I had a brilliant idea over the Thanksgiving break. I decided to write a book about my style of yoga. By mine I mean the style that works for me but isn’t very popular in the yoga community. It’s unpopular with teachers and gym owners and trainers because it can’t be boot-camped. Unglamorous and unflashy means unprofitable these days. I described this style as Slow Yoga and without much ado I wrote the outline of a manifesto for it, gleaned from everything I believe and wanted to share about this unmarketable yoga. I would call it the Slow Yoga Revolution and it would resonate with thousands of yogis around the world who still wholeheartedly believe in yoga but are gradually finding themselves estranged from the mainstream yoga community.
I thought up the title all my own, got really excited about it, and spent an entire morning designing graphics emblazoned with it. I was so proud. For years I had wanted to write about this and now I knew what to call it. Shazaam! This was so going to be my new thing. Maybe I didn’t invent the idea but I did come up with a snappy new name for it. Then I did something that could be characterized as either smart or stupid. I went for a run to think it over. Going for a run is like pressing pause on my creative fervor without dialing down the intensity. While out running I wondered if perhaps I should check to make sure someone else hadn’t already written a Slow Yoga Revolution. My friend Tara would say that I activated my witchy powers. My dad calls it my Scary Intuition. Either way, the zaam was shortly to leak out of my shazaam. Alas, someone had indeed already written a bunch and talked a bunch about Slow Yoga, including the snappy title I assumed was mine.
It was J. Brown of J. Brown Yoga in New York. Truth be told I couldn’t even be that disappointed that he got to it (the name) first. What he has written and published in podcasts about Slow Yoga is so good that I don’t even want to try to improve upon it. He nailed it. I thank him for it. I’ve been on board for years now, I just took my time articulating it. By the time I got around to making a project out of it Mr. Brown had already been there and done that. This is a good thing.
Hear ye, hear ye!
I endorse and recommend J. Brown’s Slow Yoga Revolution.
So I’m reworking this project now, publishing instead an ongoing series of posts on Slow Yoga. My second choice was to call this The Disavowed Yogi’s Yoga Manifesto. Let me be clear that my manifesto (should I keep that name) includes points about Slow Yoga that will echo J. Brown’s philosophy but I want him to get full credit for christening the revolution. And let me just say that I am a writer who calls her readers her Assassans, so I’m somewhere around nine kinds of titillated by the notion that I could part of a Revolution. My warrior spirit is activated. The rousing score of Les Miserables is filtering into my bloodstream as I write. If J. Brown (or the cause in which we both believe) had such things I would be one of his Freedom Riders, his Resistance Fighters, part of his yoga coup; but J. Brown seems to have a much gentler approach than I do. He’s a peaceful man. He’s elegant. He’s a gem. My discovery of him is probably a nudge from the Universe to slow my roll. –> Pun completely and unabashedly intended.
Let me also be clear that I’m not trying to rename, rewrite, or reframe someone else’s idea here, including J. Brown’s idea. Slow Yoga came naturally to me. It is the yoga that abides with me. I wanted to write about it for the same reasons that J. Brown has written about it but I’m not trying to pass it off as my invention or my discovery. It sickens me that I have to bother with disclaimers but leaders in my yoga community are Quick Draw McGraws with the accusation of stealing. This is my personal interpretation and personal application of Slow Yoga. It’s probably not even a good a idea to call it style of yoga–specifically, my style of yoga— lest the Yoga Nazis augment my existing dossier of previous thefts and transgressions because I dared to call it mine. In fact, Slow Yoga is not a style of yoga, a brand, or a system. It is the ultimate modification of all yoga styles and systems. It’s simply my passion.
Slow Yoga takes the yoga already in place in the practitioner’s life and trims away the hype, the distractions, the competition, the misplaced motivations, and the illusions. It throws the brakes on the breakneck speed of hyper-vinyasa. It takes the machismo out of ass-kicking power styles. It grabs yoga by the ponytail and backs it away from becoming a martial art or a performance art. It’s still hard. There are still endorphins. It still holds all the promise of all the yoga already vested. It’s just much, much slower.
Let’s also go ahead and agree that Slow Yoga is not necessarily restorative yoga. It is not necessarily gentle yoga. Slow Yoga is whatever style of yoga you currently practice but slowed way, way down. It’s not even a slow flow because it is slower than that. Minimalist in sequencing. Attentive transitions. Long holds. Many breaths for one movement. Slow Yoga allows us to have an experience in each pose. It allows learning to take place. It gives the yoga time to work. It gives the body time to respond. It gives the mind time to adjust.
Before I adopted the term Slow Yoga I never had a succinct answer to the question, “What kind of yoga do you teach?”
My answer would be, “Not-a-vinyasana.” It was supposed to be a play on words both English and Sanskrit. You know, Sansklish.
My teacher Vicki Smith was the first plant the seeds of Slow Yoga within my practice. In her classes vinyasa was a noun. It was a segment of the overall practice. We would prep for it with individual poses. There was a start and a stop for the vinyasa. No more than two or three poses were linked together at any time. She would say, “This is your new vinyasa.” It was something students could take home and practice. Since it was only a couple of poses, I didn’t feel the need to rush through it. The class was not going to move on without me. This idea of a vinyasa as a way-point in class rather than the way naturally kept the pace down, which is the basis for Slow Yoga.
If the flow is too fast or the sequence too complicated, we struggle to keep up or struggle to remember it all. The moment we start this struggle we have ceased to practice yoga and have begun to perform. We do not learn while we are performing. If we can’t remember it, we can’t take it home to practice. We may rehearse the performance over and over and get better as executing it in class, but we learn little more than how to follow the choreographer.
This is fairly self-explanatory. Warming requires movement to heat the body and the breath. There is no point in trying to practice slow holds and slow transitions if the body isn’t ready, so it is not exactly true that there is no place for flow in Slow Yoga. The perfect place is for faster flow is in the beginning. Get the body warm, get the breath moving through the body, lubricate the joints, you know the drill. Then slow it down. Way down.
When I first encouraged my own yoga students to practice Slow Yoga it was helpful to give them a place to start. We started with holding poses for five breaths (if possible and practical for the individual). In home practice I encouraged them to work up to ten breaths in the pose until ten breaths was their minimum. Once we are strong enough or patient enough to hold ten breaths safely and comfortably, we can build to as many breaths as we want or need. Even I balked at this in the beginning until I realized (by happy accident) that some parts of my body take longer to release–far longer than the time the average teacher could ever give me in the average class. After that first miraculous release I was a firm believer that there was a lot of yoga I simply could not access if I didn’t give myself the time.
When working up to ten breaths in each pose, those breaths do not begin until alignment is complete. We breathe our way into the pose but the breaths that we spend holding the pose do not begin until the pose is aligned well enough to support that hold. It’s a safety thing and a comfort thing. The idea is to take our time getting into the pose. There’s no rush to get to the breaths. We should be as meticulous and careful as we need to be. Once settled, we can start counting those full breaths and then begin the experience of being in the pose.
Practice each pose as if it was the only pose planned rather than a means to the next pose. My teacher Vicki used to bring the class into Tadasana, coax us to settle in, and then ask us to consider what it might be like if this was the only pose practiced for the full hour. What if we did nothing but Tadasana for the entire class? That’s the level of attention due in each pose we practice. In Slow Yoga there is no such thing as a transition pose past the warm-up. Each pose is sovereign.
So there you have it; the uncomplicated, unrefined basics of Slow Yoga, as I interpret, practice, and teach it. I’ve got more to come on this, so I invite you to come back for the rest of the series. I also invite you to go visit J. Brown at the link provided above. Read his articles and listen to his talks. The Slow Yoga Revolution has more than one voice, and his is a good one.