, use natural herbs from the garden like mint, ginger or lemongrass (or a store-bought teabag, if you must). Let it steep. Watch the water change color.
Drink it slowly and mindfully, doing nothing else for the duration of that mug of delicious tea, whether you are alone or in shared company. Be grateful for the tea, the cup, the potable water, the luxury of having all those things and being able to enjoy them.
5. “The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” ~ Moliere
6. Take a wandering hike.
(Or run. Or bike ride.) The key is to have no destination. Wander freely, letting your intuition and energy be your guide. Leave your camera and phone at home. Indulge in a long conversation with yourself or a companion.
7. “I’m a slow walker, but I never walk back.” ~ Abe Lincoln
8. Connect (meaningfully) with an old friend.
Remember back in the day when people actually emailed each other? Or, before that, when we wrote letters and sent them in the mail? I am a fan of social media, but it simply doesn’t replace one-on-one communication.
Take an hour to write a letter or have an actual telephone conversation with a dear friend with whom you haven’t spoken to in too long.
9. “Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.” ~ Socrates
10. Practice yin yoga.
Yin is the opposite of—the complement to—yang. It is a chance to surrender, to let go, to release all our habits of making effort, striving toward our ambitions, exerting our energy and engaging our muscles. Yin yoga poses are held for five to seven minutes or longer. Give it a whirl. Do an hour of yin, and you’ll be walking on clouds.
11. Be silent for one whole day.
Take a 24-hour vow of silence when you can. And, in the meantime, try this one-day mindful speech challenge: tell no lies and speak about no one (positively or negatively) who isn’t physically present in the conversation. It’s extremely challenging, and you might fail. But partaking in this challenge makes us more aware of our speech patterns and tendencies to gossip or fib.
12. “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much.” ~ John Wayne
13. Go to a museum.
Museums are boring to fast-paced folk. Visit a museum or art gallery you’ve never been to before. Stroll slowly through the exhibits, noticing details, giving each item or work of art your full attention. Soak up the creativity, the history, the wonder.
Even if you lack a green thumb like I do, you can still plant some potted herbs or flowers. The process of working with soil, planting seeds or seedlings, watering and nurturing, and later cultivating is a wonderful way to slow down and create something practical and beautiful at the same time.
15. “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” ~ May Sarton
I know it seems a little silly to remind people to breathe, since breathing is a natural, automatic bodily function. But that´s the primary role of a yoga teacher, in my opinion.
Breathe in compassion, breathe out kindness. Breathe deeply. Experience the sensation of the inhale going in and the exhale going out.
Pause regularly throughout the day and reconnect with your breath. Perhaps repeat the silent mantras “in” and “out,” on the inhale and exhale. The breath is life. The breath is magic. No matter what emotion is visiting, what situation is presenting itself, our breath is there—steady, loyal, patient.
Here´s to slowing down and savoring the flavor of life, in all its glory and difficulty. I will conclude with a gorgeous, sweet, simple and classic poem by Mary Oliver called “The Summer Day”—
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo credit: Flickr