Turning Down the Speed

Have you ever seen someone:
  • run a meditative labyrinth?
  • bounce their leg while sitting in a meditation class?
  • practice mindfulness while twirling their hair or cracking their knuckles?
  • blowing bubbles with bubble gum while in yoga?
Probably not because these practices are used to slow the internal processes and when things slow down, one becomes calmer and more present.
But trauma has its own internal speed and there’s only one speed left to its own device – FAST.
Thoughts, feelings, heart rate, and external movements want to go fast. Not because you want to, but because that’s how trauma works. Thoughts are like a pin ball machine, pinging and then ponging, hitting this bumper then the next which makes the mind think of something else, then more pinging and ponging. With each thought, a feeling emerges only to rapidly change in a flash with the next thought. Soon the body is keeping up with the thoughts and feelings, and the heart is racing, the body is tense or sweating, and the stomach is in knots.
You are moving rapidly, hurrying to drive, rushing through paperwork, or gulping food you don’t taste. You flip and flop in bed, bounce your leg under your desk at work, and look like you are doing some sort of 90’s robotic dance when simply walking—because trauma speeds everything up. And before long, it’s automatic and it is just how things are without you ever becoming aware how much things have sped up internally. It’s why trauma is an anxiety disorder.
Intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and cognitive dissonance are all rapid internal experiences that run through the gamut of thoughts, feelings, and images, causing the speeding up of the body from heart rate to behavior. It sets off fight/flight patterns where the entire mind and body are activated.
It’s why I don’t think self-regulation is even possible without great attention to practicing counter measures to help the body remember how to be calm again. Meditation, mindfulness, breathing, grounding, and yoga are ways that help the body remember how to regulate itself again and to not be reactive to thoughts, feelings, memories, and the temptation to allow the internal experiences to speed up.
So, in many ways, self-care and a gentle life is self-regulation with attention brought to your daily routine.
The natural inclination is for your mind speed to match your external speed. So, if you are walking fast, or shuffling papers like a whirl wind, if you are vacuuming like a mad woman, or driving fast and erratic, your mind will speed up to match your external movements. It’s why people don’t run through a labyrinth. They slow down their external movement, moving slowly through the path so that the mind slows down to keep pace with every mindfully placed step. It’s why the processional in a church service of priests coming down the aisle aren’t skipping, or yoga isn’t done like cardio. The goal of meditation isn’t to see how fast you can get it done or mindfulness done as a marathon with the best time noted.
The healing of any of the meditative arts whether it be yoga or breathing, prayer or a labyrinth lies in the magic that it makes us slow down our body. And when we slow our body, our mind slows down and suddenly we notice we feel something…more centered, more aware, more peaceful, and present. Anytime we are presently aware, we feel more peaceful because peace is only available in this moment, in the now. When we are slow and aware, there are no intrusive thoughts of the future and no flashbacks of the past.
The present moment is a state of being self-regulated.
But to enter that, we have to slow down or completely stop. It is no wonder the practices we tend to find peacefulness in are the practices that require us to slow down—praying, kneeling, meditating, holding a yoga pose, sitting mindfully in nature, and meditative labyrinths. The act of slowing the body through a ritual or just intentionally slowing how you vacuum both have the ability to slow your mind and respiration, triggering the brain to calm the fight/flight.
On the other hand, the quicker you move throughout your day sends signals to your body that you are rushed so it helps you out with a glug of adrenaline and a splash of cortisol. That sends a message to breath like you are working out which is almost like panting—shallow and from the chest. Shallow breathing is how we breath when we are panicked or afraid, so it tells the brain that you ARE panicked—another glug of adrenaline.
Adrenaline makes you move faster, and the faster you move the more the mind/body thinks you are in danger and gives off more adrenaline. It’s a vicious cycle until you slow down to break the cycle by moving slowly so the brain slows down, by breathing deeply instead of panic panting. It all begins by doing one thing: slow down your body so it slows down your mind.
When else is the body slow? Oh yeah, naps. Sipping tea, reading a book, holding a child, petting a dog. Buddhist monks wash dishes by hand to slowly wipe each plate and gently rinse, feeling the warmth of the water. Walking from room to room is done as if they are in a labyrinth. Food is eaten as if it is the eucharist. A bell is rung as if it’s a symphony. A scent is smelled as if it’s a baby. A car is driven as if performing heart surgery.

Self-regulation will not happen until you slow how you move in the world. Then you may find meditation, mindfulness and yoga more do-able.