Slowing down is the precursor to yoga practice because this simple act allows us to consider our thoughts, feelings, and actions more carefully in the light of our desire to live peacefully. When we overwork, when we try to fit too many things into an already congested schedule, when we rush from place to place, we lose track of what is important, and in doing so we almost always fail to serve those values that support our relationships and our heartfelt aspirations. A certain harshness can creep into our interactions with others, and this is the same harshness we ourselves find so distressing and so undermining of our sense of connectedness. We can become curt with our friends, family, and coworkers in a way that belies their importance to us. Maybe we become so exhausted by all our busyness that we’re irritable when we wish to be kind, thoughtless when we want our actions to be considerate. So before we sink our teeth into the foundations of yoga practice, consider this one possibility: that you have all the time you need. When you find yourself rushing, you can catch yourself and breathe out fully, affirming that you do indeed have all the time you need. You can ask yourself if the sky will fall down, if someone will die, or if the world will stop spinning if you sit down for ten minutes and breathe the air.
Slowing down is the precursor to yoga practice because this simple act allows us to consider our thoughts, feelings, and actions more carefully in the light of our desire to live peacefully.
When we slow down we create a conducive environment for kindness and thoughtfulness to flourish. We find that it isn’t necessary to join our local peace demonstration. We can demonstrate for peace by being peaceful. We can take the time to chat with our elderly neighbor and demonstrate through our bearing what our values are.
When we slow down we make a place for silence and solitude in our lives. There need be nothing complicated or austere about either of these practices; they are a natural component of any day lived at a human pace. One of my more recent spiritual teachers is a man called Ernie, who probably has never read a spiritual book or sat on a meditation cushion in his life. “All you crazy people,” he tells me, “rushing around doing big things. All you need is a little space out in nature. Heals most things, I reckon.” A day with Ernie is a day spent with a master: he doesn’t say much, but when he does it is always an incisive observation. Sitting on the grass having lunch with Ernie, you notice an air of stillness around him—he’s just so pleased to be alive (now almost seventy), taking in the day, listening to the birds, enjoying the fresh clean air. “My, that sun does feel good,” he says. And neither is Ernie a couch potato; he can walk over a property and assess the most urgent tasks: this gate needs resetting, those thistles need cutting. “I’d remove that barbed wire if I were you,” he tells me. And then without any fanfare, Ernie shows up with his tools, sun hat, socks, and sandals and accomplishes, at a remarkably slow pace, more than most of us could do in a week. Striking up a conversation with the local farmers, I can feel myself start to get edgy: there’s work to do, and this rambling chitchat doesn’t seem to be serving a purpose. After we turn back to work, Ernie has noted all the valuable information that has just been exchanged: “Told me exactly the species of oak that will thrive in this soil.” Over tea, he casually remarks, “Good neighbors are mighty important. Never any time wasted making friends for yourself.”
Most of us could learn more from spending a day with Ernie than a month in India sitting in a cave. In yoga practice we set up Ernie-like conditions in a more deliberate way, but there need be nothing contrived about making room for more quiet inward time. Although spending some time each day in formal solitary practice is helpful, we can practice an inward solitude, as Ernie has taught me, even when we’re in company. By not talking so much, we automatically create more silent spaces in between things. By not doing so much, we create natural pauses to reflect. By not spreading ourselves thin doing things that aren’t that important, we open up time for the things that are.
The degree to which you do not believe you have time to spend even ten minutes sitting quietly is the degree to which you desperately need to spend ten minutes sitting quietly.
You can anchor your desire to slow down by finding one thing in your life that defines this more natural rhythm. For instance, I decided many years ago that it was a basic necessity to cook one good meal every day and take the time to enjoy it, by myself or with others. If I don’t have time for that one meal, there’s something amiss with my life and I adjust accordingly. Maybe for you it’s having the time to read a story to your child or walking the dog or spending part of the weekend tending your roses. Perhaps it’s having the time to cuddle with your partner and share the events of the day before you go to sleep. The degree to which you do not believe you have time to spend even ten minutes sitting quietly is the degree to which you desperately need to spend ten minutes sitting quietly. If we did nothing else in our spiritual practice but reduce our accelerated pace, the world would be transformed overnight.
When we find ourselves hurrying or pressing others out of our way, we might ask ourselves exactly where we are going in such a rush. What are we running away from, and what are we running toward? Pause for a moment. Sit down and relax. Smell the air. Look around you. Take a deep breath in and out. This state of mind called yoga can’t be found anywhere else but here. The moment opens itself for you. Will you step in?