The reason why we practice, in the west, fast and vigorous yoga, is because we have lost the ability to slow down or be still. We go fast internally as well as externally. On a daily basis we move fast and we think fast. We get up in the morning with the feeling that we are already behind. We sit in front of our computers bombarded by demands to reply NOW. We are constantly catching our breath… and you know what catching the breath means? It means your breath goes faster than you, running away from you, and you try to catch it. In the action of catching our breath we run out of breath and we are left with fast minds and no breath, which leads to disease, restlessness, insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, and general exhaustion and depression.
So, we started searching for something to slow us down, realizing that if we keep going this fast we will burn out. This is how the west discovered yoga… we were looking for a change because our bodies and minds could not tolerate anymore the pace of modern life.
Yoga is the practice of mindful stillness and mindful breath, the opposite from how we live our lives as modern human beings. But instead of letting the ancient yoga practice change us for the better we changed the yoga practice to suit our inability to maintain stillness.
Reasons for practicing slow yoga
The Physical aspect – the Nervous system
If you feel stressed out, if you feel you are under pressure, if you keep running all day feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things that need to be done…. If you are worried about money and you hate your work, if you’re afraid to die, if you do not eat well, sleep well, and not go to the washroom regularly, if you have allergies, skin conditions, injuries, or if you breathe fast and short… this are all indications that your nervous system is in a state of fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system). That means your brain and nervous system are under the illusion that you are in danger 24 hours a day.
As a result your body acts under high voltage of “electricity” so you can act strong and fast to save yourself, as if a tiger was chasing you.
The only problem is that the body can only be under the extreme of “fight or flight” state for a short time, with breaks of shifting back to a relaxed mode, otherwise it burns out. The natural state for the body, the brain and the nervous system, is in a relaxed mode. In life this burn out may manifest as heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, problems with the period, inability to produce babies, migraines, overall exhaustion, and many more other symptoms.
When the body and mind are in a constant fight and flight state they cannot slow down anymore or be in stillness. Look around and you will see how we are all on the go all the time.
This is the reason why in the west so many acrobatic, fast and vigorous yoga styles developed in the last 30 years. We brought our restless bodies and minds to class and turned yoga to be another one of our restless actions.
When you practice slow yoga you shift your nervous system from fight and flight to a relaxed mode. When the nervous system is relaxed our bodies and minds calm down. But it is not easy to shift in one day from being in fight and flight for so many years to a relaxed mode. Often very advanced and experienced western yogis that try slow yoga report that it was very hard for them, not the physical aspect of the practice but the stillness of mind and body.
The aim of yoga is to increase the amount and quality of the Prana in our physical and energy bodies, since Prana is the fuel for high consciousness. That means we want to avoid consuming our Prana while doing the yoga asanas, and instead, store it in the chakras, the energy centers. Fast and vigorous exercises require a large amount of Prana to maintain the workout of the muscles and organs. That means lots of Prana is consumed in forceful yoga.
What is the point of eating food that supplies us with less energy than it requires to digest it?
The same goes with fast and vigorous yoga. The practice takes more Prana than it provides us with. The energy people feel after they finish fast, vigorous yoga, sports or any other work out, is the energy that comes form the fight and flight systems in their bodies, from the adrenal glands for example, and should not be confused with Prana – life force.
This is why there are so many injuries in the modern yoga practice. When the body has no more Prana to maintain itself, it falls apart.
There is nothing wrong with working out and sports, but yoga is NOT a workout or a sport. It is a spiritual discipline for calming down the body and mind, increasing Prana in the body, and finally, expanding our consciousness beyond mind and body.
So next time you tell yourself that you prefer fast, active yoga, check well with yourself: is it really a preference or you are just following your restless mind that cannot slow down any more?
Change comes only through change and not by keeping the same behavior and habits that caused us the conditions we do not want to suffer any more. That means we should practice yoga differently than we live our busy lives until our lives become our yoga and not vice versa.
If you start to connect to your inner silence and stillness in your yoga practice you may start to apply this state, as well, after your yoga practice ends.