September 15, 2014

Are We Ready for a Slow Yoga Movement? ~ Dr. Gregg D. Winston

Nikto Shlavic/Flickr

I’m enjoying a staycation this week, so I decided to go try a vinyasa class at a local studio that I have never visited before.

The class was taught by a young and fit looking woman. As we approached the end of the class I wondered if she would ask me how I liked her class, since It was the first time I’d taken a class at this studio.

As a matter of fact she didn’t ask me for any feedback, but told me she hoped to see me again. If she had asked how I liked her class, I would have responded with something like this:

Imagine you go out for dinner at a fine dining establishment.

This restaurant serves your favorite cuisine, and is getting rave reviews from patrons and critics alike. You have been looking forward to trying the place ever since you first heard about it.

As you drive over, you imagine everything about the experience you are about to have, from the cool atmosphere, to reviewing from the menu, but most of all how you will mindfully savor each and every bite of food, involving all your senses to maximize the experience.

After all, you think, such a meal does not come cheap.

You arrive at the restaurant, are seated, and are leisurely studying the menu, trying to decide which of the delights you will have. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is very busy, and you can tell the server is becoming impatient with your review of the menu.

So you choose something quickly.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for ­ the first appetizer course arrives. You gaze on the beautifully presented morsels. You inhale the fragrant aroma. Now you carefully balance that first bite on your fork and are about to lift it to your mouth, when the server strides up to the table, swoops down and takes your appetizer away, replacing it with the salad course.

With each course, this same pattern is repeated.

By the end of the meal you cannot even remember why you wanted to go to this particular restaurant.

Just to provide you, my reader, with a some context, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I have been practicing yoga, Tai Chi, and zazen for 35 years. I have taught all of the above on and off, but never as my primary occupation.

These days my practice is primarily a daily home affair, but I do have a few private students and classes which I teach each week. I also attend a weekly yoga class that is oriented toward beginning students, but allows me the freedom to work on more advanced variations if I like.

The reason I like attending and teaching beginners’ classes is because we take more time in each asana. And here is where slow yoga comes in. When I started in yoga all those years ago, the only brand­ name yoga styles I can remember were Sivananda, Kripalu, and Iyengar. At that time I had never heard of Ashtanga (except from Patanjali), Vinyasa, Power, Yin, etc. But all the folks I knew that practiced at that time seemed to hold each posture for at least eight to 10 slow breaths, or longer. Even in our sun salutations we held each posture.

This morning’s class just felt rushed to me. Before I was able to really sink into any one of the asanas, we were already moving on to the next, and the next, and the next after that.

Now don’t get me wrong—I admire the dedication and skill it takes to move quickly through an advanced flow. I also admire dance, gymnastics, and martial arts. Personally, I like to keep things distinct.

So for aerobic exercise, I will go out on a nice run.

But in my yoga practice, whether I am working on flexibility, strength, orbalance, I find greater value when I hold the postures for longer periods of time, and move very slowly and with a great deal of attention and sensitivity from one posture to the next. This gives me plenty of time to feel into what I am doing.

Slow yoga allows me to discover subtle variations in alignment ­ on both physical and energetic levels. It also allows me to tune in to any emotions that might want to come bubbling up. Most importantly, this mode of yoga allows me to move deeper and deeper without injuring myself, and for the practice to truly be a meditation unto itself.

So, like both eating and making love (or really anything else worth doing), a slower pace allows for a deeper and more intense experience.

I don’t judge people who patronize fast food establishments. But I truly feel sorry for those who don’t allow themselves the fully sensual experience of a meal made up of real food, consumed slowly and attentively.

Given the choice, which of the two alternatives provides more real nourishment?

Namaste, and take it slow.



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Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Nikto Shlavic at Flickr 

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Dr. Gregg D. Winston