in defense of slow living


In the current incarnation of my hometown of San Francisco, we place a great deal of emphasis on innovation, moving forward, push, push (“oui, chef”), all the while fueled on some of the best coffee West of Genoa. As the expression goes, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”. This smug comment is such a perfect reflection of our values as a whole: get more done — faster, bigger, better. It’s no wonder that, after oil, coffee is the second largest commodity on the planet!

Yet as adults we should know well by now, trying to be productive while exhausted, goes against our instincts. My old mentor used to tout the benefits of slowing down our habits as the Autumn season approaches. In Asian aesthetics, we place a great deal of importance on the human being at one with the natural world. As the natural world slows down in season, we are to as well — and this will result in a healthier, more energetic year to follow. It’s not to say that modern nations adhere to this and that other continents do not have their roots in said philosophy, as well. Spend one summer traveling throughout European towns and the innate languid pace of taking one’s time -whether over a meal or simple family stroll-is animated before your eyes everywhere you turn. This ability to slow down and appreciate the mundane: people watching; a cup of tea; naps; resting in a chair with a soft gaze on your surroundings, should be prescribed by doctors to their patients.

Inemuri, “sleeping while present”, has been practiced in Japan for at least 1,000 years, and it is not restricted to the workplace. People may nap in department stores, cafes, restaurants or even a snug spot on a busy city sidewalk. Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

A recent article reminds us that sleep deprivation, among other things, contributes to Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. If you find it impossible to sneak a nap during the weekday, give yourself the gift of a couple rests — even for 20 small minutes — during your weekend. This may not make up for a frenetic week or one of sleep loss, but your body will thank you for it. My patients often ask me what are some things they can do to ‘be well’ or stay healthy? — there are many tips to impart and honestly, rest comes first. In classical Chinese medical theory, there is a biological and energetic relationship between the Liver, the eyes and rest. In short, when we allow ourselves proper rest -particularly in the form of naps or deep sleep-we benefit our most fundamental physiological make-up, such as blood and pre-natal energy or qi. So for your sake, take heart and make that great leap towards an appreciation for slowing down, breathing deep and possibly doing nothing, even if for a brief moment.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, tea time 1971

And remember: let go a little and be a little happy, let go a lot and be a lot happy!