September 18, 2016 By
“I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”
—Bertrand Russell, from In Praise of Idleness
“Step onto your mat and out of your day,” the teacher sings out as she leads us through initial sun salutations. Her voice is cheerful, her instructions clear and confident, and all the students around me seem excited to be here. But I find myself growing agitated. With each passing forward bend, step-back, updog and downdog, I find myself feeling more and more frustrated and annoyed.
It isn’t until we stop and rest in mountain pose, my breath slowing and mind quieting, that I realize why. I was halfway through my inhalation when she told me to exhale. I was still exhaling when she told me to inhale. I was being directed toward a fast-paced breath at a time when I just wanted to slow down. I stepped out of my fast-paced day into an even faster-paced yoga class.
The rest of the class is more of the same: encouragement to move quickly and cheerfully from pose to pose, while I grumble to myself about the shortcomings of modern postural yoga.
The phrase ran over and over through my mind like a mantra. Sometimes I listened to that advice, breathing and moving at a rate that made sense to me. And sometimes I listened not to my breath but to the radiant teacher whose siren song of speedy vinyasa would draw me away from my leisurely flow.
Speed is the ideological fuel of industrialization. As the saying goes, time is money. As a result, saving time means saving money. In pre-industrial cultures not organized around money, time is organized differently. The Hopi language does not have verb tenses, which means there is no way to indicate or differentiate past from future. If your day were sequenced as a series of present moments that exist only now, moving quickly would be reserved for emergency situations only.
In the world’s transition to industrialization, the whole nature of time shifted dramatically. Rather than simply meeting basic needs (hunting, farming, foraging, etc.), work was organized in shifts and paid by the hour—with the most productive industries becoming the most profitable ones. And productivity meant getting things done fast.