What does it mean to live slow? How can we embody this lifestyle for ourselves, experience it and really live it, instead of just dreaming about it? Living slow means to be aware of the state of our nervous systems… Are we stressed or are we calm? Stress triggers the sympathetic nervous system and being calm reverses this activation, allowing us to dwell in the para-sympathetic nervous system. Allowing us to be present. It takes awareness to be present and it becomes a positive feedback loop. Just the opposite as stress creating a negative feedback loop. Being aware of our habitual thoughts and behaviours gives us the power to transcend them and the freedom to transform our lives so that we are living to our highest potential.
First, it helps to understand the nuts and bolts. Understanding our physiology, how our body works, is the foundation to understanding how to make meaningful changes to better our lives. The sympathetic nervous system is a survival mechanism, the reason that we are able to summon our superhuman abilities to run from danger or to rescue someone else in danger. The hypothalamus in the center of our brain detects danger and like a switch flicks our nervous system from the ‘rest and digest’ mode into the ‘flight or flight’ mode. The fight or flight mode can save our lives but it is not useful for our everyday function, in fact it can be very harmful. The blood flows to our skeletal muscles, eyes and cardiovascular system in a hyper-sensitive state that allows us to perform superhuman tasks. However, the energy required for this state is immense and therefore short lived, this is why we feel exhausted after having been through an intense stressful situation. And this is why we feel generally fatigued day to day, from living the fast paced way that modern life demands of us. It is time to resist the cultural pressure that forces us to always be busy, as if being busy is a measure of our worth. Instead, lets rebel, live slow, and reclaim our right to be worthy of living slow, simply by virtue of being alive.
Living slow is not the same as laziness… Living slow is a conscious choice to value our time irrelevant from its monetary value, to value the spaces in-between moments, and to value each moment enough to give it our full attention. And ultimately valuing ourselves enough to be kind to ourselves and others by not being stressed. Living slow means living in the mode of ‘rest and digest’ – the para-sympathetic nervous system. The blood flows deeper into the digestive organs, the immune system has a chance to recover, and the endocrine system has a chance to synchronise with the daily and monthly cycles. Increased blood-flow to the digestive organs means that we will efficiently breakdown and absorb the nutrients from our food, as well as efficiently eliminate waste. Improving digestion means we require less energy to digest and we receive more energy from our food, ultimately experiencing a surplus of energy. With more energy we gain stronger immunity, however the immune system governs so much more than simply our ability to ward off a cold or flu. If the immune system has a chance to recover this means that we not only resist colds and flus, but we also recover quickly from injury. A balanced immune system means better regulation of inflammatory processes within the body and that means being free from pain and stiffness caused by inflammation. Inflammation is not all bad though, the purpose of inflammation is to breakdown and heal damaged tissue, while prevented infection. The immune system decides what tissue is damaged and therefore needs to be broken down. For example, it detects and breaks down cancerous tissue. However, this detection can get missed and the immune system can become confused and breakdown healthy tissue when it does not get a chance to recover in a rested state. Therefore, we can see a correlation between high-intensity stress and an increase in inflammatory diseases such as fibromyalgia, crohns disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, and many others.
How can we live slow? We have so many tools available to us, and this can sometimes be a hindrance because making the right choices for ourselves can become overwhelming. Here we have a few simple tools and practices that we find most effective for living slow…
- Adaptogen medicinal herbs as a daily tea or tonic supports the endocrine system of the body, particularly the regulation of hormones secreted by the adrenal glands, thyroid and pituitary gland. These medicinal herbs strengthen the tissues and enhance the function of these glands, creating resilience and regularity. It is precisely these glands that need nourishment and support when we feel out of sorts or run down. Adaptogen herbs include Holy Basil, Licorice, Lavender, Bacopa, Withania, Lime Blossom, Rhodiola, Rehmannia and there are many more. Each herb has a unique profile with many medicinal qualities and so it is worth having a chat with your local herbalist and finding out what herbs will best support your unique situation and physiology.
- Yogic breath awareness and restorative postures. When we stop and remember that we are breathing we have the power to instantly transform our state of mind through slowing down and deepening the breath. It is free and it is always available to us. By simply placing your hands on your belly you instantly direct your energy to your diaphragm, which you feel expand into your hands when you take deeper breaths. Even if you have never practiced yoga before you can lie on the floor with your legs up the wall, this is a simple inversion. Inversion postures are deeply restorative as they allow the blood to flow in the opposite direction to the usual force of gravity. Saturating the central nervous system with fresh blood, nourishing and revitalising your entire system, physiologically, mentally and emotionally.
- Know thyself. Get to know yourself better, what makes you tick? What are your triggers? What gives you a sense of peace? What makes you feel really truly alive? Become aware of patterns in your life. How regular are your bowel motions? Who pushes your buttons? Who do you let cross your boundaries? If we know ourselves well and practice becoming acutely aware from moment to moment (calmly alert and not stressed), we can recognise when our lives are spinning out of control by irregular sleeping patterns, low energy, erratic moods, poor digestion and low immunity. We can recognise that our ‘normal’ might not actually be what we need and therefore need to find a new ‘normal’. Most importantly we can recognise the the cause and effect of our actions, that our fast-paced lifestyles and our physiological symptoms are intimately linked.
Just as each body system cannot be compartmentalised or treated separately from the whole, the whole is not limited to the physical dimension of our bodies. It is the way we think and the way we feel that inform the way we behave, which in turn effects the way we experience wellbeing, or the lack of it. Cause and effect. Understanding the interconnected nature of life is the key to understanding how to practically make the changes necessary to experience the richness of wellbeing. Take into consideration how living a stress-filled life, succumbing to social pressures and cultural conditions effects your quality of life… Most of the time we don’t even realise that we are on auto-pilot. And there is no sense in waiting for external circumstances to miraculously change. I’m not saying miracles don’t happen but they don’t happen without our own initial awareness and action. No-one is going to stop you from being swept up by the tide but you, your own courage to deviate from the norm by diving into deeper waters. Just as stress reverberates out in an insidious and infectious way – peace, calm and quietude reverberate out into the lives of those around you. Therefore, by living slow ourselves we are giving others the courage to give something new a go, to learn to say no, and create a wider community of living slow.