Life in the Slower Lane

Originally published in the Stillwater Gazette

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” —Mohandas K. Gandhi

We are all encouraged to pack a lot of productivity into our days. I have a vivid memory of my mom constantly pulling weeds. She couldn’t help herself. Productivity was and is important. This got passed on! I’m extremely grateful for this gift from my parents. With the practice of this throughout the years, I’ve gotten really good at being productive and busy, but I’m not so good at slowing things down. I haven’t trained myself to sit, breathe and relax as much as I should.

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our fight or flight response, super important to our survival. Think of it as your foot on the gas pedal. The sympathetic nervous system corresponds, and is complementary to, the parasympathetic nervous system, which stimulates systems in the body that we don’t necessarily control: blinking, digestion, etc. Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system will lower your sense of stress, help with digestion and build your immune system. Both need to be balanced in order for us to be well.

If we put as much effort into developing our parasympathetic nervous system as we put into our sympathetic nervous system, then we are good to go! But most of us run all day, have a hard core workout, and then wonder why we have upset stomachs or can’t sleep. And while I love a hard core workout as much as the next person, we aren’t designed to do only just that. We need to feed both sides in order to be healthy, calm and energetic.

Give Yourself Some “Car Lengths”

My husband and I were driving home the other day on Highway 36, and I remembered the rule of leaving a car length between you and the car in front of you for every 10 mph you are traveling. If we tailgate, we have no time to react to a sudden change in traffic. I saw this as a powerful metaphor. We all need to leave enough room in our lives so that we can pause, or at the very least, give ourselves the chance to react to the moment at hand. Leaving enough space in our life, both metaphorically and physically, in order to respond to unexpected events, is hugely important to our long term health and well being.

What does all this have to do with fitness? Actually, more than you would think. There are so many people who are so time crunched that when they finally have the time to exercise, they want to make it count. So they push hard and put in a sweat drenched, achingly hard work out. They might lift a lot of weight or put in tons of cardio in order to feel like they are making the most of their time. I agree, that is definitely satisfying and I like to occasionally partake. But part of athletic training is also working on things such as visual and balance drills and other sports specific training. Olympic athletes or pro golfers don’t spend all of their time swinging a club or running, they also spend a great deal of time working on specific drills that aren’t necessarily hard on their body, but get them just as much of a payout.

So, rather than just moving heavy things and doing random speed training, we need to specifically train for those things we want to enhance, such as reaction time, speed, agility, etc.

Take the OODA Loop

By the way, when I do specific speed training, it helps me increase my number of “car lengths,” thus giving me more time to make decisions (see a couple of columns ago where I referred to the OODA Loop). We need to take time to develop skill sets in order to buy us space: dynamic joint mobility, breathing techniques, balance and visual drills, etc. Folks that ignore these things, because they don’t seem quite as important or as productive, will most likely find out at some point that it may have benefited them to have a more well-rounded skill set.

I met with a client recently who mentioned he is tired of the pattern of starting a workout program, only to get hurt, which sets him further behind from where he started in the first place. After having this experience, and growing weary of repeating it over and over, he has decided it is worth taking it slower, particularly in the beginning, to grow his skill set in order to avoid injury and actually make progress!

It never hurts to evaluate where we are at with regard to our current skill sets. Constant reevaluation and reconsideration is imperative to moving forward in the direction we want to go.