The Art of Slowing Down // Summer Ward

Read below as Paddle Into Fitness Ambassador Summer Ward shares thoughts on how to keep life real by slowing down.

Like most Americans, my life is jam packed. I work multiple jobs, have hundreds of friends, a relationship that needs attention, am close with my family (physically and metaphorically), and keep a calendar that is constantly updating me with reminders about what I need to do.  I own a home complete with an overgrown yard that needs constant maintenance, dishes always piled up in the sink, a dog and chickens that need care, and many, many remodel projects that weigh heavy on both mine and my boyfriend’s minds.  I stress like most to keep up.  I worry about bills.  I recognize that I need new playlists for my yoga classes and better information on current vintages of California wines for my restaurant job.  Trying to stay connected electronically, while helpful sometimes, often leaves me overwhelmed with insecurities about how far behind I am and somehow steals more time away than it’s worth.  I know that these feelings are common to most.  Our culture thrives on busyness and competition.  We also promote industries created simply to distract us from it all (video games, television, celebrities, etc.). I teach yoga to remind myself and others that it’s all right, even necessary, for us to take a break sometimes.  A break from all the roles, titles, and pressures that we put on ourselves. Yoga aids in providing this break by teaching us to be present in the moment.  Most of our angst is in dwelling on the past or projecting into the future or comparing ourselves to our neighbor.  By learning to be aware of our breath, body and emotions we release a sort of bondage from the brain that keeps us caught up in a cycle of classification.

The catch 22 I sometimes find myself in is that while my practice of yoga helps tremendously, because I’m also trying to forge a career and life out of it as well, sometimes the yoga itself causes me to slip back into roles, judgements, and insecurities.  I know it’s a practice of observing, acknowledging, and releasing and I will forever work on honing this skill, but I also need reprieve from life’s madness and crave that ultimate connection that seems to slow life down to the pace of perfection.  I’ve spent the last year trying to simplify, slow down, and be more aware of the present without getting caught up in the ego and the self-destructive mind-speak that it evokes.  Here are some ways I’ve been able to slow it all down and appreciate the moment more…

Learning to say No

I care about people a lot.  I’m social by nature.  My dharma is to serve.  This is the perfect combination to make up what we call ‘people pleasers’.  People pleasures are notorious for saying yes to anything asked of them and for as long as I can remember I had been saying to yes to anything and everyone possible.  So often I would say yes to so many things that I’d find myself resentful.  Resentful to those I said yes to, resentful towards myself, and resentful of others who seemed to have free time in their lives.  This cycle finally reached a peak when we bought a fixer-upper home and my plate suddenly became so full that I got sick.  I hardly ever get ill and within a month I found myself sick twice.  It was my body reacting to the stress and shutting down to heal.  This physical reminder and the time I had to spend nurturing myself was the catalyst for quitting two teaching jobs, mandating at least one full day off from work, and the beginning of my practice in saying no.  Believe me, it is a practice!  My initial reaction is still to take on more than I can handle and sometimes I slip, but the space between slip-ups is growing.  Every time I find myself in the old familiar pattern of resentment, I remember I’m human and try again.  Apart from just saying no, I also try practicing having open time in my schedule with absolutely nothing planned and for opportunities of spontaneity.  It’s how I’ve come to have time to put this into writing!

Hanging out with children

I understand once you become a parent time seems to speed up even more, slipping away into some abyss of sleepless unconsciousness. At least that’s the impression I get from my friends who have kids. I also hear how the simplest things bring such joy; first smiles, the ability to breast feed, crawling, stepping, talking, and even using a toilet!  Babies and kids remind us of how basic care and love are really all we need. I have felt that shift in time looking into the pure potential of a newborn’s eyes.  Lately, I find the most joy searching for bugs with my niece and nephew in the yard.  Witnessing the creativity, expression, and innocence of children is refreshing in contrast to the limitations and inhibitions we place on ourselves.

Observing nature

I have always connected with and loved the outdoors.  I’ve always climbed trees, had pets, gone camping, and worshipped the sun.  Nature teaches me most about impermanence and patience.  In the midst of a dreary day or mood (often with me, they coincide) I am reminded that things are always changing and when nature decides the clouds will part and things will become bright again.  With the purchase of this home, I’ve been watching and tending the landscape in order shape it peacefully.  I planted a garden from starts and seeds and am humbled how they grow at their own pace.  I watched a chicken I nurtured for weeks gulp for it’s last breath when a neighborhood dog attacked it and surrendered to the feelings of blame and guilt, accepting the rules of cause and effect.  I am reminded through nature that things mature at a pace out of our control.  I can plant seeds, I can nurture them, but I don’t make the final call.  It’s out of my hands and the will of something much, much larger than myself!

SUP Yoga

The first time I ever stood on a stand up paddle board I knew that all of life’s lessons could be summed up into keep your head up, eyes forward, body relaxed, breath steady, mind clear, and when you fall off get right back on to enjoy the ride.  My attraction to the sun and outdoors, my practice of yoga combined with the instability of a solid surface to stand on has led me to the ultimate practice of being in the moment.  Doing yoga on a Stand Up Paddle Board slows time down like no other.  When the placement of your body has the immediate consequence of throwing you into water you become very aware of every subtle movement you make and cultivate so much presence.  You may think you have attained a certain level of balance on land and bringing that practice onto the water reminds us that life is unstable and all we can do is maneuver and correct to the best of our ability.

Attention to Breath

I have come to believe with some certainty that the space-time continuum is directly linked to the pace and attention of our breath.  I have never had this experience happen more so than when I’m frantically working in a restaurant and come to a point where I must pause for something (a drink at the bar, a guest to make up their mind, I wine to be delivered from a manager) and in that moment I stop and nothing matters but my breath and it’s like I’m transported into the eye of a storm or floating under water.  I become so engrossed in the ebb and flow and even what is more important in the space between inhale and exhale that I swear time ceases to exist at all, until I get what I happen to be waiting for and am launched right back into busy.  I practice using this breath technique whenever I need a quite moment away from the crazy.  The crazy that seems to exist in traffic, at work, on the computer, in relationships, or caring for others but really exists within our own personal struggle with being alive!

If you live in the Sacramento area, check in with Summer! You can find her teaching schedule at www.seasonsofsummer.com.

To become a Paddle Into Fitness Ambassador, join one of our teacher trainings this summer! Or you are welcome to submit your healthy SUP Yogi lifestyle blog posts to ambassador@paddleintofitness.com to become a part of our lovely community!