22 Aug 2014

Get off the fast lane

Have you ever been stuck on the highway, behind cars crowding the middle and fast lanes even though the right lane is completely empty?

There seems to be a universal law stating that it will take us longer to arrive at our destination if we’re not in the fast lane. And so, the desire to get to our destination faster pulls us over to the left, despite us being unwilling, or able, to drive faster than everybody else.

Needless to say that driving in the fast lane alone won’t change the speed of your car.

It’s a mindset not unfamiliar to the exerciser. People want to do the stuff strong people do, the stuff flexible people do, the stuff professional athletes and celebrities (professional athletes in their own right) do. The stuff that is fast, hard, sweaty, and makes you sore.  They too might be choosing the “fast lane” before they outspeed the right and middle lanes.

When it comes to movement quality, going too fast too soon is counter-productive, for the body can only rely on the patterns it has readily available.

“Fast, we can only do what we already know”, says Anat Baniel, founder of the NeuroMovement Approach. “This is how the brain works. To learn and master new skills and overcome limitation, the first thing to do is slow way down. Slow actually gets the brain’s attention and stimulates the formation of rich new neural patterns.”

In other words: slowing down in movement training may get you more bang for your buck.

This concept is engrained in a variety of training and conditioning systems, including the traditional Pilates method. In the words of founder Joseph Pilates: “The prime essence of the Pilates system is mental discipline: slow muscular movements under the constant direction and control of the alerted intelligence.” Not surprisingly, his work was designed to counter the negative effects of modern, “fast living”, of which he believed that it “results in our nerves being on edge from morning to night” and depriving us of the ability to rest and enjoy a normal, healthy life.

Does this mean we can’t ever move fast? Of course not. After all, everyday life doesn’t always give us the opportunity to slow down, either. Once we are able to master a task slowly, variability and playfulness become a means of challenging and further owning a skill, eventually to the point where it no longer requires much attention.

Then—but only then—can we switch to the “fast lane”. Until then, stay focused, and embrace the magic of slow and what it can teach you about yourself.

Both in movement and on the road, that is.