Chances are that you tried to do something faster today-probably several times. Walked faster. Drove faster. Ate faster. Less likely was a conscious effort to do anything slower. Ever wonder why not?
The thought came to me during my weekly Tai-Chi class. As I focused on the carefully choreographed routine, I reflected back to a time, not long ago, when the slow pace of this “meditation in motion” seemed strange to me. A common reaction to the thought of doing anything especially slowly.
But the converse-fast action-is not a bit unusual. In fact, its the norm. Consider your reaction to watching a pedestrian zipping along through a crowd. He must be late for an appointment. And that driver tearing up the fast lane-must be rushing to the delivery of a baby…or at least a pizza.
Of course, there are lots of good reasons we need to move quickly during the day. But our bodies aren’t built for being all on all the time.
The inner workings of the heart provide us valuable insight into the need for modulation.
Like a puppet, the heart rate is operated by strings of nerves with opposing functions – sympathethetic and parasympathetic. Switching on the “sympathetic” nerve signals the heart rate to speed-up. In contrast, the “parasympathetic” branch acts applies the brakes to slow the pace. The scientific measure of these speed swings is called heart rate variability.
Only the sickest hearts have an unwavering cadence-an unflappable rate usually on the high side. A very constant heart rate is called dead regular for a reason-it foreshadows low survival.
In contrast, normal hearts have the highest heart rate variability. A true marvel of engineering, opposing nerves normally discharge a flurry of stimulating and suppressing forces that alternate as needed to speed and slow the heart. A finely tuned operation, the heart maintains the perfect tempo, appropriate to the situation.
The wide variation in heart rate is the signature of heart health – and perhaps can serve as a model for achieving the balance in pace of our daily lives needed for optimal health. Most people have no problem putting the fast action into practice: running out the door, gulping down lunch, and hightailing on the highway.
But returning to our original question, what do you intentionally do to move slower than usual? Eat slowly, walk slowly, meditate, or…even Tai Chi? It’s an interesting question to explore-and to consider as you go about your day.
Follow your heart and you’ll never go wrong.