Choosing to slow down is a radical decision. And, like most things, slowing down and paying attention takes practice. When it comes to yoga, I wholeheartedly believe that different people need different degrees of intensity and pace to feel grounded and content. That said, like every other aspect of modern culture, the trend over the past 15 years in asana practices has been to go faster and faster. Even in vinyasa-based practices the landscape has shifted so much that 5 deep breaths in a posture seems overly indulgent. The quickest moving vinyasa practices a decade ago are now the slowest. Here’s why going a touch more slowly—especially if you’re a vinyasa practitioner—will deepen your practice and benefit your students.
- Moving slowly builds more strength than moving quickly
Your muscles have to work intensely when you transition slowly and sustain postures. Your muscles work less when you rely on constant momentum. If you have any doubt about this try a simple experiment: Spend 5 slow breaths moving from plank to chatturanga; then, spend .5 breaths moving from plank to chatturanga. Observe which one is harder and more likely to build strength and power.
- Moving slowly honors your breath
Ask 100 vinyasa teachers what the most important aspect of the practice is and 100 of them will tell you it’s the breath. Yet, many classes move at a pace that rushes the breath. There’s a dissonance between what we may say is the most important thing and what the practice allows for. Flow, yes, flow, but flow at a pace where each inhalation and exhalation can be full, deep, and unrushed.
- Moving slowly balances the nervous system and focuses the mind
A strong, fluid, dynamic asana practice does not need to be rushed. In fact, most of us spend so much time rushing here to there and multi-tasking that moving more slowly and mindfully provides a much-needed rebalancing of the nervous system.
- Moving slowly helps you savor the journey
How many times have you driven for hours to arrive at a destination and realized that you can’t remember anything about the journey? There’s a pacing “sweet spot” where your body gets an intense workout and your mind fully engages with your experience. If you move too quickly, you may have a good, valuable practice, but your body and mind are less likely to learn and engage with the process along the way.
- Moving slowly decreases the risk of injuries and deepens the practice
The biggest set-back that most practitioners encounter is having an injury. To be fair, there are many ways to injure yourself on and off the mat. But, the quickest route to injury on the mat is moving at a pace that is too fast to pay attention to the sensations that are present and manage them with skillful alignment and modifications. Rushing to get somewhere in your practice invariably has the opposite affect.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.