Have you ever noticed that when you ask someone, “How are you?” their automatic response is “busy?’ Even when feeling exhausted, most of us find it difficult to slow down. What we don’t recognize is that our busy, “no-time-to-rest” lifestyle leaves us sleep-deprived, stressed, anxious and irritable. That’s why we all need “slow yoga.”
Learning to Chillax
As a first grade teacher, I used an on-line program called “Go-Noodle” for movement breaks. The kids loved the funny videos and songs. A favorite was called, “Chillax.” The video featured two goofy guys doing an exaggerated slow motion dance. It not only made the kids giggle, but afterwards they were more focused.
I was reminded of this video as I explained to a friend that slow yoga isn’t designed for “old people.” Slow yoga benefits ALL of us. Why? Because slow movements soothe our nervous system, improve focus and, best of all, build resilience.
A slow, mindful yoga practice provides a perfect opportunity to move at a gentler pace and “chillax.” Studies confirm that slow yoga practices serve to increase resiliency, promote neuroplasticity and reduce chronic inflammation. For now, let’s look at how slow yoga builds resiliency.
Resilience is the capacity to deal with life’s ups and downs. When we are resilient, we respond appropriately to changes in our environment and to stressful experiences. This is not to say we won’t experience stress, we will. But resilient people have better coping skills when faced with stressful situations. They tend to view life’s difficulties as challenges and respond accordingly with action, rather than with fear, self-pity, blame or a “victim mentality.” Resilient individuals are aware of their own emotional reactions as well as the behavior of those around them. They understand that life is full of challenges and seek to remain open, flexible, and willing to adapt to change.
Slow, mindful yoga practices support resiliency by helping us develop a particular kind of awareness called interoception. Interoception is the capacity to feel and sense into our bodies. Researchers suggest that poor interoception is linked to insomnia, anxiety and depression as well as chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. But like any skill, interoception is learnable.
For example, when you notice before giving a presentation that your stomach is clenched, you’re accessing your interoceptive awareness of your emotions, in this case fear or anxiety. Your body responds to this fear by tightening muscles, increasing heart rate, slowing digestion and increasing respiration. Using interoceptive awareness, we can recognize these physical signs of stress and take control. We can choose to take a deep breath, acknowledge our fears as well as recognize our capability to handle the situation and then, best of all, choose to proceed forward.
Slow, Mindful Yoga
All the practices of yoga— meaning the postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana)— foster interoception awareness. In particular, when we move slowly (rather than quickly), we recruit different parts of our brain and nervous system.
These slow movements train our brains and nervous systems to also slow down. With practice, our systems adapt so we can let go when appropriate, such as when we are trying to fall asleep. You can’t get this from fast, more aerobic kinds of exercise. This ability to adapt to the current situation and “chillax” is at the heart of resilience as well as our mental, emotional and physical well-being.
To help you get started on building greater resilience, enjoy the grounding yoga practice below. You may also want to read this post called, “Slow Lane Yoga” to learn more about the benefits of slow yoga.
originally posted 5/18/20; updated 2/28/22