This post brought to you by recurring life lesson #9,743 (because you can never learn something too many times) otherwise known as:
Lest you think that my practicing yoga for 15 years means that I'm some sort of high priestess of chill...
When I was a teen with her newly issued driving permit clutched in her eager hand (imagine Snoopy sitting on his flying dog house sporting his googles and scarf -- yeah, it's like that), my parents made a veeeery smart decision: they signed me up for driving lessons with a third party not related by blood. After all, who wants to wet ones pants while driving in the car with one's only daughter? Yeah, my parents were not up for that sort of I'll-never-look-at-my-mom/dad-the-same-way-again scenario. They told me that they were concerned that neither one of them was patient enough nor possessed the proper teaching skills to help me achieve my dream of competing in the Indy 500...uh, I mean, driving a car.
And from this unlikely source one of my greatest lessons came (yeah, you'd think it would have been a yoga teacher or guru of some sort, but noooooo): my driving instructor, Jerry. This font of wisdom drove a Reliant K (yeah, I'm that old) and every time I went to make a turn he would say, "Slow it down...slow it down." Basically, good ole Jerry (re: stupid if he actually thought I would listen to this piece of driving advice) wanted me to come to just about a complete stop before making a turn. Just for a little background: I was born and raised in NY and my mother used to call my father -- who did all of the driving in my family -- Mario Andretti. That said -- how likely do you think it would be that I would embrace Jerry's oh-so-cautious advice? Yes, you are correct -- negative 9,743.
The combination of the NY heritage, lead foot father, and my own march-to-the-beat-of-your-own-drummer nature made for some interesting moments in that Reliant K. I refused to come to a complete stop before making a turn. I mean, come on -- you're driving 45mph on a road and then you have to come to a complete stop before you make a turn? Seems like the perfect way to get rear-ended by the car behind you (yes, that's the defensive NY nature shining through). I was -- and still am -- a big believer of rolling into the turn. Okay...fine...I'll be totally honest -- I'm a believer in accelerating into the turn. Jerry is having chest pains somewhere wondering where he went wrong with me (in my defense -- I passed my driving test on the first try and the instructor actually noted my "very good driving skills" on my evaluation form). Needless to say, this little difference of opinion between me and Jerry led to him often (re: everytime we were in the car together) yelling at me to: Slow it down! Slow it down!
I like speed. I'll never admit this when the police officer comes to my window asking for my license and registration (despite my love of speed, this little scenario has only happened twice) but I like to exceed the speed limit...often. The first time I jumped out of an airplane, I wanted to beg the man that I was strapped to to wait until the veeeeery last minute to engage the parachute because I so enjoyed the exhilarating feeling of the freefall. I jumped out of a plane again a week after the first time because the freefall feeling was too amazing to experience only once. After engaging in a low-key yoga practice for a year or so, I dove into a speedy flow practice that I stuck with for years. When I was in nursery school, I used to speed down the school driveway in a Big Wheel, jamming on the brakes and coming to a grinding, sliding stop right before the driveway dumped out onto the main street (when my mom found out, I was separted from my beloved Big Wheel). Yep, I'm a little speed demon.
The thing is, Jerry's famous words speak to a deeper wisdom. Some things are lost in all of the speediness. Have you ever wolfed down a meal only to find yourself staring at your empty plate wondering, "Gee, I don't even remember what that tasted like?" Have you ever pushed your way through your yoga practice only to realize that upon lying in Savasana that you never once noticed how your body was really feeling? Have you ever jumped into a new relationship right after getting out of one? Unfortunately, I have experienced all of those things and I can tell you that yes, speed can be overrated. The unconsciousness of it all can really take a bite out of your presence and, ultimately, your experience.
This morning I found myself with 15 minutes before an appointment. I was excited and a wee bit nervous about this appointment and my first instinct was to fill up that 15 minute space with something other than spaciousness. I was just about to rush to check email on my smartphone or some such distracting task when I caught myself chanting a Jerryism: "SLOW IT DOWN." (yes, I put it in shouty capitals because it bears emphasis).
Rather than race into distraction mode, I sat quietly and stayed with my feelings. I could practically feel my body vibrating, my heart beating rapidly, the butterflies in my stomach. I noticed. And I breathed. And I stayed seated and continued noticing and kept breathing...deeply. It felt odd but good. My natural, speed-loving instincts were telling me to burn off these feelings by either moving or distracting myself. My yoga practicing self knows better than this. Still, that speedy nature of mine is ingrained from a young age (remember the Big Wheel story -- nursery school, which puts me at about 4 years old). My speedy nature loves to pull a Red Baron Snoopy and fly off with her scarf flapping behind me. My inner diligent yoga practitioner is quietly unfurling her mat, inviting me to calmly sit in Easy Pose and practice presence.
I'm happy to say that stillness and presence won out this morning. Interestingly enough, it actually enhanced my experience. Yes, slowing down certainly has its advantages. It's times like these when I remind myself that I need to slow down in all things: eating, yoga, and yes, even driving (my Big Wheel driving inner 4 year old is shouting "NO!" right now). I'm inviting you to do the same.
Transform your yoga practice into something slower, deeper, and more present:
--Start in standing. Inhale your arms out and up from the sides to the count of 5 (your palms touch by the time you hit 5) and exhale your arms back down by your sides to the count of 5. Repeat 6x.
--Do Standing Forward Bend the same way -- raise arms up from the front to the count of 5 and exhale the arms back down by the sides to the count of 5. Repeat 3x.
--Come seated and sit in Butterfly Pose for 5 minutes.
--Come onto hands and knees and moving gently from Cat to Cow to the rhythm of 5 count inhales and 5 count exhales.
--Now go from Cow to Downward Dog to this same 5 count inhale/exhale rhythm.
--Lie in Savasana for 5 minutes.
After slowing down your yoga practice, what did you notice? Did your mind wander? Did you feel anything in your body? Was your ego telling you to speed things up? I did this very practice this afternoon and I felt so much sensation. I could feel the air flowing in and out of my lungs; I could feel the stretch and contraction in my muscles; I could feel my heart beating. Rather than thinking, I was feeling. Oh yes, there is something to be said for slowing down. Thank you Jerry!