Yoga and The Pathologic Need for Speed
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber |March 15, 2021
I think it was some time in the mid 2000s I started to have this sinking feeling that life was increasingly speeding up out of my control. I could blame it on being busy with work or having a baby. I could blame it on my need to feel like I was accomplishing things, or on having too many social obligations. But the reality is that it wasn’t really my fault – rather, a larger cultural pathology was getting under my skin.
The yogis suggest that whatever exists within the macrocosm also exists within us, individually – but it wasn’t until the 1970s that western medicine had a good explanation to parallel this wisdom – the biopsychosocial-spiritual model.
Our lives and our health are all deeply interconnected and where a culture goes, individuals are dragged along with it for the ride – like it or not.
When the culture began getting digitally hopped up on dopamine, it began to affect everyone, and we’ve all been forced to navigate our way through this new landscape.
I’ve longed for an earlier time when I’d get real letters in the mail, when an old friend would call out of the blue instead of texting, and when celebrity gossip was reserved for a furtive peak in the checkout line, not constantly shoved in my face.
Yoga helped me understand that I had to make a consistent, concerted effort to fight against the cultural tide and slow down – otherwise life was going to pass me by at warp-speed and I’d wake up one day and find myself looking into that good night with no clue how I’d gotten there so quickly and having way TMI about Kim and Kanye rolling around in my brain.
I can’t say that I’ve been present for every moment of my life, but without my practice, I would really be lost in a data vortex (littered with empty wine bottles). The culture hasn’t done a very good job at solving the digital overload problem. Frankly, the powers that be reject and discourage a reflection upon our relentless cultural pursuit of speed because, well, slowness isn’t terrible profitable is it.
The yoga world isn’t immune to this cultural pathology. I started teaching in 1995, and by the early 2000s the vibe was that if you weren’t teaching the fast sweaty stuff (along with cool playlists and novel choreography) you’d be slapped with a “beginner” or “gentle” teacher label. Definitely second class. No good times slots, not much interest or respect, not many students.
Yes, some have resisted the tide (and thankfully our numbers are growing), but the gnawing demand for speed and intensity in the yoga world still dominates, regardless of the lip service.
The other day I received this email:
“After 30 years of yoga practice, I finally did a 200-hour training two years ago. Sadly, it left me disillusioned about the current state of yoga due to the competitive, bullying culture, where flexibility was praised and inflexibility chastised. I couldn’t believe it! This was not ‘my’ yoga. This wasn’t the noncompetitive place of calm that had helped me as a young dancer with an eating disorder. When I began subbing for established teacher’s classes, my disillusionment deepened. I pressured myself to be more flexible and stronger so I could be good enough. But I never could. Now, I only teach chair yoga.”
😔 Yup. Been there.
Back in the early 2000s, before I realized there was a massive need for something different, and put my stake in the ground, calling what I do and teach “Subtle Yoga,” I would go to conferences or attend rock star yoga teacher workshops trying to figure out where I fit in.
Often, I was the least flexible person in the packed house which made me feel like a total loser. A studio owner told me that I needed to “work on my weight.” A conference organizer told me that my style was “not hip enough” for her roster. Another studio owner let me go saying that what I teach is “too different (read slow and boring) from ‘regular’ yoga.”
Once, a student I hadn’t seen for a while dropped in before class to tell me that he didn’t come anymore because he had graduated to “real yoga.” (He thanked me for getting him started 🙄. Nice.)
The need for speed and intensity in the yoga world simply mirrors the values of the larger culture – and the culture is deeply, profoundly, and pathologically addicted to adrenaline and dopamine. So, of course slow yoga comes across as weird, or, at best, a complete waste of time.
When I step back and look at what is happening in the larger world – life passing by in a blur, sucked up by social media, celebrity nonsense, and mindless fads – I realize that if I want to stay sane and be healthy, I have to regularly and consistently step out of the raging river of meaninglessness – and that’s exactly what my practice does for me. There’s nothing tangible or even particularly human in most of the junk that clamors for my precious time and attention.
Frankly, the relentless pursuit of speed is an affront to my soul.
COVID has given us a year of sorrow, anxiety, pain and grief. The silver lining is that it’s also slowed things down and provided an opportunity to reassess what really matters. Yes, it’s great that the pandemic is finally getting under control, but it may be wise to question what going “back to normal on July 4″ actually means.
I’ve made a commitment to myself to regularly stop and reflect. Without that commitment, I get mired in a fantasy that somewhere, at the end of this ridiculously arduous race for more, I’ll find happiness.
Exactly the opposite is true.
If I value my short time here on this beautiful blue-green island in space, then there are choices I must make. There are things that I choose not to do. There are places I choose not to go. There is media that I choose not to watch or to listen to. There are people that I choose not to spend time with. I can hop on the speed train and ride it mindlessly to the grave, or I can live my life with the awareness that what I do with my time matters profoundly.
This is the message I wish to convey to anyone who studies yoga with me: your time here on this planet is short and precious. I hope that yoga will help you fall in love with your life – and savor it.
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Your words brought me to a warm and slow pause as I took them in this morning. I had run around my home, changing bed lined, doing laundry and felt already peaked when came to sit and drink my luke warm coffee. Your words brought me to my point of awareness where all the other “stuff” melted away. Thank you for doing what you do. And for your ever present guidance from the great gurus. That’s where I believe you are from. With love.
Thank you Samantha.
I have been teaching yoga in the Uk for 40 years .
I have taught from the philosophy which I have understood to start with Ahimsa kindness respect for our self and for others so .
I feel very uncomfortable with competition and creating stress kind of yoga teaching.
I have always had a large amount of students more than a hundred in different classes each week.
Enjoying yoga that I use the name Jnana yoga starting from the inner awareness.
Being respectable to our own body and to everyone in the class.
I think your attitude towards yoga needs to be shared.
Great to hear that Pam, I’m also in the UK studying Advaita Vedanta and teaching gentle and chair yoga. I love the name Jnana yoga. I am Clear Voice Yoga ( also a holistic voice coach) and I trained with Waking Minds Yoga who share the same values. Namaste
That’s a beautiful name Isobel! Thanks for what you do!
You are a maverick Pam! thanks for all you do!
Thank you as ever Kristine, for your wise words. They always seem to arrive just as the questions start to arise in my mind. Recently I’ve been remembering with nostalgia the weekends where I’d socialise, cook, play, and feel I’d had a proper break from work. Pre-screen weekends when I’d go a whole day without looking at one – not even a TV!! That never happens any more so I’ve been wondering why and you’ve answered☺️ You’re so right, everyone and everything has sped up and there’s so much pressure to constantly improve oneself and ‘keep up to date’. Thank you for reminding me of the remedy and for reminding me it is a conscious choice, a fight to reclaim the joy of slow. Keep up the good fight! We’re with you!
Totally agree. So hard to resist competition in all walks of life, but it really doesn’t belong in yoga. I’m always gently reminding students that an attentive sukhasana is a deeper pose than something more obviously impressive done without mindful awareness. It’s an uphill struggle but we just have to keep saying it. I call myself Clear Voice Yoga btw 😊
Although we may not even be close in chronological age, you words speak to my “old soul” in deep and meaningful ways. Your wisdom for yoga and life resonate deeply, God bless you and your example.
Thanks so much Gayle!
I totally agree with everything you have said, your words will resonate with so many people.
Thanks Diana – in some ways we have been the silent majority – I know so many people who’ve tried yoga but left quickly because it was so scary and risky.
I’m with you Kristine and I want to stay sane and healthy and that requires slowing down. If I want to get my adrenaline going, I can run to yoga class! As always, thank you for sharing. I don’t feel alone when I read your blog.
Aw thank you Arlene!
Well said, Kaoverii. I have internalized my 8 years of practice with you while in Asheville, and continue now that I am back in Georgia. Continuing gratitude to you for your teaching and leadership.
Aw thanks Mary Anne! So nice to hear from you and I hope you and your husband are doing well. xo
I couldn’t agree more !
I found your comment of “I have to regularly and consistently step out of the raging river of meaningless” spot on Kristine.
Thanks Pippa – I had a lot of fun with that sentence LOL!
I am a 71 yr. old retired physical therapist/yoga teacher. I used to go for the gusto in my first career as a dancer and later in yoga, to the detriment of my joints and causing sore muscles from overstretching. I now teach “gentle yoga”, sometimes never getting off the floor, other times getting to Warrior 1 or 2 and dancer pose. But as a therapist, I’m always aware of my students’ limitations and asking them to respect them as I have learned to respect mine. I now want to feel good after yoga, not overstretched and shaky with achy hip joints. Therefore, I teach to leave my students with the same feeling. They keep coming back for more so I must be doing something right. Thank you for confirming what I have learned over the years .
Thank YOU Pam! The world needs more teachers like you!
Yep, I totally agree. It’s hard to work in studios when everyone looks to yoga for their physical fitness/cardio workout. I just think that yoga is so much more than that. I was trained that I had to teach 14 different elements in every class, including an inversion. When I questioned whether or not that was right for my students, I was humiliated. So, I shut my mouth, finished the training, and started to teach. It took me a while to realize that I needed to teach from my heart – once I did that, I was happy with my classes. It’s hard. Thank you for sharing your story – it helps to see others that have dealt with similar issues. I will stay the course – slow and steady.
Yes Nina! Stay the course! Things can and do always change and it’s a matter of patiently helping folks to see that there’s another way. Thanks for what you do!
I have loved slow, thoughtful yoga for a very long time. I never understood how I could connect with breath or check in with what was happening inside when I was going at warp speed. I ended up for a long time doing, “gentle”or “beginner ” classes; oh, how I resented those labels. I had been doing yoga for 20 years, I wasn’t a beginner. But I really felt like I was being treated as not good enough.
Yup. I hear you Eileen – but the good news is that we can change this!
Amen. You are preaching to the choir. The world needs Subtle Yoga more now than ever. All of the course offerings are excellent, the materials are well done and my students are enjoying all the new things I am incorporating into my classes.
That’s so great Liz! Thank you so much!
Well I commend you and this SY community for the opportunity to internalise our practice. Personally I have never understood how the contemporary yoga community operates. SY is an invitation to everyone, to take control of your practice rather than relying on external cues and expectations. I am grateful to have the opportunity to practice and share with you Kristine, Namaste.
Thank you for that Kristine, I have been searching for that pot of gold yoga. I mindfully appreciate slow yoga. I really believe that yoga wasn’t intended for fast. Mindfully slowing to pay attention to the inattention to ourselves to grow and blossom. Namaste’
Kristine, thank you so much for this. This is what I have been thinking for a while but I didn’t know it until I read it. Like Arlene said, I don’t feel alone after reading this. 🙏
Ah that’s really nice to hear Deborah – and no, you are definitely not alone!
It’s really great article because yoga helps people to reduce stress. I loved the topics reading it. Well done.