Permission to Slow Down

by Angela Clark

It happens to all of us. So much to do, so little time. We find ourselves behind on returned phone calls, emails, or worse. Sick with a cold, or flu, or just plain overwhelmed to a point where we feel frozen. Why do we push ourselves to these points? Why do we only stop when our body begins to physically breakdown? When did we stop letting ourselves off the hook?

This overwhelming feeling can happen anywhere. One person I know spoke of a not-so-pleasant experience they had in a yoga class. It wasn’t a fast-paced class. In fact, it was a class they enjoyed and attended regularly. But early on in the practice they noticed their heart rate increase to an uncomfortable level. Now I know this student has a lot going on in her life. Taking care of a sick friend, taking care of their own health, and taking care of their family, but the increased heart rate made her nervous and very uncomfortable.

Another person I know had a similar experience in a restorative class, just laying over a bolster and BAM – increased heart rate.  Now I know there are certain poses that are meant to do just that and people go running to help increase their heart rates. When the intention is to increase the heart rate, it’s not a shocking experience. However, when we are doing practices intended to dial back the heaviness of having so much to do, getting anxious, or in these cases having an increased heart rate, can be nerve-racking and amplify already existing stress.

These conversations got me thinking that we’ve all had those moments (or if not, that we will) where we are in the middle of a practice we love and something doesn’t feel quite right. For these folks, it was an increased heart rate. For me, it’s been a loud pop in my sacro-iliac joint. For others, dizziness, fatigue or disorientation. It can happen, even in the best of places and in the happiest of times.

So what do we do when this happens?

Slow down. Stop what you’re doing. Assess where you are at the moment.

As a teacher, I would rather have a student stop practicing because something didn’t feel right then unknowingly assist them into a posture that might exacerbate their not-so-right experience.

Isn’t that what makes an advanced practitioner advanced? The ability to assess and execute the proper action – or inaction. Yes, there are certain poses and sequences designed to take us to the edge; to have that experience of being uncomfortable. But if an uncomfortable experience becomes more than that, we need to assess what is going on and take responsibility for what we are feeling.  The rest of world (yoga teachers included) will not know you feel dizzy until you pass out.

It can be intimidating being in a classroom full of students who don’t seem to be affected by the practice the way you are that day and you might want to drudge through the rest of the class, but is that the healthiest choice you can make in the moment? It might be, but perhaps you just need permission to slow down your practice. Well, if that’s the case then here it is: Permission to slow down, permission to stop what you are doing, permission to asses what your body needs – permission granted.

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About The Mala Yoga Blog

We are a Brooklyn-based studio that focuses on alignment, balance and community. Have a read, try one of our Practice Podcasts, or come in and say "hi" in person!
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