A slow health revolution
There’s a short story by Haruki Murakami titled Sleep. In it, a housewife stays awake all the time after a weird dream. Instead of making her dysfunctional and groggy, the lack of sleep leaves her feeling more alive and energized—she’s able to work harder day and night, with complete ease.
Fact, however, is different from fiction. If we were to go without rest regularly, we would slowly disintegrate—first the mind, then the body. But despite our obvious need for downtime, we feel guilty about carving out time for it. We claim proudly to be the first to arrive and last to leave work; we survive on bare minimum sleep, and push ourselves to the extreme while working out. “We are always taking on more to achieve more, and the result is that we never enjoy the moment,” says Sayantani Mukherjee, consultant psychiatrist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Pune.
While the slow food movement has been talked about, taking time to heal and rejuvenate is not a concept that is often discussed. Perhaps this is why American physician and author Victoria Sweet pioneered the idea of slow health in her 2017 book Slow Medicine: The Way To Healing. She believes that in our ruthless pursuit of efficiency, we’ve forgotten that “good medicine takes more than amazing technology; it takes time”. One of her most popular analogies is that a doctor should be like a gardener, helping a person heal himself. “It’s paying attention, that seeing into, and then removing what’s in the way—unnecessary medications, discomfort, fear, pain, worry—and then the fortifying of the patient’s own natural healing power with the basics,” writes Dr Sweet.
Slow medicine for the body
Can the body heal itself with slow medicine? And can this apply to chronic ailments as well? Dr Sweet seems to think so. “The body can manage them (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, anxiety, depression or worry) because those ailments are so often reactions to physical, mental, moral and ethical stress—and when that stress is decreased, those ailments naturally improve,” says Dr Sweet.
Of course, no traditional medicine practitioner would recommend you throw away your prescription. However, there is a need to develop a lifestyle that helps reduce dependence on medication. For instance, if we look at the overall solution for diabetes as regulating lifestyle, diet and sleeping patterns, it will perhaps reduce our need for medication. Or even make the medication more effective.
Self-healing through yoga
A study released by the University of Sydney this year found that yoga, which is considered a very safe fitness activity, causes musculoskeletal pain in 10% of people and exacerbates 21% of existing injuries. The pushback to this has been a move towards slow yoga practices such as Yin yoga and the Moon Sequence where practitioners move more deeply into the flow through poses and mental shifts.
“A slow-paced Yin yoga class encourages the practitioner to listen to their body and to understand how it moves—it bridges the gap between the body and the mind,” says Savira Gupta, a London-based Yin yoga teacher. In Yin yoga, the goal is to go deep into poses and stay for 3-5 minutes at a time to access joints, connective tissues and bones rather than muscles to promote healing and mobility. The Moon Sequence (Chandra Krama), devised by Australian yoga master Matthew Sweeney, is a softer, gentler asana practice to offset the vigorous demands of Ashtanga yoga. “The Moon Sequence has elements to balance and is therefore more sattvic (balanced), with some tamasic (relaxation) elements also. Gentleness, letting go, surrender and self-compassion are some key features,” says Sweeney.
Finding a balance
The idea is to find a balance between the fast and slow so that you can understand what your body needs. “There are benefits to more physically challenging workouts,” says Zoe Modgill, founding partner and instructor at the Delhi-based fitness centre Studio 60. But high-intensity exercise must be balanced by rest and recuperation, says Modgill who encourages people to work out five days a week (three days strength training and two days cardio). You could do light yoga, or go for a walk, on other days. “You have to learn how to speed it up or slow it down—it’s important to mix it up so it challenges your mind and body in a holistic way,” she says.
The same goes for your day-to-day routine as well. Dr Mukherjee suggests “switching off” completely for half-an-hour every day. “Take time out to do things for yourself—play with your dog, read a book, spend time with your kids, meditate—but for heaven’s sake, don’t look at your phone,” she says. Overall, train your brain to become more conscious of what’s around you. “It is the style of slow—its quiet, attentive presence; its enjoyment, its lack of fragmentation—that supports healing and health,” concludes Dr Sweet.