When to Slow Down in Your Yoga Practice

This may seem like a pretty basic idea in yoga. If yoga is to unify the mind and body, then we have to slow down enough to actually pay attention to the mind AND body.

However, slowing down happens in stages. And there are many routes to help us get there (well...here) as well as reasons for it.

In this post I'm discussing slowing down specifically in relation to releasing, trauma, longstanding tension, and chronic pain in the body because it's something that I personally have been experiencing at a high intensity over these last 18 months or so. 

First and foremost, be kind to yourself and remember that slowing down is a journey. We can't force it. The very nature of slowing down and becoming more aware of tension in the body is to let go of the timing, shoulds, and outcome based intentions for a practice which are the clamping mechanisms that assisted in building up the tension in the first place.

This process is literally about being with yourself in the depth of each moment, the sensation, the emotional awareness, the breath and each of our journeys is a string of these moments. The more presence and Self Energy we bring to each moment's experience, the greater the potential healing (release of tension). 

Now when it comes to trauma (pretty much any painful experience that your brain could not process at the time of the trigger) the pain gets stored in the tissues, in the nervous system and in the brain and remains frozen there until we reprocess it. Trauma is a result of the freeze process because if we could run or fight we would have an actually acted out the fear in real time.

The nature of trauma is that we didn't have the support/skills/developmental capacity/awareness/ability to feel our feelings and nurture ourselves through the traumatic event. So we hold it in. We freeze, stuff the feelings, and bear down, gripping into the muscles as our foundation. 

 If yoga is about opening up to what is, about integration of mind, body, spirit, heart, and space than we have to unlearn the brain stems automatic survival mechanism to grip and bear down, our way to survive the physical world, and instead find a foundation in our conscious and creative True Self which we can now cultivate by choice

I'll keep mentioning, this takes time! Especially for people who have suffered A LOT, have PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) a longstanding history of abuse, a dysfunctional childhood, addiction, and a long term stuffing of feelings. 

I had my first progressive muscle relaxation experience in first grade from an amazing teacher, my next experience with relaxation in a gym high school class, and then took my first yoga class in college around 18. I'm 34 now. It's taken me 16 years to truly listen to my body in yoga. 

After my yoga teacher training was when I really felt all the old tension and how blocked I was physically. Unfortunately we didn't process this out in the training and I was left feeling like I was the only one going through this! I had stockpiles of guilt, shame, anger, and rage all rising to the surface and It took me another year to feel safe enough (meaning the little me/ inner child within who was holding the tension) with my loving awareness that finally developed enough to be present with her. 

Not easy. Definitely a warrior path. I'll describe more in posts to come but for now here's enough of a place to get started: 

 -Pain in your body is looking to be acknowledged, listened to, and witnessed without judgment 

-Start where you are. When I was in the depths of my pain, I could literally do a forward fold and that's it because this made muscles feel like screaming and the fatigue from holding the tension was like a thousand bricks. (And in previous eras of my life I've worked out 4 times a week, done aerobics classes, lifted weights, done ashtanga yoga so you can see why the next point is so important...

-Take the ego/critical voice, comparisons, future tripping out of it as much as you can (gently and with patience, we're not going to do this perfectly...ever.    ) I really had to let go of shame that was accompanying me when the critical voice would want to beat me up telling me there was something wrong with me and why couldn't I be like the other people in my training doing head stands or my friend who could get up at 5am, do spin, and then work until 8pm. 

-I had to truly be there for this part of me. Recognize that this part had a reason for her deep pain and that this was a gift, though painful and hard to swallow, that it coming up meant it was ready to be healed. 

-Not everyone (most) will not understand. Once I found a TMS doctor (Tension Myoneural Syndrome) who diagnosed me with myalgia, I was able to get the validation I needed when the medical system as well as the yoga system is entered had failed me.

-This isn't easy, it can get raw . I had muscles spasms in the middle of the night for the majority of the nights for probably about 3 weeks ( my legs in their freeze response were coming alive)

 -There is a HUGE gift awaiting. My creativity has sky rocketed through the roof since doing this and I keep reeling the benefits. I could not foresee this and still am absorbing and processing this gift as well as working through more tension.

-Slowwww down. Try a restorative or yin class. If that's too much try feeling your body in the chair you are in. Maybe you are feeling gentle. Listen to your bod and drop the power and hot yoga and fast vinyasa flow for awhile. If you feel present and open then the more power to you! Do what feels good! But if you feel disconnected, and/or your moods are up and down, and/or you are experiencing boomerang tension (it always come back) despite the amount of exercise or intense practice you are doing, this is a whisper or maybe even a loud scream that presence to your body in this moment is what you need. 

-Practice and progress not perfection! Slowing down 2 seconds longer than not slowing down at all will accumulate over and keep bringing you into more stillness. 

 

-Ask for help! You don't have to do this alone. There are people who get it (like me) and if I'm not someone who you fully resonate with (though I hope you do:) I can point you in the direction of other resources so you don't have to suffer needlessly and can be HEARD.

 

Which is why I share this now in hopes that those of you reading understand that this process is a slow and tender one, can be extremely painful, is not often talked about, and contains the potential for deep healing and transformation if you stick with it. 

Many courageous bows to you on your healing journey! Mwa