In The Art of Slowing Down – A Sense-able Approach to Running Faster, author, martial artist and Feldenkrais Practitioner, Edward Yu, cultivates the realization that power, speed, and agility are more related to your ability to sense your body than to your willpower or talent. Running faster can, in this light, be seen as an issue of learning to become more sensible — that is, more “sense-able” through playful and systemic exploration of movement.
Drawing upon his practice of the Feldenkrais Method®, Bagua and Tai Chi, Yu offers 20 unique lessons to develop a clearer sense of yourself. As you continue to do the lessons regularly, you will begin to feel differences in your body that you may not have felt before, and you will rediscover a certain vibrancy that you long ago forgot existed inside of you. Each new feeling in your body will have the potential to make a profound impact not only in the way you run but in your posture, gait and the way you perform other sports and activities and indeed everything involving movement. Each new feeling, in short, will transform the way you live your life.
Author’s comment: “… to tell the truth, getting you to run faster is not the real reason I wrote this book. There’s something much deeper waiting for you between the pages. It exists in the pauses between sentences and in the wondering that will emerge between chapters. It’s the gift that you may long ago have forgotten about.”
Related Article: “Radically Transformative Running“
Table of Contents
Part I: Life (You may want to skip this part if you are in a hurry)
- Chapter 1: Running (and other things we want to get over with)
- Chapter 2: The Hurried Runner, a.k.a. “The Bulldozer”
- Chapter 3: What Does it Mean to “Slow Down”?
- Chapter 4: The Art of Learning: You Already Have Everything You Need
- Chapter 5: Intention
- Chapter 6: Have You Lost Your Senses?
- Chapter 7: To Be or Not To Be
Part II: Practical Matters
- Chapter 8: Imitation: Why Trying to Run Like an Olympian Keeps You From Running Like an Olympian
- Chapter 9: Who Turned Up the Gravity?
- Chapter 10: Following Instructions: Where Do My Knees Begin?
- Chapter 11: There Are No Shortcuts, No Secrets, No Magic Pills
- Chapter 12: Running With Your Rear End
- Chapter 13: Running With Both Ends
- Chapter 14: Running With Shoes
Part III: More Life (Skip this part if you are still in a hurry)
- Chapter 15: Compulsion
- Chapter 16: Fear
- Chapter 17: Certainty
- Epilogue: The Rest of Your Life (definitely skip this part if you haven’t slowed down yet)
- Appendix I: The Feldenkrais Method
- Appendix II: Lessons
Fewer than 24 hours after my formal induction into the Masters’ century-old Bagua lineage, I encountered my first reality check. I had just begun practicing when I heard Master Ge’s cannon voice reverberating through the park where all the students had gathered that evening.
“That was completely terrible!” he shouted in a tone so filled with disgust that it was as if someone had insulted his entire family.
Somebody is really screwing up, I chuckled to myself as I continued my practice.
“Completely terrible!” Master Ge repeated.
I had never heard him this angry before and felt relieved that I had always been on his good side. Momentarily I imagined Master Ge as a great army general, commanding his troops with incredible tenacity and verve during the heat of the battle. I could hear his voice roaring like a howitzer over the cacophony of exploding gunpowder.
“Terrible!” he repeated a third time.
I wondered how Master Ge’s decibel rating would compare to that of an idling metro bus. Obviously, somebody wasn’t getting his point, though I didn’t immediately see who since I was several meters away, busily racing through the form. As usual, I was in a hurry to finish up because I wanted to catch the last call at my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant down the street. The thought of steamed buns was suddenly making my mouth water.
I would bet on Master Ge over the bus. Then nothing but a silence so eerie I couldn’t resist turning to see what all the commotion had been about.
A momentary glimpse was all I needed to realize that somebody had been insulting his family—the family of Bagua masters who had carried the art through seven generations all the way down to the present moment. Seeing Master Ge squared off like an angry bull, ready to charge in my direction, I felt an instant jolt of both horror and utter disbelief.
As he brushed me aside and proceeded to mimic what seemed at once to be an exaggerated, yet oddly accurate rendition of my movements, I realized my insult. When the masters demonstrate the correct movement and then mimic yours, it’s like being handed plastic flowers after having just returned from the botanical garden. My form was indeed a cheap imitation, not simply because I was a relative beginner with thousands of hours of training ahead of me, but moreover, because my distraction and lack of enthusiasm had evidently showed. Master Ge had caught me going through the motions, and now that I was representing his lineage, he had no patience for mediocrity.
At the tender age of 32, Master Ge’s yelling marked the beginning of a 6-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week training regimen, during which I was to discover for the first time in my life what it means to have your heart and mindfully involved. On a cool spring evening in the industrial city of Tianjin, China, I was discovering what it means, in other words, to learn.
How to Read this Book
“Try to forget everything you’ve learned as an adult—the things that limit your view of the world, your fears, your prejudices, your preconceptions. Try to rediscover what it is like to be a child with a sense of wonder, and innocence. And don’t forget to laugh. Remember, children are strong, they are resilient, they are designed to survive. When you drop them, they tend to bounce.”
– Terry Gilliam
For those of you who are in a hurry to improve your running and don’t have time to go through the philosophy and methodology contained in this book, please skip “Life,” “More Life” and “The Rest of Your Life” — that is, Part I, Part III and the Epilogue. I suggest you read Part II (“Practical Matters”), or simply go straight to the lessons. There are 20 of them located in Appendix II.
As you continue to do the lessons regularly, you will begin to feel differences in your body that you may not have felt before, and you will rediscover a certain vibrancy that you long ago forgot existed inside of you. Each new feeling in your body will have the potential to make a profound impact not only in the way you run but in your posture, in your gait, in the way you perform other activities — indeed, in everything involving movement. Each new feeling will, in short, begin to transform the way you live your life.
Some of you will discover that rather than living life, you’ve been trying to get it over with — as if living were more of a chore than a journey to be experienced fully, deep down inside of yourself. In this discovery, you will realize that living itself is not the chore, but rather hurrying through life — what I call “not quite living” — that makes our days seem harried and senseless.
For those of you with enough time for the main body of text, be playful — for it is in play that we learn the most. Skip pages and even chapters (I often do when reading books), or start at the end of the book and go backward if you want. Most of all, please slow down and take your time. I hope you will savor the newfound feelings and sensations in your body that come from doing each lesson the way you might savor the sunset, a good piece of chocolate, or perhaps a fine wine. This way you will do three things at once. First, you will actually enjoy yourself. Second, you will learn more. And third, by enjoying and learning more, your running will improve faster. Yes, you read it correctly: by slowing down and enjoying yourself, you will run faster, and — or in other words, you will also improve more rapidly. Conversely, if you plow through the lessons as if they were something to get out of the way, you will not only enjoy them less, but you will improve less — if you improve at all. Going too fast, in other words, will slow you down by hindering your learning.
But to tell the truth, getting you to run faster is not the real reason I wrote this book. There’s something much deeper waiting for you between the pages. It exists in the pauses between sentences and in the wondering that will emerge between chapters. It’s the gift that you may long ago have forgotten about.
“Was it possible that modern man might forget his relationship with the rest of the natural world to such a degree that he separated himself from his own heartbeat, wrote poetry only in tune with machines, and was irrevocably cut off from his own heart?”
– Margaret Mead
I began writing this book in the midst of teaching running classes where instead of showing students how to run, I had them roll around on the floor in slow motion. I mean this quite literally: In my classes, students roll around on the floor. And while they are rolling around, they are encouraged to listen to their bodies. That’s all. Simply listen.
The funny thing is that when you begin to listen, you start to hear things you haven’t heard in a long time, sometimes things that even seem very foreign. It’s not that your hearing has been deficient all these years, but more likely that you haven’t taken the time to hear. You see, hearing takes time. And listening means giving yourself the time to hear.
What the students heard came from a place deep inside themselves. Voices that had been shut out for a long, long time. Voices that if heeded could put them on a new path for living — a path toward greater power, coordination, balance, flexibility, and pleasure. What students were hearing was the beating of their own heart.
My Not-Quite-Life as a Runner
I myself am not a runner, though I ran track and cross country in high school and even completed a couple triathlons before turning 20. The funny thing is, now that I no longer train for the sport, I can run faster and with much greater power and ease than when I was 25 years younger and running several miles a day. Now that I take my time to roll around on the floor, I have discovered that life arrives when I slow down. It is counterintuitive that speed, power, balance, and coordination can all be linked to slowing down rather than speeding up. How could this be?
What I’ve discovered in the years since I stopped running is that power does not result from muscling your way through the “no pain, no gain” sort of approach, but rather by taking your time to listen to what your body is telling you. You actually have to slow down in order to simply hear what your body is saying. There’s really no other way.
Your body is speaking constantly. And the biggest difference between the great Olympic runners and the rest of us is not that they are somehow genetically superior, bench press more weight, or have more willpower — it’s that they actually hear their bodies. Their hearing is so acute that they often notice the slightest whispers. We teenagers and adults, on the other hand, miss a great deal of what our bodies are saying and truthfully, we only stop to listen when we can no longer ignore our body’s screaming, as in the case of an injury. Anything less and we claim not to hear it. But the truth is, we can’t hear because we don’t listen. We’ve become caught in a vicious cycle of not listening, thereby corrupting the sensitivity of our hearing.
Imagine going to heavy metal concerts every weekend and standing right next to the loudest speakers. Eventually, you will lose the ability to make fine distinctions in sound. You will begin turning the volume on your own stereo higher and higher just to be able to distinguish what you once could effortlessly.
Life for most of us has been some measure of attending heavy metal concerts. The stresses of everyday life have become the noise that blocks out the sounds coming from our bodies. The noisy thoughts in our heads telling us to go faster, work harder, be smarter, look more attractive, be more obedient, be more rebellious, wear this kind of clothing, drive that kind of car, work this kind of job…all of it plays like the blaring speakers in a concert. We have gotten to the point where we can no longer hear ourselves. In fact, we have given up even listening, by which I mean we have given up listening to our deepest sensations and feelings. We have, in other words, become numb to our own hearts. They go on beating nonetheless, and we go on living, of course, but in a perfunctory way, as if life were something to be endured and survived. We do our best to “kill time” and “get it over with” and in the process, we unwittingly drag ourselves through the prolonged torture of getting through life rather than living it.
Yet through all this, our hearts continue to speak to us. After all these years they haven’t forsaken us, but continue to wait for us hoping one day to be heard. In a sense, they have always been there to guide us to what we once knew. If you follow your heart, you will end up with more than you could ever imagine. But to know what your heart wants, you have to start listening.
Why Start on the Floor?
The reason I often have my students start on the floor is because it reduces the number of distractions bombarding their nervous system. Notice how talking on the phone while driving changes the way you drive. Talking tends to distract you and in the process, your driving suffers.
Each distraction to the nervous system occupies part of your mind, leaving less of it to pay attention to what you want to pay attention to. Getting off your feet frees up the part of your mind that keeps you upright when you’re sitting or standing and allows you to pay much more attention to what you’re doing. It’s like turning down the volume of your stereo so that you can hear the wind blowing outside. In this case what you start to “hear” is the amount of effort you’re exerting and the amount of discomfort or comfort you feel. When there is too much noise you can’t sense subtle gradations in either effort or discomfort. Everything is either loud enough to hear over the noise, or you don’t notice it. It’s why people don’t whisper at rock concerts. And it’s why many of us have damaged our bodies over the years without even realizing we were doing so. We have turned the volume up so high that we can’t hear our bodies speaking. Some of us don’t take notice until finally, we’ve herniated a disc, torn ligaments, developed a debilitating physical condition, or collapsed from depression.
Making Sense of Life
The disciplines that have been instrumental in showing me the power of slowing down are the Feldenkrais Method — an ingenious method of learning how to learn — and the timeless Chinese martial arts of Bagua and Taichi. All three involve paying close attention to the sensations and feelings in your body so that you begin to notice how different parts of yourself can work cooperatively rather than in opposition. What we don’t realize is that for the most part, we are not working in a unified, cooperative way with our own selves. This means that some parts of us are actually fighting against other parts. It is an internal battle of which we are largely unaware, and the result can be anything from physical pain and injury to those disconcerting moments when something doesn’t feel quite right but you can’t put your finger on it. It can be subtle, like a barely noticeable tightness in your chest, or it can bear down on you and feel as if sandbags have been draped over your shoulders.
Improving sensory awareness is like dropping the sandbags, so to speak, thereby allowing you to move with more precision and power, which in turn can lead to profound improvements in the way you run. More importantly, improving awareness can lead to greater enjoyment of the activity of running itself.