A Slow Yoga Journey
So like eating and making love (or really anything worth doing), a slower pace allows for a deeper and more intense experience.” – Dr Gregg D. Winston
The idea of a slower way of experiencing life came to me when everything felt too much and my senses were over-stimulated. I yearned to move away from ‘feeling busy’ and wanted to build a lifestyle that had more intention and purpose behind it. During those early days, I also found yoga.
I asked my Instagram audience have you heard of the term slow yoga?
What is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha yoga is generally regarded as slow yoga, with emphasis on breathing and is ideal yoga for beginners. There isn’t much of a sequence like the more popular Vinyasa which is geared towards intermediate and advanced practitioners since it’s fast and flowing. It’s of popular opinion that all types of yoga stem from Hatha yoga.
What is Slow Flow Yoga?
Slow Flow combines the gentle pace of Hatha and the flow of Vinyasa but with less transitions and more space between poses.
My first steps into discovering Slow Yoga
Over the next few years with the wonderful invention of YouTube, I dipped in and out of yoga. It made it accessible yet despite having yoga on demand, I couldn’t commit. I struggled ‘pulling’ my body into pretzel shapes like my online teachers seemed to effortlessly fall into. It was demotivating.
I persisted with the asanas (the physical poses within yoga) as it gave me an excuse to have time away and in some ways, time off life! Although I became even more frustrated with my body’s inability to bend, it prompted further study. Full disclosure, I wanted to find loopholes – the kind that made me look like a pretzel too…
To my disappointment there weren’t any. The magic was time, practice and patience. As I delved into the history of yoga I found teachings, chants, gurus, meditations, breathing techniques and a variety of styles including Slow Flow and Hatha (which is what I am now trained in). I began to learn the ancient practice of yoga was far more than the physical aspects and it piqued my curiosity.
A short & insightful Tedx Talk by Dena on her lesson on becoming still for the benefit of her mental health
- Learning meditation as a child from her mother
- The challenge of stillness & repetition
- What yoga is & isn’t
My first profound experience of slow yoga was whilst at a Raja Yoga meditation and silence weekend at the Global Retreat Centre. There was no asanas involved. Only hours of meditation and silence which took place in their warm meditation rooms, on manicured lawns, amid wild fields, down by the river and mindful dinners.
Once I had overcome the first hurdle of switching off my phone… and I found my favourite tree swing, I settled into a quiet routine fairly quickly. Although I found not talking to others simple enough, switching off from myself proved to be a challenge. It turns out, a silence retreat isn’t just about external silence.
The centre was set in rural heaven and my brain wanted to indulge in every detail. I could only think about the posts I wanted to write, the people I could encourage to visit and of course when could I come back again?
I asked my Instagram audience do you find meditation difficult?
Whilst I’ll admit, I didn’t reach complete silence for the 3 days I was there. I did learn to acknowledge when the internal chatter began – an important step in meditation and a muscle that needs to be strengthened on a daily basis even for me, 8 years on! I went home with a new idea of what yoga could mean for me. I was drawn specifically to the parts about how to live my yoga off the mat. Self – study (svādhyāya) is still my favourite part of yoga.
A Slow Yoga Pose Step by Step
(easy pose prayer hands)
Benefits: creates space in the hips, improves spinal posture, opens shoulders.
Cross the legs in a seated position. Use a block or cushion to sit on if the hips are tight.
Inhale & raise the arms out and up (lifting out of the hips & imagining the spine lengthening) and place the palms together.
For a Slow Flow variety exhale and bring the palms to the heart repeating the entire movement for 5-10 breaths.
There’s an option of stretching the neck by looking up as the arms raise up, and looking down as the palms return to the heart centre.
3 SLOW YOGA TIPS I USE IN MY OWN PRACTICE
In the beginning, I worried more about running overtime and being late for something else! An alarm helped to prevent that worry.
Make a large part of your slow yoga practice more about inhaling and exhaling than the asanas.
Sitting or laying on the floor not only takes pressure off the feet, ankles and knees but it sends a message to your subconscious the ground has your back! Floor based routines are ideal for those of us who generally don’t feel supported or safe in life. Try this on warm grass, or cool sand for added ‘grounding’ effects.
With a new found admiration of stillness and slow amid a fast paced world, I have since applied that to my asana practice. There’s less pulling, pushing and much more acceptance and ease. I aim to bring that way of thinking and feeling into my teaching practice too.
There is always a space for fast (especially if you are wanting a cardio boost) but just like ebb and flow, yin and yang, hot and cold, it’s about moderation and balance which of course is always a work in progress.
For me, slow yoga isn’t always about the pace at which it’s done, much like slow living. It’s more about the intention and purpose behind it.
The Slow Yoga Benefits
Decrease risk of injury:
slow yoga helps the person practicing to pay attention to their bodily sensations and correct alignment. Many injuries stem from pulling the body into shapes that it doesn’t want to go into. Therefore slowing down, enables you to be mindful of how your body is experiencing those postures and provides ample amount of opportunity for adjustment.
Encourages full use of breath:
the breath in any form of yoga is one of the most important parts to safe and enjoyable practice. However, when yoga is rushed so is the breath and full inhalation and exhalation isn’t achieved. Slow yoga therefore encourages you to check in with your breathing often.
Builds more strength:
moving slowly means your muscles have to work harder in order to sustain asanas. A practical example of this would be to hold a downward dog for 5 long inhales and exhales.
slow yoga encourages you to take time to get into the asana and fully experience the asana without rushing on to the next one. During which, you can begin to assess where your mind and body is out. Each time you practice, you will discover something new and have a chance to build upon your knowledge.