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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Slow down

Greek tortoise. Athens, 2012

Ndànk-ndànk ay jàpp golo cib ñaay
(Senegalese saying, meaning: you have to go slow if you want to catch the monkey in the bush.)

I've been reading "In Praise of Slow - How a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed", by Carl Honoré.

I must be a little slow myself, because the book was published 10 years ago, and I hadn't read it yet. In any case, it's timely because I have been forced to slow down drastically in the past month or so. The string of various illnesses was interrupted briefly, only to give way to new and improved afflictions. At the moment I have both a vigorous sinus infection and a debilitating runner's knee. The former is helped by long, steamy showers; the latter is helped by applying ice. I hope alternating between the two won't ruin me irrevocably. And thank goodness for modern pharmaceuticals.

But the details of my decrepitude are not what matters here.

What matters is what I am learning from this change of pace.

As I am - slowly - discovering, slower can be better. I can feel some benefits already.

In his book, Honoré makes the apology of slow food, slow weightlifting, slow sex and slow work, to name but a few.

We've already heard of the benefits of taking our time at the table and in the bedroom (in that vein, haven't I celebrated the value of a long, slow kiss in a previous post? - click here)

As for weightlifting, I thought I was already going slow (making each movement last a few seconds), until I read about the extreme approach that recommends you lift as slowly as you can. According to those who have tried it, you don't even sweat, yet it has the same benefits as "traditional" weightlifting. I gave it a try, and it's true: I remained fresh and dry, all the while feeling the burn more than ever. Interesting! We'll have to see if there is an effect on post-workout soreness.

Intense activities like weightlifting are not the only ones that can benefit from slowing down. Based on what 2 different, rather healthy friends have experienced recently, I think we can generalize to gentler activities, namely, yoga. Yes, 2 of my friends got seriously injured at yoga. I can see how. Yoga can be demanding, and it's easy to overdo some postures. To all my yogi readers: please be careful!

As a general rule, to enjoy life and enhance wellness, slowing down could be the overlooked panacea. Feeling good, really good (as opposed to simply numbing some kind of pain, physical or emotional) often arises from such simple things: drinking when you're really thirsty; eating when you're really hungry; sleeping when you're really tired. This applies to all basic needs. Remove the source of pain or discomfort, then enjoy life. Frantically chasing pleasure has no role in that equation. I know Epicurus would agree:

Although Epicurus has been commonly misunderstood to advocate the rampant pursuit of pleasure, his teachings were more about striving for an absence of pain and suffering, both physical and mental, and a state of satiation and tranquility that was free of the fear of death and the retribution of the gods. Epicurus argued that when we do not suffer pain, we are no longer in need of pleasure, and we enter a state of ataraxia, "tranquility of soul" or "imperturbability". (Wikipedia)

In the work arena, I, for one, do not have to be convinced that slowing down can make you more productive, while helping maintain your sanity. Instead of rushing from one task to the next, taking the time to breathe and allowing ourselves real breaks can make a difference for the best. Multiple studies have shown the positive impact of pausing in the midst of a busy day and of taking real vacation on a regular basis. And while at work per se, it is entirely feasible (and beneficial) to slow down as a general rule. It's all about focusing fully on one thing at a time. The most interesting part of this is that despite slowing down, we get as much done (if not more) at the end of the day. Bonus: we're less stressed!

One chapter I haven't read yet in Honoré' book is entitled "Leisure: The Importance of Being at Rest". I cannot wait to get to that chapter (slowly but surely!) I know leisure and rest are an issue for me. I don't allow myself to rest much (apart from a good night's sleep). Everything has to be useful or productive, including my pastimes (e.g. running, working out, writing a blog, etc.) I need to learn to take time and do things solely for fun. That does not come naturally to me. Even on vacation, and even when said vacation is far from home, I make lists of things to "accomplish". Up to now, the only way I've been able to really take time off was to go on a yearly retreat where I have nothing to care about but my own enjoyment and relaxation.

What about you? What would you say about the pace of your life? Have you tried other paces? How did it feel?


  1. I vacillate between intense periods of fast-paced life, and relaxing to take things slowly. Sometimes this happens within a single day. It's hard not to see the value in moving quickly from idea to idea, place to place, especially for people aiming to create great change in the world. But I know that in all things there is balance, so taking a few minutes, hours, or days to do things might be worth it.

    1. I will admit a change of pace can be very beneficial! Right now, however, going fast is just not an option for me; in those cases, better embrace slowness! :-)

    2. I have to say, however, that rushing in all directions has a low chance of yielding good results.

      Balance, as you said.

  2. Some weeks my life is way too fast and others I love the pace.
    Interesting about trying to weight lift as slow as possible - I sort of want to try that sometime.

    1. Try it, and let me know what you think! You might have to use lighter weights and do less reps.

  3. Sorry about your knee and sinuses I think I could learn a thing or two from slowing down in general... My hip just started aching this week again. And maybe our bones/joints also need some Vitamin D ... Enough winter already!

    1. Vitamin D... how I miss you! LOL¸

      Sorry to hear about your hip... hope it gets better soon.

  4. Slowing down - taking time to catch our breath whist rushing from one thing to another can be a good idea. Whilst some appear to achieve this with relative ease for others it's far more difficult.

    I'm one for trying to establish a good balance in life, which again is not always easy, but we strive for it and enjoy those days when the balance is just perfect ...........

    Sorry to hear about your knee and sinuses - speedy recovery wishes coming your way.

    All the best Jan

  5. Timely. I preached for a long time that we should build a little vacation into every week. At some point, like many, I found myself working just to sustain my work habit, and vacation in every week turned to a memory.

    Ironic timing. Yesterday I let go half of my clients, and gave notice on my studio where I also live. I'm moving my studio into a smaller space, and moving my home into a camper. I have also decided to begin observing the Sabbath again. For me that's going to be Saturday night thru Sunday vs Friday night thru Saturday. Time all but stops on the Sabbath, books, walks, and petting my dog bring peace.

    I truly hope that these changes will be permanent. That is my goal. I can't change the tempo of a one-on-one fitness training session. But I can change the tempo of my day, and week. I'll keep you posted.

    1. That's interesting! I do want to know more about the changes you're implementing in your life.

  6. I have a Gopher Tortoise living just off to the side of the driveway. He is very set in his slow ways! I once found him about 200 yards down the road, so I returned him to his burrow. Later that day, I again found him 200 yards down the road. Now I'm wiser. He was always wise. And slow. And always knew where he was headed :-)

  7. If your knee injury is a patella tracking issue, knee extensions with very low weight / high reps rescued me from that. Balances the quads.

  8. If I got any slower I'm sure some would start poking me with sticks to see if I were still alive! And yet I still sometimes feel stressed. A "go-getter" I aint!