The Go Slow
Our natural human instinct is to charge through life at full speed. And let’s face it, who doesn’t have a little FOMO these days? So, we multi-task; make long to do lists; pack something into each minute. Recently though, I had a day where I experienced time very differently. Rather than falling over myself to keep up with the day, I was stopped in my usual fast tracks by a couple of events.
In the morning, I went to a workshop with the world renowned yoga teacher Max Strom at London’s Triyoga centre in Camden. (If you’ve not come across him as yet, I highly recommend his books: A Life Worth Breathing and There is No App for Happiness ). It turned out to be nothing to do with tie yourself up in knots postures, fancy sequences or wearing expensive trendy patterned leggings (unless you want to of course). Instead, this was a very simple, yet deeply profound class.
It began with Strom teaching us what he calls ‘ocean breath’ – a slow, soft, expansive breath which starts at the back of the throat and opens the lungs and chest. At first we tried it with our mouths open, which helps direct the air to the back of the throat – though eventually it’s practiced in and out of the nose. Once we’d sort of got the hang of it (although I’m still practicing!), we were ready to go into the main part of the sequence.
In most yoga classes (or any kind of exercise class), we’re usually itching to get going – but in this case, we were instructed to not move before we took a breath. Which, as I found out, is incredibly hard to do. But when I did, it slowed everything down and felt amazing. The movements seemed much more fluid and natural; rather than struggling my way into the postures, I found a new freedom and expansion in them. It became a moving meditation rather than a physical exercise routine, which ultimately, is what yoga asana (posture) practice is supposed to be.
This made me realise that it’s my own attitude and state of consciousness which turns it into a struggle, a difficulty or something I ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ do. And of course, it is the deep breathing which slows the nervous system right down, and is ultimately why that class felt so good. What’s most incredible is that this happened instantly – and even though I certainly wasn’t proficient at the breath technique straight away, it still worked. I floated out an hour later feeling energised, yet calm, muscles stretched, body feeling light. I was also very focused and able to crack on with the work I needed to do back at my desk.
Later on, that calm was somewhat disrupted by a frantic tube journey to Selfridges. I was due at their VIP lounge to experience a traditional Japanese incense ceremony, with Kodo the makers of beautifully scented incense for the luxe brand Fornasetti and hosted by our very own, fabulous Jo Fairley’s The Perfume Society. Arriving at the packed store on a Friday evening seemed such a contrast to the yogi calm of the morning until the ceremony began.
A soothing silence descended as the incense master, Souhitsu Issiken Hachiya glided in – accompanied by the gentle rustling sound of his traditional silver grey kimono. The small group of us watched, mesmerised as he prepared the incense pots using precision tools, unfolding paper packets containing teeny slivers of the precious woods we were about to smell in a flowing sequence – each step a meaning.
We were transported into a Zen state as the three incense pots were passed around for each of us to smell in the slow, ceremonial way followed for centuries in Hachiya’s family line, practised as an art and a way of honouring nature. Certainly, I’d never smelled anything like this before – each of the three woods completely different – all deep, resonant, and in a sense, transcendent.
As I floated home through the buzz of the night-life crowd, I didn’t feel compelled to rush as usual. Both experiences showed me that simply slowing down brings us the relaxation we so crave and need. And that there are many routes to it – whether yogic or Zen inspired. It can be a set class, activity, an hour out of our normal routine, but it can also simply be an attitude – a good slowness we can weave into each moment no matter what we are doing.