The Value of Slow

I could not have been more proud of my slow students. IMG_0066 - Version 2

You probably think that sounds derogatory. 

In fact, slow is what we were aiming for in some of our small group sessions – slow, mindful movements that allow greater connection between body, mind – and for those who allowed it – spirit.  

Slow, attentive movement gives us much more opportunity to notice where the body goes easily, versus where it might be struggling.

If we speed right past the places that need attention, we never get real improvement; we miss the opportunity to make our movement more efficient and, consequently, to develop true neuromuscular coordination and strength. Worse, we miss the opportunity to address a problem that may be causing us pain or discomfort.

Faster  ≠  better

I have some new clients at the moment who believe that to get stronger they must move rapidly and vigorously. In some cases they’re not necessarily intending to move rapidly, but after a lifetime of rushing, forging ahead with tasks and overachieving (especially in the Washington, D.C. metro area!), that’s all their bodies know. So their big brains (which I say with utmost respect) associate rapid, vigorous movement with what’s needed to make progress. 

I thought so, too

Believe me, I understand. I did it this way for most of my athletic and professional life – right up until my body let me know we couldn’t continue that way. 

Some bodies might be able to continue that way longer than mine, but the stresses of our contemporary life – physical, mental and emotional – will take a toll on any body eventually. The toll might show up differently, but there are a few common ways most of us are taking the hits. Low back aches, upper back/neck tension, plantar fasciitis, tight hip flexors, weak trunks, headaches – any of that sound familiar?

In order to address these things, to reprogram our bodies for less stress and more efficient, natural movement, we sometimes have to move s l o w l y.  With attention and intention. That way our neuro-myo-fascial system (nerves, muscles, fascia) has an opportunity to organize itself properly and move with the greatest possible efficiency each of our individual bodies is capable of. To “speed up” before “hooking everything up” is not only to miss this opportunity but to perpetuate faulty movement that might cause pain or injury. 

“The slower you go, the more your brain teaches your body.” — Thomas Hanna

Resources

Someone who does a great job writing about this, Todd Hargrove, explains it this way: “If you slow down and thereby increase your ability to sense differences in muscular effort level, you increase the brain’s ability to sense and correct any potential excess and unnecessary effort.”

These two articles he’s written, Why Practice Slow Movement and The Skill of Relaxation, offer much more insight and a bit of science behind these concepts.

If you’re more interested in doing some slow movements than in reading about them, I recently came across this free video you might check out. It’s actually part of an online yoga program but the gentle moves are right out of a great book called Somatics, by Thomas Hanna, a leader in the field of neuromuscular re-education.

And my slow students?

Their slowed-down pace did not come easily. Like so many others – myself included – these students started out wanting to move faster, do more repetitions, work harder or just get the “exercise” over with.  

But now they’re tuning in, noticing what’s working and what’s not. They move deliberately, gracefully, with attention to detail.  And they reap the rewards, which go far beyond the “slowest student” designation. 

Here’s what one of them said:

I’ve done a lot of other exercise classes and just felt sore afterward. But after coming here I walk better, I know where I am in space – I don’t trip as much as I used to – and I generally feel better.

And another:

It really makes a difference when you pay attention to the movement and what’s happening in your body. Now, when I’m doing these things on my own, I notice if my movement becomes sloppy and potentially harmful.

What are you noticing …

 … in your own movement when you exercise?  Or are you moving too quickly to notice?

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