Some of you have been with me since the beginning of my teaching career a few years ago. You probably knew me as the Ashtanga/Vinyasa/Power yoga teacher who is bendy like a spider and strong as an ox. I enjoyed fast-paced classes and practices that brew up a sweat, and would get totally bored in a gentle or restorative yoga class.
Looking at me now, you see the total opposite. A few months ago, I ditched all the power/vinyasa classes I'm teaching (well, save one at a corporate location), and started teaching only Restorative Yoga or Ageless/Senior Yoga. I'm now an advocate of the S L O W movement -- slow lifestyle, slow yoga, slow eating, etc.
My personal practice and teaching philosophy have shifted ever since I discovered the beauty of S L O W I N G D O W N.
It was not easy to teach myself to slow down, having been a perfectionist all my life. I'd feel guilty if I were idle, because there was always something else I could do to make my practice, my teaching, my business better, faster, stronger.
Why is it so hard for us to slow down, to give ourselves a break, to RELAX?
To relax is something so innate, so intuitive, and yet, I find myself, among the majority of others, having trouble relaxing.
Emotional ups and downs, over-reacting, restless but exhausted, trouble sleeping, weak immune system, digestion discomforts...all of these are signs of an imbalanced nervous system whose switch is always on the FLIGHT-OR-FLIGHT (sympathetic) mode.
After some observation and self-inquiry, I've narrowed down to two reasons - one conscious and one subconscious - why it was so hard for me to just...RELAX.
1) I didn't give myself the permission to relax or slow down.
This was my conscious reason. Being an entrepreneur, I was afraid to slow down! There are always classes and sequences to create, tasks to complete, ideas to execute, newsletter posts to write, and social media accounts to handle. I had vague goals of my business in mind, but they were so non-specific that I couldn't clearly map out plans of attack. Ultimately, I was just running around in circles, trying anything and everything. Then there was my fast-paced personal yoga practice. I stuck to a strict 6-days a week, 2.5 hours a day of intense, vigorous yoga practice. I was almost afraid to skip out on a day because a) I might "lose" some of my flexibility, and b) I might gain weight.
I lived under this constant fear that other "people" (and I still don't know exactly who these "people" are. Other Yoga teachers? Health/Wellness coaches? Nutritionists?) would excel further ahead of me if I didn't keep burning fuel and keep going. I kept comparing myself to other yoga teachers and nutritionists, and if they had something I didn't have (e.g., more readers, more beautiful posts and pictures, more students), I'd try to get exactly that. I wanted their success, but it never worked because I tried to achieve the success THEIR way, and not my OWN way.
And so I kept pushing and pushing, kept doing and doing.
Guess what? It led to no good.
In fact, the fast lifestyle brought me these: constant bloating, restless sleep, constant muscle fatigue, injuries (from ego-driving mindset in my yoga practice), skin breakouts, and mood swings.
When I started to slow down and gave myself permission to be imperfect, however, I gained more energy, slept better, digested more smoothly, had less breakouts, and evened out my temper and mood. Furthermore, it brought me another level of clarity about myself, and ultimately, my goals, my message, and what I can authentically offer to the world through my services. Slowing down actually gave me more S P A C E for creativity and energy in thoughts, speech, and action.
2) My body's DIMMER switch was sticky/broken.
This was the subconscious reason why I couldn't relax. You know those nights when you are just so darn exhausted, but no matter how much you try, your brain still keeps rerunning stories from the day or tries to create new ones? What happens after is a restless night's sleep or worse, insomnia. You then wake up the next day feeling worse than the previous night, but you still have that deadline to meet, so you push your body to power through another day. Because you're meeting a deadline, you work late into the night, when you can finally tuck in again, somehow your body won't let you do that. The cycle then starts again. You see, when you live your life in chronic stress (even if it's low-level), the body gets accustomed into thinking that you need to be prepared to fight-or-flight anytime. Your body perceives stress the same way, regardless of whether it is running from the saber-tooth tiger or running to meet the deadline. The body won't let you fully rest because it thinks the tiger (project deadline) is going to jump at you anytime. It tries to hold the dimmer switch towards ON as long as possible.
This was what happened to me. My body was so used to being in the fight-or-flight state that it's forgotten how to move into the rest-and-digest state anymore!
My dimmer switch was broken.
(SIDE NOTE: Notice I did not say on/off switch, but a "dimmer" switch. This is because in reality, the body and brain are working very hard at night while you sleep to repair any damages in the body that have resulted from living life. Our body and brain do not just switch ON or OFF, but rather DIM at night so that there are still a little energy and activity going on for repair and maintenance.)
To recalibrate it, I had to set boundaries around my routine. I need to let my body know WHEN it is time to sleep and WHEN it is time to wake. For some time, I adhered strictly to no TV and minimal smartphone interactions up to 1.5 hours before bedtime. I'd shut off the overhead lights and used salt lamps and/or candles to create dim mood lights. I'd read light, fiction novels to shift my brain from the logical, masculine, driven mode, to a more creative, quieter, and feminine mode. I let my body know to start dimming.
Your body LOVES routines and regulations. That's how your body knows that it is safe. When the body feels safe, then it would allow itself to rest (read: sleep).
Putting it into practice
I know, I know. The practice of slowing down is easier said than done. But I challenge you to start thinking about the two points I stated above. Do they apply to you? If so, where are some areas in your life that you can insert a little breathing space?
Perhaps getting in one full, conscious inhale and long exhale upon waking, before your meeting, before you step into the house after a long day at walk, before your meals?
Perhaps shutting off your computer, TV, and phone after 8pm, and actually spend some quality time with your family?
Perhaps challenging yourself to find "good enough" rather than "perfection?"
You can also hop on over to my Instagram page to see my collection of Restorative Yoga poses, or click here for a guided meditation (great for before bed or if you just had a sh*tty day and need time for yourself!).