The Slow of Yoga

The strengthening effect of  chaturanga dandasana  (crocodile pose) is wonderfully amplified when the posture is moved into very slowly.

The strengthening effect of chaturanga dandasana (crocodile pose) is wonderfully amplified when the posture is moved into very slowly.

When we slow it down, we can meet ALL of who we are.

Slow yoga is less about yoga as revolution, and more about yoga as evolution. Rather than a stimulating high-paced experiential buzz, slow yoga is an unfolding evolution of body, heart, mind and spirit. When we slow it down, we meet all of who we are and this fosters courage, stamina, patience and depth. Slow yoga emphasises the slow simmering potentiality of the practice of yoga, over time.

Slow yoga is slow, mindful, integrated, inclusive and is based on self-inquiry and self-awareness.

Walk Slowly 

It only takes a reminder to breath, a moment to be still,

and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space

for imperfection. The harsh voice of judgement drops to a whisper

and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race;

that we will all cross the finish line;

that waking up to life is what we were born for.

As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward

without even knowing where I’m going,

that many times I can make the choice to stop,

to breathe, and be, and walk slowly into the mystery.

- Danna Faulds

Slow yoga has similarities with the slow food movement. Since it was birthed almost two decades ago from a demonstration against an intended McDonald’s site in Rome, the slow food movement has created a profound paradigm shift away from the dominance of the commercialised fast food industry. In parallel, slow yoga is a powerful alternative to a commercialised yoga culture based on a mass-production. This style of yoga does have its place and its value, for some. However, in a world that is high-paced and stressful, slow yoga has a profound contribution to make within the yoga world. 

Slow yoga is not a specific style or type of yoga and in fact encompasses a huge range of yoga styles. Slow yoga is not another brand or trademark. Slow yoga takes maturity and experience to practise, though is also suitable for beginners. It incorporates both gentle and challenging poses and practices. It is not necessarily ‘easy’ though it aims for ease in all that we do. Slow yoga is a way of being, as described in detail below.

Slowness and the parasympathetic nervous system

When we slow our practice down, we evoke the parasympathetic nervous system and the relaxation response. This directs blood flow away from skeletal muscles and towards the digestive tract and organs; lowers heart-rate and blood pressure; is connected with rest, sleeping, eating and has an inner focus and self-orientation. This is sometimes called the ‘rest and digest’ response. Similar to the slow food movement, slow yoga gives us time to rest and digest our experience of yoga, of life.

Opposite to this is the ‘fight or flight’ response from a triggering of the sympathetic nervous system. High-paced yoga can be over-stimulating for many and reinforce the effects of our fast-paced culture. Slow yoga has a vital role to play in unravelling the effects of an overactive sympathetic nervous system. If our parasympathetic nervous system can remain central to our movement, then slow yoga can actually include fast paced movement. A deep inner stillness can be experienced, even if the outer movement is dynamic.

Slow yoga is mindful

Whether we are practising flowing movement connected with the breath, vinyasa-style, strong, static postures, or restful restorative postures, slowness means we can awaken our full capacity to sense, perceive and be with our immediate felt experience. Through an attentive and receptive awareness we can become deeply attuned to the information that lives in our very cells. When we are connected to sensations and our breath, we discover subtle cues for how to adjust our posture, make subtle shifts in alignment, find more containment or stability, become attuned to our breath, release and open, feel our emotions and practise safely by listening to our body’s wisdom about limits and boundaries. We let go of striving for certain outcomes. If we slow it down, we rest into the process. We participate in the journey.

Slow yoga is integrated

An integrated approach aims to unite all aspects of our being, in contrast to an over-emphasis on the physical body in commercialised yoga culture. Slow Yoga emphasises an all-encompassing and holistic approach to yoga practice. Yoga includes a systematic array of practices including asana, vinyasa, restorative asana, pranayama, meditation, yoga nidra, chanting, yoga philosophy and other practices. This nourishes all aspects of our human condition and can grow us into integrated human beings, not perfect, but evolving emotionally, mentally, psychologically and spiritually.

Slow yoga is inclusive

In a very commercialised approach to yoga, there may be one set of instructions for a large class and a tendency to uniformity in the actual form of the pose. This has developed into mass scale yoga sequencing drills with one-size-fits-all instructions aiming for an ideal form or practice. This will not suit everyone.

Slow yoga however, adapts all postures and practices to the individual, as much as possible, within the limitations of a group class. In relation to postures, the form of the posture is adapted to suit the function of the posture, expressed differently by each individual. This requires personalised attention and skill from teachers, present-centred awareness from students - and time. The gift of this slow, tailored approach is that it is very adaptable to all the individual quirks that humans have,  including injuries, health issues, older age, bigger bodies and so on. Slow yoga is profoundly inclusive.

Slow yoga and self-inquiry

Slow yoga gives space for self-inquiry. When we slow our practise down, we get underneath the habitual reactivity and patterns of our body, emotions and mind. We suspend our beliefs, our ‘knowing’, and step into curiosity, inquiry and playful investigation, into our actual experience. We examine our conditioning, the habitual mental and emotional patterns that we all carry. With slowness, there is time for emotions to surface, for mental reactivity to be witnessed, for our ‘stuff’ to be calmly seen, heard and understood.

Slow yoga and self-awareness

Through our practice, we can understand both our habitual conditioning and connect with our innate wholeness. Our practice reminds us to witness the clouds, the storms, the weather patterns of our emotions and thoughts and connect with the sky of our awareness. Through our slow mindful practice, we glimpse the spacious, clear witnessing part of ourselves. We see that we are not just the small self, but wondrously and authentically, we meet an unconditioned Self. 

Yoga: slowing it down

The practice of slow yoga is a grass-roots yoga counterculture - or is it how most people have always practised yoga? 

Anahata Giri 

Anahata Giri is the founder of One Heart Yoga and Meditation, a sanctuary for authentic practice.

Anahata thanks the following people for their valuable input into this article: 

Rick Harvest

Fiona Hyde

Wai Ying Tham

References used:

  • Faulds, D. Go In and In. Poems from the Heart of Yoga, Peaceable Kingdom Books, Greenville, Virginia, 2002.