Editor’s Letter: On Stress, Slowing Down & SavasanaBy Angelica Malin
“Time is how you spend your love” – Zadie Smith, On Beauty
We overuse the word stress. We slather it onto our everyday language, like melted butter on warm crumpets, allowing it to drip and diffuse onto our daily life. It becomes our default – “how are you?” “stressed” “how was your day?” “stressful” “how do you feel?” “stressed out”. But what, actually, do we mean by stress? Stress is created within us – a storm within our bodies. It’s not something we can touch, something we can feel, something we can rationalise with. Stress is a feeling, that originates deep within us, which we attach to tasks, jobs or relationships. It’s funny how, when we’re in a stressed out state, the smallest things seem so overwhelming. I, for one, find it impossible to choose a sandwich at lunch time in M&S when I’m feeling manic at work; I’ll stare at length at the rows of prawn mayonnaise, Ploughman’s and chicken sarnies, totally lost. Of course, it’s because our brains are hard-wired to find things stressful when we’re frazzled, rushing and high on lattes.
Running your own business, it took me years and many long walks to realise that whenever things were “stressful”, it was, in fact, me that was stressful – not any of the things that I had to do. I had internalised the stress, allowing it permeate my day – forgetting that the primary product of any well-run business is, invariably, you. Internalising stress creates an inner axis where your whole world spins from, and thus, everything seems stressful. What you need to do is reposition the compass – find an outlet for these overwhelming feelings, to calm your ship. There’s a key to this all, one which we overlook every single day. It’s simple, really: breath. Breathing, the most basic and natural of human actions, I think, is the answer to every evil.
We forget, so often, to breathe. We hurry our breath, taking shallow, superficial bursts of air, not allowing the breathe to soothe and fill us. And why is that? Because we’ve lost our ability to slow down. Speeding up, being busy, rushing, doing, achieving, has become so glamourised in 21st century, that we cannot stop. Us millennials, we like fast WiFi, faster cars, massive to-do lists, lots of caffeine and always being on the go. Just look at the huge rise in on-demand services; we want everything NOW, whether that’s an Uber in 2 minutes, a takeaway on Deliveroo or our laundry done by someone else. Our society has learnt to have everything at their disposal, and to have it all at the swipe of a button. Hey, even sex has become on-demand thanks to Tinder (or so I hear). Every new technology, app, website, concept, is asking us to speed up, not slow down, to do more, to want more, to achieve more, to go, go, go. Fuck me, it’s exhausting.
Whatever happened to slowing down? To switching off our phones, to closing down our Instagram app, to reading a book, taking a walk instead of a HIIT class? We have lost the art of slow. I started About Time in a bid to help Londoners to find more more time-worthy pursuits – things really worth their time, energy and money – and I fear, recently, that we’ve forgotten the art of time. How glorious it is to sit, in stillness, and listen to our own breathing rattling below our rib cage, the ebb and flow of our bodies in their natural state. Of course, we can’t write guides to the best positions to sit on your sofa at home, and you’d much rather read about London’s best matcha lattes, but don’t forget, that time really is how you spend your love – and just because time seems endless, not every second needs to be crammed with something.
There is an art of slow. I was reminded of this on Sunday, at The Yoga Wellness Company‘s workshop on “Yoga for Transforming Emotions.” I arrived, in new Asquith London kit, ready to sweat it out, rid all the tension and stress of the week, in a really empowering Vinyasa flow. But, no. We took it slow – starting with a drawn-out, strong power flow with Jennifer Ellis, and then an afternoon of restorative Yin yoga with Kate Lovell.
And as the day went on, I came to realise that the yoga styles which I normally use for balancing my emotions – sweaty, fast-paced Vinyasa classes, power flow, Bikram yoga – were actually just masking my feelings of “stress”, by taking my mind off them. It’s why we find Savasana, dead man pose, so hard – because we have no movement to distract ourselves with. I was running from my emotions, one sweaty pose at a time.
If you really want to access your emotions, through yoga or anything else, slow is the way forward. Slow gives you the space to hear your own thoughts, to confront your emotions, to process your feelings. There is nowhere to hide in slow; there is everywhere to hide in fast. So, this week, I challenge you to do something slow. Skip your normal high intensity workout for a slow-paced, candle-lit yoga class, go for a leisurely swim after work, get up an hour early and walk to work, try some deep breathing on your lunch break. There’s something wonderfully exhilarating in being busy, but, for the sake of you, this week, re-discover the beauty of slowing down. It will make you a better person, and, importantly, seriously help your decision-making skills in the sandwich aisle of M&S.