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30. Be more tortoise, and why it matters

What if I said I want you to slow down? Right now.

…what is your initial reaction?

What delights is your mind and your body shouting at you?

Do you feel anxiety rising in your chest, your brain about to explode, worrisome thoughts arising? Or a very simply a massive 's*d YOU', I have not got time to slow down?

I get it.

However, if you happen to be having any of those responses, today may just be the day your body is asking you to slow things down.

Doing everything too quickly can activate our stress responses – stress can weaken our immune system, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream – they serve (when in overload or too regularly – to weaken our immune system and lower our mood). When we activate our stress response it activates the alarm system in our brains so that we are continually on the look-out for threat and this in turn can lead us to finding even more things to worry about and get irritated with – making it harder for us to respond, instead reacting.

It feels counterproductive I know, to invite yourself to consider slowing down, and the enormous agitation that can accompany the mere thought of it can be incredibly challenging.

What is typically happening in this moment is that our working memory has limited capacity for anything, it can barely concentrate on the next thing on the to-do list, and so the thought of adding ANOTHER thing to do, in the worst possible moment – when we are already overloaded can feel like a hammer to the chest.

However, there are reasons and benefits to doing this, of course you knew there would be, even if your mind is screaming no! We need to remember not all thoughts serve us well in these moments, some are outright tinkers and like to trip us up, we may well be busy, have unrealistic demands and workloads, but if we want to feel calmer, more focused, productive and centered – we benefit not from speeding up, but from practicing the fine art of slowing down.

We benefit from a sensory experience in this moment, for when the mind is using its senses for listening, feeling, smelling, seeing and tasting, it simply cannot be thinking.

Some ideas:

  • If you like to go for a walk, find a spot where you won't be disturbed and practice putting one foot in front of the other really slowly and purposefully …notice each muscle in your body, the crunch of your foot on the pavement, the temperature of the air, what sensations in your body are present, what textures are on the ground…

  • If you enjoy a biscuit with your cuppa, consider smelling it first, holding it to the light and noticing it's shape, texture, weight in your hand, what is your mouth doing in anticipation of eating? How does that first bite into it feel, and then what about the taste as you roll it around in your mouth. Really take your time and fully give yourself the gift of eating that entire biscuit with presence and engagement.

  • If you like to listen to nature and the birds, sit in a comfortable position and listen without getting into any narrative around what type of bird, or where is it coming from, simply allow sounds to travel and flow, noticing the quality, rhythm etc…try this with a piece of music you love too and absorb it's vibrations in your body

  • Read out loud to yourself, or a loved one. The art of telling a story is incredibly mindful, start small with a short story or a poem that you love.

  • If you are at a laptop or desktop, how does it feel to notice your fingers tapping on your keyboard, can you feel the shape and texture of the keys, is the surface warm, smooth, what noise does the tapping of keys make? Or can you go one better and perhaps stroke the cat, your little one's hair if they will sit still long enough, or even the feel and weight of a cushion.

Be playful, be curious, but most of all, slow your chosen moment right down and practice being present to the sensations.

Notice if you have an urge to resist, and with time, this resistance will quieten as your body calms down, and those anxious thoughts loosen their grip.

We always have a choice, and whilst it may not always feel like it, or that the moment is limited, each small moment starts to add up. Start small, aim for a minute of practice, then perhaps increase it to three, and then add two more.

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