The Race to Slowness

(With thanks to Özlem Özülker..)

Engage in the oft-missing luxury of unhurried movement. Life is so fast, especially modern life. We get out of balance with the speed, intensity, complexity. Slowness is something we miss, at a deep level, something we crave.

1. Improve Lymph Flow
Going at slow speed activates the pulsing lymph flow in the entire body, because it resonates with the slow, rhythmic way lymph likes to move. An enormous flow of lymph fluid can move through your body. Optimizing your lymph flow will increase the many valuable tasks that the lymph does, such as clearing up cellular wastes, draining toxins, reducing inflammations, fighting infections, preventing illness and generally cleaning up the interstices of your body. Going at Tai chi speed activates the lymph flow in the entire body. Lymph likes to pump through the many nodes and vessels of the body at a slow rate: a six to 8 second pulse is ideal.

2. Notice More
The more you can discern in a relaxed state, the more you empower yourself. Practicing any movement slowly allows you to notice more within the movement. You enhance awareness of sensations, your breath, where your mind is, and different aspects of your body. Going fast, you skip over things. There is so much to notice in your body that you never have before. The more you can, in a relaxed state, notice, the more you empower yourself. Take time to enjoy the scenery, to partake of the pleasures of movement. Learn and assimilate what you notice.

3. Allow Time to Connect More of your Body Together
In Qigong and the internal martial arts you practice using all parts of the body. You don’t want any portions of your body languishing, lazing, hiding. You want complete movement everywhere. Slowness allows the ignored or left-out places a chance to engage in the movement. These shadow places are areas of pain, chronic problems, lowered function, and trauma. Getting them involved in the healing movement is quite empowering on many levels. Parts and places are better; and the whole is better

4. Ground, Root and Center
Three of the most important principles of Qigong are Grounding, Rooting, and Centering. Each of these are easier to learn and enhance by going slowly. Grounding is when your body’s energy flow is equalized within and without (like the grounding you would do with an electrical wire.) Rooting is relaxing the tension downward to create physical stability. Centering is putting your mind into your lower abdomen (Lower Dantian.)

5. Improve Your Breathing
It is easier to take deep, full, even, long and relaxed breaths when you move slowly. In slowness, it is easier to integrate your breath with your movement. Improving your breathing is probably the most basic and most useful method of a long life of health. Qigong at it’s bedrock level is really breath training. Proper breath training can alleviate, improve or cure just about any chronic illness you can name. Chronic illnesses, whatever they are called, are, in a big way, a failure of whole body, healthy breathing.

6. Switch from Fight/Flight to Relax/Heal
Our stressed out nervous systems are usually unbalanced in some kind of futile fight against the intensities of the modern world. The autonomic nervous system handles the various internal processes of the body like organ function, digestion, blood cell production and internal communications. The sympathetic part of this system is Yang—active and fast and easily overfed by stress. Slow Qigong practice releases the hole of the overworked sympathetic side and engages with the too-ignored parasympathetic side. It is the parasympathetic nervous system where most healing is enabled. The parasympathetic slows you down (think “parachute.”) This is the Yin aspect of the autonomic (automatic) nervous system of the body.

7. Qi Moves like Water
Qi is a vast concept that basically means full, fluid, intelligent, enlivening flow. The Qi of your body connects distant parts of your body into one unit of movement. But it does it within certain rules of motion. “Qi,” it is said, “moves like water;” while consciousness moves as fast as light. One aspect of health, is the full flow of Qi throughout the body. Qi, like water, flows by going under, over, through, or around obstacles in it’s path. Whatever obstacles you may have in your body—whether through tension, injuries, congestion or compression—your Qi has to find a way through. Water and Qi are ever-changing. This takes a moment. With your thinking you can just be somewhere—poof, instantly. With Qi, which is the interconnecting flow of your body, it takes time. If you go too fast, you don’t give your Qi time enough to authentically flow. Going too fast is a mechanical approach dictated by your brain. Going slowly, you give your Qi time enough find its way and to strongly flow. Going too fast is a mechanical approach dictated by your brain.

8. Coordinate Posture, Movement, Breath, Mind, and Qi
Aligning these five factors is Qigong. When all five aspects are engaged in synchronized, mutually-supporting, principle based concert, you are practicing Qigong. For instance, when you begin a move, you begin to inhale. Likewise, when you finish the move, you complete your exhale. All through, the movement is smooth and regular, as is the breathing.

The effects of Qigong can be felt very early in your training. Your body is not doing one thing while your mind is doing another. You are not exercising while thinking about the movie you watched last night. You are not haphazardly breathing while sending Qi to your toe and slumping your torso. Yet, it takes a long dedication to practice and refinement of principles to gain gobs from Qigong. (Remember: practice is fun.) When these five factors are all moving together, in a whole-body synchronization, you are engaging in great self-healing work. You will like what you feel and love not getting sick much (or at all.)

9. Strengthen Muscles
Many of us use faster movements to propel our body into movement. We use momentum rather than strength. Throwing ourselves around with willpower, we drain our internal resources. (This is the story of my first 30 years on this planet.) Slow movement develops a full-muscle strength that is different than that unhealthy explosive power. By actively using more of each muscle in each moment of time within the full extent of a motion, we become more integrated. Your muscles become smarter, stronger, and gain greater endurance. More importantly, this kind of strength, this longer, slower, easier strength leads to more relaxation. The muscles of the thighs (the longevity muscles) are particularly important to strengthen and Qigong (and Taiji) are great at developing them.

10. Relax the Heart and Blood Vessels
Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and strongly pushes blood through the blood vessels. Slow Qigong moves blood through the body by relaxing the heart and vessels. Qigong helps regulate a heart that is often too anxious and working too hard. Moderately vigorous exercise is important for long-term health. Overly vigorous exercise is usually an imbalanced behavior that, if continued, will eventually lead to serious health problems. Besides the physical health issues of heart and blood, over-work of the heart and over-energization leads to unhappy emotional issues. A tense heart is also a heart prone to anxiety.

11. Increase Body Awareness in the Moment
Practicing slowly is moving meditation. It is meditation that doesn’t put you to sleep. You can better access the peace and promise of this moment. If you have heard of the benefits of meditation but cannot seem to sit still for it, trying these slow Qigong approaches. The moving meditation of Qigong brings your focus to the present moment, the place of healing. Moving out of the past, we let go of the dragging hold that past has on us. We can let go of fears that were once valid for us, but are not more. We can release, day by day, the hold of our previous injuries, mental, physical, and emotional. We can better access the peace and promise this moment. For myself, I would much rather move to meditate than sit. Many people extol the benefits of sitting meditation, yet, we in the 21st century already sit so much. Our bodies stagnate and so do our minds. Get off the cushion, off the couch, off the chair and get your calming meditation in as you move your joints, pulse your lymph, massage your organs, and breathe with Qi.

13. Develop Smoothness of Motion
Gaining smoother movement is both a method of and sign of healing. Herky Jerky motions are indications of blocks and rocks and dry spots in your inner environment. When you slow down, you notice the places that are not smooth and fluid. The clicks, and ratchets, and hatchets in our movements; the sticky, stagnant, and stuck places; the rickety, rackety, hacked places. Noticing, you can take measures to bring more fluidity to each spot.

14. Release Tension and Finally Relax
Slowness encourages release of tensions throughout your body, calmness in your emotions, clarity of your focus in the moment and superior whole body, whole being relaxation. Relaxation leads to the healing of stored traumas and a sense of well-being now.