If you have spent any time in a yoga class, you’ll know most instructors insist that each pose be performed slowly. Yoga is about finding your breath and listening to your body, after all. When learning a pose, it makes sense to take it slow. But why is it necessary once you’ve mastered the asana?
Yoga movements should be performed slowly to avoid injury and increase flexibility. You will also learn how to perform the poses correctly and become aware of your breath. Moving slowly will help to strengthen the muscles and tissues and aid in reading your body’s responses better, even off the mat.
This article will discuss the various reasons why yoga should be performed slowly. We’ll discuss everything from potential injuries to the health benefits you’ll see from regular practice.
Moving Slowly Lets You Focus on Your Breath
If you have taken any yoga classes, you know that focusing on your breath is key to the practice. The poses might increase your flexibility, but you won’t realise the full benefits of yoga unless you engage in deep breathing.
Prana is a key concept in yoga. In the language of yoga, prana is the energy that flows through our bodies. Although it originated in religious contexts, one does not have to be religious to talk about one’s life force or spirit.
Yoga instructors will sometimes discuss the relationship between prana and breathing. The discussion varies depending on the instructor and the class. The conversation about prana and breathing might be about connecting with your inner being.
Other instructors prefer to be more practical. They will point out how we go about our day, rarely paying attention to our breathing. So the deep breathing of yoga can help you get in touch with yourself.
Regardless of your instructor’s approach, fast movements lessen your focus on breathing—until we realise we are out of breath. The shallow and short breaths that come from aerobic exercise do not reduce our stress. Instead, they can trigger stress responses.
Slow Movements Help You Focus on Your Body
On the one hand, it seems evident that you become more aware of your body if you move more slowly. However, there are several layers of awareness, and the slow movements make it easier for you to reach the deeper layer of focus.
A newcomer to yoga or a practitioner learning a new pose focuses on the first layer of awareness—what the body allows them to do (or doesn’t). When you focus on keeping your balance, strengthening your inner core, or getting the pose exactly right, you are in the first layer of focus.
Once you begin to focus on mental reactions, you explore the second and deeper layer of awareness. Training yourself to reach this layer is more difficult.
Increase Your Awareness
If you begin to look around the room at other classmates and compare yourself to them, you have left the deeper layer. Instead of training your mind to stay focused, you are comparing yourself to others, becoming distracted or bored. The slower movements of yoga help you reach the second layer of awareness better than faster-moving exercises.
Learning to focus on your body has benefits beyond yoga. As you become more aware of your body, you begin to transfer that awareness to other activities. So as you run, you notice sooner that you are short of breath and your sides hurt. You become aware of your heart rate, temperature, your movements, and emotions.
Your Yoga Practice Will Improve
Some people assume that yoga postures are easy to learn. But, performing them in the right way so that you avoid injury is not always as easy as it seems.
Take the Cobra pose. It looks easy enough, but there are over a dozen mistakes you can make. To take the pose from something that looks like a Cobra to one that is correct requires slow movement and awareness.
Unlike with other activities where being able to do something faster is a sign of improvement, it is quite the opposite in yoga.
Yoga Is More Challenging With Slow Movements
You might think that slowing down would make yoga less challenging, but the opposite is true. Your muscles do not work as much when you make quick transitions from one asana to the next. Try this out yourself:
- Move from one pose in five breaths.
- Repeat the same movement, except this time use one breath
Chances are, you’ll feel the greater strain with the slower movement. You can also try the same principle with a push-up. Do one push-up and then take twice as long to do a second push-up. On the slower one, your shoulder, chest, and back muscles need to work harder to keep you from falling to the floor.
What does it tell you that the slower push-up is more difficult? That you need to do more push-ups to get stronger, right? The same is true in yoga—if you are having more difficulty when moving through asanas slowly, you need to develop strength and flexibility.
Slow Movements Decrease the Risk of Injury
There is a push to bring the mindfulness of yoga into other types of exercise, such as CrossFit and HIIT. Instead of calling it slow movement, it is known as “conscious movement.”
Conscious movement encourages people to move slowly and become aware of their movements. This is before progressing to higher-intensity workouts. Often injuries in high-impact exercise routines are linked to starting too fast.
Trainers who encourage conscious movement often refer to yoga principles. These include taking deep breaths and being aware of the connection between your mind and body. Eve Dawes is a certified trainer. She says:
"Movement should always be performed with a conscious mind-body connection. Always place the focus on the muscles you're working regardless of the pace.”
It is also possible to injure yourself during yoga from moving too fast. Several common injuries can be prevented or minimised through slow movements.
Lower Back Pain
Yoga can benefit back muscles, but people who approach yoga as a race often hurt their backs. Do not hurry to touch the floor during a bend and notice what your body does when you lock your knees while bending forward.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
Yoga poses that require you to bring your arms over your head can lead to injuries with rotator cuffs. When the shoulder muscles are weak, vigorous yoga practice can cause injuries if you move too fast and are not aware of your body.
Poses such as Upward-Facing Dog and Camel done too fast have been known to cause neck injury. If you move slowly, you have a better chance of recognising when the stretch is no longer a little outside your comfort zone but rather moving into the danger zone.
Slow movements keep a person from practising so aggressively they miss the signs the body is sending. Paying attention to your body is easier when you take the time to do so.
Tips for Yoga Practice If You Hurt Yourself
If you hurt yourself while doing yoga, keep in mind there are three stages of healing—acute, sub-acute, and chronic.
During this first stage, resting the injured area is essential. Avoid movements that may strain the injury, and remember that working through the pain will only cause more damage. For the first few days, use cold compression and keep the injured area elevated. Avoid stretching the injured area, even if it seems as though a good stretch will help.
During the next one to three weeks, gently stretching the injured area will help rehabilitation. Again, do not stretch to the point of pain. Gradually work up to weight-bearing movements but stop a yoga pose if it begins to hurt.
A severe injury can take up to 12 months to heal fully. You can injure the area again, so continue to be mindful of it.
The good news is that with care and slow movements, serious injuries from yoga are rare.
Research Shows That Slow Movement Is Beneficial to Your Health
Researchers are advising us that cardio-based exercise should not be your only form of movement. Also exercise with slower movements should be an important part of your routine.
Why is that? First, slow movement exercise gives us more self-awareness or body sense. This increased body sense transfers to improved performance in other sports. In one study, runners who showed more body sense ran faster and used less oxygen while doing so. In another study, people who participated in a slow yoga regiment had better health outcomes.
Participants of another practice that emphasises slow movements, Tai Chi, showed similar positive benefits. Research also shows that slow yoga helps people manage their stress. It is also an effective treatment for depression and increases well-being.
There aren’t clear explanations in the scientific community why slow movements provide these benefits. Researchers know that yoga decreases a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. They believe that somehow these factors reduce anxiety.
Slow Movements Helps You Practice Yoga As You Age
We all know that as we get older, our bodies do not work as well as they used to, and as people age, they become more susceptible to yoga injuries. Developing a practice that focuses on slow movements can help prevent such injuries.
We lose around one percent of muscle mass a year once we reach forty and yoga can halt some of that loss and keep you flexible. Some people also find a slower, more meditative yoga practice helpful for dealing with a midlife crisis.
People often re-prioritise their lives in their fifties and sixties as children leave home and career changes. So the slower movements of yoga keep people in their fifties, sixties, and beyond able to exercise.
You Get To Enjoy the Process
Have you ever taken a trip and you don’t remember anything about the journey when you get to your destination? The same can happen in a fast-paced yoga class. You got the benefit of the yoga workout, but what do you remember of the experience?
We move slowly in yoga because we want to live in the moment. We do not just want to go through a series of poses to stretch ourselves, increase our balance, and strengthen our core.
Here are three tips to stay in the moment:
- Take stock of your feelings while doing poses such as cobra, upward facing dog, and seated forward bend. These poses are known for adding positivity to a routine.
- When you do backbends, take time to open the chest. Doing so gives you space to add some lightheartedness to your practice.
- If you are in a challenging position, smile. Doing so will bring extra joy to the experience.
Not only will moving slowly allow you to remember the class, but it will also add joy to your routine.
Slow Movements Help Us Outside the Yoga Studio
If we use the mindfulness that we learn in the yoga study in our day-to-day lives, we will see additional benefits. One of those areas is eating.
Mindful eaters realise when they are full and stop. They also become aware that that extra piece of chocolate is a response to feeling stressed or being distracted. So they are more likely to put it back for another day.
The slow movements of yoga keep us from turning the practice into a competition, where we compare our performance to others. Mindful practice helps us develop confidence in ourselves. Not only are people who practice yoga more aware of their bodies, but they are more satisfied and less critical of their appearance.
In another study, children who were taught to focus on their bodies during structured sports performed better in achievement scores.
Are There Yoga Styles Where I Can Move Faster?
If you have mastered the poses in a slower yoga class and want to try faster-paced classes, you have several options:
- Power Yoga
Although mindfulness is a critical trait developed in yoga classes, sometimes we need faster sequences through the poses to calm our minds. Once you learn proper posture and awareness of your body, a faster-paced yoga class is safe.
Faster-paced yoga classes can also provide balance to our lives in other ways. If you tend to move slowly or are stuck behind a desk all day, a faster-paced class offers balance. The same is true if you are always on the go—a slower class can balance out your go-go lifestyle.
What Is the Difference Between Slow Movements and Slow Yoga?
Doing poses correctly can also prevent injuries. Here are a few common poses and how to avoid injury.
Now you know the nine reasons why yoga movements should be performed slowly. But you might still be wondering what the difference is between slow movements and slow yoga. Most yoga movements are done slowly, but slow yoga is the name for several types of yoga classes that emphasise slow movement.
No one can confuse a yoga class with Zumba. While the Zumba class is non-stop movement, yoga students slowly move from asana to asana. So isn’t slow yoga simply yoga?
No. Slow yoga is the name for a type of yoga in which the instructor asks students to slow their movements. Movements in the poses (also known as asanas) and the movements between them take longer.
In Yin Yoga, a single pose can be held for one to five minutes. This school of yoga emphasises strengthening connective tissues over muscle groups. If the students have access to props such as bolsters and blocks, the instructor is most likely using Yin Yoga elements.
Restorative yoga classes are ideal for those who struggle to relax. A student in a restorative class might do no more than a few poses in an hour. As in Yin Yoga, students use props for support. Paying attention to your breath is a top priority in these classes, and slow movement is emphasised. Additionally this yoga style has many health benefits.
Iyengar Yoga is another style that emphasises slow movement, holding poses, and breathing exercises before starting on the next asana. You will also see props in Iyengar classes, and it is suggested that people recovering from injury practice this style. It is a popular style, and many instructors incorporate elements of it into their slow yoga classes.
We move slowly in yoga for numerous reasons, but they all come down to awareness and mindfulness. By moving slowly, we become aware of our breath, can learn how to hold poses correctly, and become aware of our bodies.
In addition, the slow movements of yoga will help to increase your flexibility and overall muscle strength. Holding poses and moving slowly encourage tissue growth, and you will see a great improvement in your health in time.