Healthy Living: Yield to Oncoming Traffic

By Erin Ehsani
Friday August 10, 2007

Yes, you’re losing grip.” This is how my acupuncturist, Bronwyn, responded to my complaint of an increasing numbness in my right arm that was hampering my ability to maintain grasp. I could barely write a sentence without losing hold of the pen, my hand creating unintentional squiggly lines because I refused to let go. Ha ha body. I get it. Damn metaphorical translations. 

I sought acupuncture treatment for a long list of physical ailments that were slowing me down, annoyed it cut into my productivity. I went weekly trying to master the recommendations to aid my digestion, increase energy and restore homeostasis. Yet seemingly for all my efforts I continued to spiral downward. My body was responding to years of accumulated stress by rebelling in the only way that could get my attention.  

The divine yield sign emerged as I stuck my tongue out and outstretched my arms for diagnosis. Bronwyn took my hand with tender compassion, “No amount of herbs or needles will help until you learn to slow down.” 

What does “slow down” mean to a recovering perfectionist whose yardstick of success measured tangible achievement? I thrived on a full plate, gluttonously helping myself to more by over-scheduling, multi-tasking, and setting goals to pacify the nagging voice masquerading as motivation.  

I thought I left the hamster wheel years ago only to find this time I was just running in the opposite direction. Pedaling furiously to yoga class. Inhaling my slow food. Reading about being present. It wasn’t just tree pose I couldn’t balance. 

Still I was haunted by memories of my generously proportioned childhood pet hamster. I’d arrive home from school eager to see a show of fun hamster antics only to find Bob stationed in a corner motionless, the wheel gathering dust. We called him lazy. Maybe he was meditating. 

Years later I let the sun stream in through my bedroom window where Duke and I lay unfolding to a gentle wakefulness. During the night he’d find the crook of my legs and position himself in a ball against the back of my knees. I could feel his warmth and staccato heartbeat keeping rhythm with my own along with the twitches and muffled barks of his dreams. I’d lie there knowing even a subtle movement would break the moment and we’d both have to get up to pee. My ex-husband chided us as lazy. I blamed it on Duke. 

My monkey mind equated slowing down with lazy—afraid if I stopped moving I might miss an opportunity and my life would tumble over like dominoes. Never mind the lost years I spent on the fast track where life passed in a blur. I can’t recall anything significant because blinders shut out the world around me. Some days I entertain offering a reward for anyone who can locate the missing years. 

If Lazy is that loner cousin you avoid at family reunions then Selfish is his crazy uncle. The two are related. I was scared to invite either of them over, fearing others would judge me by my relatives. How could I justify rest? How would I say no? Sucked in by the cultural undertow that values productivity over self-nurturance and defines worth by what you “do,” I was beaten against the rocks. Swimming in the mainstream only led me to a whirlpool of depression. Fortunately I saw the lighthouse guiding me back to shore. 

Bronwyn inserts the last needle and steps out while my body works to recover its chi. Slow down. I fantasize about retreating to a cabin in the woods or a beach hut on the edge of civilization. There would be no agenda except to meet my basic needs. There would be no questions, goal setting, or networking—just being. I let my body intuitively lead me to sleep, wake, and eat. I bask in the sun, smell the rain, and tune into nature’s symphony. Maybe I cry or laugh out loud or find out what happens when I sit absolutely still. 

Ah, but somewhere a bell sounds and I am prostrate and pin-cushioned in a small office. I’ve got rent, work, and life happening in the present. The challenge is to be here now—but to slow down enough to know I am alive. I’ve been floating along like a balloon, my head detached from my body lost in thoughts powered by over-analyzing and worry. Now it’s time to let the air out in a long breath and drift towards the ground. 

Slowing down isn’t another to-do item on a list—it’s a commitment to engage in living. It’s both a process and a practice. To suddenly put on the brakes may result in a collision. For now, I’m just trying to yield to oncoming traffic and heed the signs along the path. 


Erin Ehsani is a Berkeley freelance writer and traveler trying to decide what exit to take next—slowly.