Introducing Gentle Yoga

October 3, 2020
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People doing a low lunge

Photo by Sriyoga Ashram

Starting Monday, October 5, I will be teaching a new "Gentle Yoga" class (online) through Spirit of the Lake every Monday and Wednesday at 8:00am Central. I hope you consider joining us!

Although a gentle yoga class might be exactly what it sounds like, the phrase "gentle yoga" can refer to a wide variety of activities. Gentle yoga is not necessarily even a "style" of yoga. Rather, gentle yoga is a modern approach to yoga, and in this article I will offer some ideas about what to expect in a gentle yoga class.

A gentle yoga practice cultivates kindness and compassion toward the body. This form of yoga is not simply yoga sculpt without weights, a slower kind of power yoga, or goat yoga with gentler goats. Compassion toward the body requires mindfulness of the body. Practicing gentle yoga means giving attention to the physical sensations in the body and recognizing discomfort. On some days, observing the body and listening to its signals leads to performing a modified version of a posture or not going as deep. More often than not, gentle yoga classes move at a slower pace and do not necessarily synchronize breath with movement in the same way that Vinyasa classes do. A gentle yoga class will probably have fewer total postures than one finds in more energetic classes.

Sometimes gentle yoga is therapeutic and can help with conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis. For example, the low-impact, weight-bearing exercises (asanas) taught in a yoga class can help people with arthritis or multiple sclerosis when those exercises strengthen muscles. Forms of gentle yoga that include a meditative component (dhyana) can offer pain relief by shifting the focus away from pain to something else, such as the breath (pranayama) or other bodily sensations. Generally speaking, yoga teachers certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) offer explicitly "therapeutic" gentle yoga classes, but yoga teachers certified by the Yoga Alliance (like me) are not allowed to use words like "therapeutic" or "healing" to describe their classes (J. Brown's recent interview with Dr. Amy Wheeler, the President of the Board of Directors at the IAYT, provides helpful background on this distinction).

Often gentle yoga incorporates props — such as blocks, blankets, a belt, chair, or the wall — to encourage proper alignment and reduce the risk of injury. Props can facilitate holding asanas longer or without strain. Props might help relax the body, much as they do in restorative yoga, yin yoga, and yoga nidra. But even in a gentle yoga class with props, expect to find more movement than in a restorative class (where postures can be held 15-20 minutes). That said, not everyone owns props and they get used less in online yoga classes.

Gentle yoga is intended to be an inclusive practice, accessible to anyone, regardless of age, ability, size, or background. However, not everyone will like gentle yoga. People looking for a vigorous workout, for instance, will not likely enjoy the slow, mindful pace of gentle yoga. But the low-intensity, non-competitive approach does not necessarily mean it will be easy, and a gentler practice can still lead to increased strength, flexibility, balance, and countless other benefits. Gentle yoga can feel incredibly restorative and calming. Nobody can predict the kinds of benefits or the extent to which gentle yoga will affect their life without actually practicing it for a while and paying attention to changes.

If you would like to find out how gentle yoga affects you, or if you have been practicing yoga for decades and simply enjoy gentle yoga, I hope you will join us on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8am.



References

Brown, J. Interview with Amy Wheeler. "Satvic Purpose and Professional Survival." J. Brown Yoga Talks Podcast. July 27, 2020.

Lasater, Judith Hanson. Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. Berkeley, CA: Rodmell Press, 2011.

Sanford, Laurie. Gentle Yoga for Arthritis: A Safe and Easy Approach to Better Health and Well-Being through Yoga. Hobart, NY: Hatherleigh, 2014.

_____. Gentle Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis: A Safe and Easy Approach to Better Health and Well-Being through Yoga. Hobart, N.Y: Hatherleigh Press, 2012.

_____. Gentle Yoga for Osteoporosis: A Safe and Easy Approach to Better Health and Well-Being through Yoga. Hobart, N.Y: Hatherleigh Press, 2011.

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