Why to Follow your Instinct to Slow Down

I returned from India over a week ago after a 21-day panchakarma detoxification, and I realize now I am still engaged in the deep, subtle process of this revitalizing treatment. While I tried to immediately slide back into the flow of my life, I feel I’ve been buffeted out of the main current, contained for the moment in my own little reflective eddy.

I had a marvelous time at Vaidyagrama Healing Village in southern India, a truly joyful post-pandemic reunion with my teachers and friends at this home-away-from-home. I am re-inspired by how life can feel, living in a simpler context with fewer intrusions from news, social media, and external expectations. It was lovely – and disorienting in the best of ways. 

Even though my quiet life at home is relatively simple, certain things felt notably easier there: the ability to connect with people and have genuine conversations, to stay focused on what matters deeply to me, and to respond to what my body and mind really need in a given moment. 

The moment I returned to my North Carolina home, I felt distanced from that ease of connection, both within and without. My energy and focus were dissipated. I felt tired earlier in the day, and I couldn’t follow through on tasks. The pull of the mindless internet and social media felt stronger, and I felt sensitive to everything I viewed, easily moved and tearful.

Such feelings may be predictable after panchakarma – the body needs time to rest and recuperate from the physical detoxification and removal of substances that, though toxic, provided stability. Mentally too, old thought patterns or subtle mental “waste” provides structure or habits of thought, and panchakarma can uproot those as well.  

And though I say it’s “predictable,” I realize now that I forgot to predict it! In my first days back, I kept hearing a nagging voice inside saying, “Why aren’t you back at it? Why haven’t you written those emails? Where’s your holiday shopping list? Why is it so hard to return phone calls?” 

After a few days at home feeling the pressure to jump back into the fray, instead I gave in to the urge to ease off the gas pedal and coast – though in actuality, it wasn’t so much a choice as simply an observation of what my system was already doing. I got tired and went to bed at 8pm. I avoided my To Do list. I watched the Full Moon come and go without writing this newsletter. I sat on the couch anchored by my cat on my lap. 

And meanwhile, my morning practice got fuller. East-to-west jet lag makes it easy to wake before the sun rises, and I’ve been sinking into the receptive internal quiet of the pre-dawn. Chanting, pranayama, a kind of unstructured yoga, and meditation return me to that place of inward focus and clarity.  

In addition to the necessary physical rest after detox, I’m registering the need for mental rest and the subtle processing that defies the intellect. The question arising in me is, how can I keep my focus on what really matters and prioritize my deeper needs in a life that is typically infused with distraction, speed, and complexity?

Intellectually, there is a growing appreciation for the immense value of “self-care” but many of us still struggle in its execution. What “counts” as self-care, how should it feel, and how much is enough? 

As my friend Jane said to me last week, “We may feel like self-care is just a rest stop on the highway of productivity. We think we’re not supposed to stay at that rest stop for long, because then we’re just lazy and indulgent. We’ve been trained that staying on the highway is the ‘right’ way and that the rest stop is the anomaly and at best should be temporary.” I think maybe I’m parked in the rest stop now and wandering in the adjacent wildflower field.

Today my self-care includes questioning – once I finally slip back into the flow of my life, how WILL I keep my focus on what really matters and prioritize my deeper needs? I will rest more, and I’ll protect the quiet spaciousness of my practice. And how will I quiet the nagging internalized voice that prods me to engage, consume, and produce all the time? With constant patient encouragement to resist.

I trust that digestion and integration of this panchakarma experience will happen in its own time. For now, it’s enough to hold these questions while floating in my eddy outside the main current. One welcome change I’ve observed in myself after a decade of living with Ayurveda is a growing sense of trust.

Trust remains the ultimate gift of this vast art of living  –  and it keeps getting stronger with practice. 

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