It’s okay to slow down.
By slowing down, I mean powering off the screens. Putting down your fork between each bite. Not responding “I’m well” when you’re really not well.
These five words have taken 29 years to make their way into my mind, probably because it has taken me this long to understand what it really means to be authentic. This is what I’ve got so far:
To be authentic is to let your heart be drawn to its most natural path. (tweet!)
Everything happens from here. When you tune into this path, you realize that you don’t have to look or act like anybody else; that you can drop your expectations of “where” you should be in your life; that you can celebrate the mundane and the extraordinary equally.
When you’re in touch with, and can act toward, what you want more than anything else, you tend to make time. It’s in the making time that you find your own happy momentum.
But the trigger has to be strong. It can’t be like this anti-bark collar I got for Willow that plays a noise occasionally when she barks really loudly, but ignores all the other times she gets in a rut and barks under her breath.
In other words, to course correct and live your most natural path, you’ve got to want it a lot of the time. And then you’ve got to slow down to get it.
Seems super counterintuitive, right? I thought so, too, until I started making a beeline for all my dreams of working for myself and working for causes I believe in.
What ended up working out was a valley of almost-depression.
Back to the mat
Slowly and methodically is the only way to increase our physical flexibility. Why should we expect different for our minds?
This week, I began practicing at a yoga studio regularly again. On Sunday, after I wrote and published the Weekly Dharma, I headed to class where the teacher may as well have been psychic or at least living a parallel life.
By the time we flowed into the peak pose, Birds of Paradise, I was good and sweaty. It was the first time I unburdened my heart in weeks.
I went back a few days later for a Forrest Yoga class and found myself upside down in Handstand Splits. I haven’t tried this pose much, admittedly, focusing instead on straight up Handstand.
With my hands planted near the middle of my mat, I felt a familiar pang of fear in my belly. This is the fear that keeps you too long in relationships that don’t serve; the fear that convinces you you’re just not “that type” of person; the fear that simply doesn’t want you to fall flat on your face.
I almost laughed at myself right then and there. Inversions such as these haven’t been a regular part of my practice for months; I’ve preferred to stay low to the ground where it’s “safe.”
But sometimes the ground isn’t safe. It’s all too easy to ground down into a routine that’s toxic — think staying up late, overcommitting yet trying to do all things at once, showing up for everyone except yourself.
Slow down while upside down
Sometimes the only way to get out of that self-sustaining sad cycle is to turn things upside down — literally.
When upside down, time seems to slow. There is no rushing to be anything other than what you are in that moment. Each breath ensures your safety and brings a new perspective and blood back into your cheeks that may have felt lifeless for months.
A few things are required for going safely upside down in a yoga pose and in life.
- Physically: Strong arms and awareness of your core muscles. Especially mindfulness to lengthen your tailbone toward your feet and breathe deep into the spaces that need a lift.
- Mentally: A willingness to try and trust that everything will work out in the best way for all involved.
- Emotionally: Acknowledging fear and then moving the heck right into — and through — it.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t experience some fear every time I kick up into an inversion. I’m not ready to come away from the wall yet, and that’s okay. The wall helps me slow down instead of moving too fast and potentially falling on my face in the middle of the room.
When you learn to recognize the good walls, versus the ones that box in your growth, going upside down doesn’t get so difficult. In fact, it can be addicting.
What is your heart’s most natural path? Slow down and follow it.
Try it: Handstand Splits, Adho Mukha Vrksasana variation
In Handstand or Handstand Splits (both ready-made poses to boot out sad moods), you may look totally different than Willow and me. Well, definitely different than Willow! Maybe you’re rocking the full splits and don’t need the wall. Maybe you’re still practicing kicking up.
You know what matters? That you can breathe when your legs are airborne, and that you overcome your “holy crap!” moment when you’re not sure if your legs will hit the wall.
In order to overcome this moment, you just have to do it. Don’t think about accomplishing and don’t rush. Move slowly and the pose will unfold.
- Bring your mat perpendicular to an open wall space. Start in Downward Facing Dog with your palms near the middle of your mat (or halfway between the middle and the wall for more wall support).
- Inhale and walk your legs in toward your hands, shifting your hips high. Take your gaze between the palms. Firm the shoulder blades together and press firmly into the whole palm as you bend one knee, keeping the other leg straight. Lift this leg on an inhale, kick into your bent leg and propel your legs up and over to the wall. This may take a few kicks, so be patient and move with your breath.
- Once you’ve made it, walk your feet higher and engage again into the palms, lifting firmly out of the shoulders. Extend your tailbone high toward the ceiling, shown above. Release your head, ears between the biceps. Take one smooth and even inhale and exhale.
- On your next exhale, bring one of your legs away from the wall, reaching with active and spread toes. If you are far enough away from the wall to balance in Handstand Splits, activate both legs and toes to spread your energy forward and back. Keep tucking the tailbone up and stay strong in the shoulders. Breathe evenly.
- Come out of the pose by lifting your front leg back up as you drop your back leg down. Once you touch down, drop to your knees and take Child’s Pose, completely letting go of any tension in the body. Then hoot and holler because you did it!