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Slow Yoga in a Fast World

Aaron Davidman discovers that slowing down his yoga practice is key to helping him stay centered even as the world around him seems to move ever faster.

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photo and text by Aaron Davidman

65 miles per hour on the highway. 500 miles an hour in an airplane. 300,000 bytes per second on my computer. iPhone. iPad. Laptop. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Mobile Apps. Download. Upload. Federal Express. UPS. Traffic. Cappuccino.

The pulse of urban life races at breakneck speed. We’ve gotten used to it. To compete in the 21st century marketplace we have to wake up early, get as much done as possible, eat, get some sleep, and try to get a little more done the next day. Because the day before, as hard as we tried, we just didn’t quite get enough done. Day after day, there is always so much more to do. More emails to answer. More calls to returns. More reports to finish. Forget about calling your mother.

Get me to the yoga mat.

It’s the 3 x 6 foot space where I live beyond the reach of time. Here I can retreat from the race. After years of practicing yoga, I’m finally learning that, on the mat, time is on my side. I came to yoga as an actor in need of a routine that would ground me in my body and focus my mind. Ten minutes of Sun Salutations before going on stage did the trick.

Now I’m in yoga classes for 90 minutes three times a week. I take yoga retreats throughout the year. Slowly, slowly, I’m learning the practice of yoga. Speedy vinyasa has served me at times. But as a counterbalance to the speed of modern life, I’ve discovered that Iyengar-based, long-held poses invite me to go deeper. It’s slow yoga with focus on breath. My 45-year-old body is building strength and flexibility. Core work strengthens my abdominals. Standing poses ground me. Twists provide mobility in my upper back and freedom in my shoulders.

Connecting with breath slows my mind, which can race even while my body is slowing down. I can easily find myself checked-out in the middle of a pose—going over a shopping list, gnawing on an annoying interaction with someone, planning for the weekend. When I catch myself, I bring my focus back to the breath. Then my practice expands.

On a recent flight to New York (10,000 feet at 500 miles an hour) as we San Franciscans noisily celebrated our home team heading to the World Series, I turned to the older man sitting quietly beside me, unfazed by the commotion around him. He introduced himself as Lama Tharchin Rinpoche and told me his story. He left Tibet, on foot, in 1960. He lived in India and Nepal before settling in the US in 1984 to live and teach. He spent eight years on retreat in meditation as part of his training.

I told him I’d been thinking about the speed in which our society moves and I asked him if he had noticed a difference in his students since he first came to the West. “In ancient times, life moved more slowly, it’s true. But the struggle to develop space within the mind has always been present,” he said.

He differentiated between outside (our mind) and inside (our mind). “We are vast,” he said, “like the sky. And when we practice, we get a moment of vacation from outside stress. Even just a moment. And little by little, we build on that moment. And our mind relaxes. More space inside. And we notice that this is our natural state. This is the practice.”

Slow yoga is my practice. On the mat I feel vast. My mind relaxes, my body is grounded and the world racing at breakneck speed doesn’t even faze me.

Aaron Davidman is a playwright, director and yoga enthusiast and manager of SaranaYoga.