Gentle Yoga: Why Slowing Down Your Yoga May Be Just What You Need

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Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished

Lao Tzu

In a world that is already moving fast and often proves to be demanding, do you want the same from your yoga practice?

While it is good to make progress, fine-tune alignment, and master that jump back, is it valuable to have a yoga ritual only approached from a state of achievement? Is the true intention of yoga cultivated only through incorporating vigorous movements?

There is a yogic concept that prana (energy) flows where the mind goes. Gentle Yoga develops a deeper connection and activation within the yoga postures directing the mind and energy to a one-pointed focus.

Gentle yoga postures are intended to be simple, so the practitioner can become absorbed within the poses, steadying the mind and becoming one with the practice. This union is where gentle yoga reveals its power.

In this article: 

  • What is Gentle Yoga?
  • 3 Styles of Gentle Yoga
  • Gentle Yoga, a Practice of its own
  • Attending or Teaching a Gentle Yoga Class
  • Origins of Gentle Yoga 
  • Benefits of Gentle Yoga
  • Why Slowing Down Your Yoga May Be Just What You Need

What is Gentle Yoga?

Gentle yoga practice creates harmony between the mind, body, and soul. It invokes awareness and understanding of the unity between the individual and universal consciousness.

This process begins when the practitioner initiates self-regulation and discernment within the gentle postures. In a gentle yoga sequence, you move slower; take time to feel the spaces in between the movements and linger in stillness. 

This pace allows time to pause and you to experience the divine unification that gentle yoga brings.

3 Styles of Gentle Yoga:

Various yoga styles inspire gentle yoga sequencing using approaches such as Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, or Chair Yoga which are all gentle in nature and offer their own unique perspective to a mindful routine. Originating from traditional Hatha Yoga, these practices emphasize breathing while engaging in yogasana (yoga postures).

#1: Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga explores seated and reclined postures that often are held for three to ten minutes a pose. This style is passive and incorporates props to unwind.

#2: Yin Yoga

Similarly, Yin Yoga poses are accessed from the floor and held for extended periods, but Yin Yoga focuses on stretching into the connective tissue and fascia. Props allow easing into a deeper position while remaining in the posture for the allocated time.

Both styles focus on the breath to invite release within the body and mind. They are energetically grounding practices and bring about a meditative quality.

#3: Chair Yoga

Chair Yoga uses the assistance of a chair either from a seated position or as a prop providing a means to access yoga poses and the breath from a place of stability. Engaging in a supported practice empowers a student and creates inclusion.

While there are many similarities within these gentle yoga offerings, the one element that stands out is the use of props to allow access to the physical and energetic aspects of the practice.

Gentle Yoga, a Practice of its own

Gentle Yoga is derived from the many diverse styles of Hatha Yoga; there is some variation among yoga studios and teachers regarding what is considered a gentle class.

As listed on most yoga studio schedules, Gentle Yoga is often a form of Hatha Yoga. This style of yoga class focuses on moving at a slower and lower impact pace.

Understanding the meaning of the word gentle can inspire the intention of your practice, as gentle yoga can mean something different to everyone, depending on the day and the occasion. Some consistent elements acknowledged within gentle yoga sequencing include honoring how you feel physically, emotionally, and energetically.

The awareness of these aspects of the Self becomes a part of the practice and allows the practitioner to set the tone and tempo that serves at that moment. Acknowledging these qualities while incorporating the foundational concepts of yoga is what makes gentle yoga a unique and personal experience.

Gentle yoga sequencing encourages remaining aware of how you feel throughout the practice. The breath is essential and assists in drawing the gaze inward, making gentle yoga a form of meditation.

Practicing yoga more gently awakens a sense of self-respect that holistically nourishes your whole being.

Attending or Teaching a Gentle Yoga Class

A Gentle Yoga Class is inclusive. Whether the class is being instructed from flowing standing postures or floor-based postures, it should always be accessible.

Individuals that attend gentle yoga classes are often beginners or seniors. Additionally, other students may be healing from injury or grief or want to move slower. Moving in a leisurely way allows time to link breath and movement both safely and sustainably.

A slower relationship with the postures also permits the integration of the physical aspects of gentle yoga with the energetic components of the practice. This idea calms the nervous system and aids to develops a clear and steady mind.

In addition to a slower pace, offering supportive variations of the yoga postures with props further expands this idea of inclusive practice. Pranayama (breathing) techniques encourage deeper and smoother breaths. The application of these yogic philosophies leads to the soothing tone of a gentle yoga class. 

How gentle Yoga came to be

This gentler approach to Hatha yoga practice developed over time with the help of several yoga teachers. Sri TKV Desikachar and his father Sri T. Krishnamacharya shared their approach through the development of ViniYoga. The duo adapted traditional yogasana to accommodate the needs of the student.

Sri T. Krishnamacharya is often referred to as the father of present-day yoga. He connected the value of these ancient methods and tools with their roles in modern everyday life.

B.K.S. Iyengar also contributed to the growth of Gentle Yoga. As a student of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, B.K.S. Iyengar developed his own form called Iyengar yoga. His method was based on precision, sequence, and the use of props. These ideas inspired other yoga teachers to form their own understanding of gentle yoga sequencing.

In the 1970s, Judith Lasater, an American student of B.K.S. Iyengar, developed the practice of restorative yoga to assist with healing from injuries and illness. Later on, in the 1980s, Paul Grilley began to teach Yin Yoga and was followed by Lakshmi Voelker who shared her approach to Chair Yoga. These early explorers of accessible forms of yoga helped establish the practices of gentle yoga classes we know today.

How would a Gentle Yoga Practice Benefit You?

A gentle yoga practice provides the space and freedom to be kind and loving to you. Through gentle yoga poses, the body gains strength and increased flexibility. Intentional breathing guides one to settle and be at ease within the yogasana.

Yoga philosophy calls this concept Sthira and Suhkham. Sthira is steady or stable, and Sukham is at peace or relaxed. These principles are essential to a gentle yoga practice. Without steadiness and ease, the relaxing essence of gentle practice is lost.

Gentle yoga assists with relieving stress from the physical and emotional bodies to promote healing. You become calmer and more clear-minded, promoting a greater sense of well-being. Through its accessibility, gentle yoga increases your range of motion while not pushing past your limits.

It teaches meeting yourself where you are, to challenge yourself mindfully. Sometimes gentle yoga can be mistaken for easy practice. While the movements may have simple progressions, the effort often arises from within the stillness.

We live in an overworked world, where slowing down is unfamiliar. A dedicated gentle yoga practice helps to counter society’s need to go faster. It takes the practitioner from the ideology of productivity and perfectionism to a mindset of peace. 

anwoman doing a restorative spinal gentle yoga pose

Why Slowing Down Your Yoga May Be Just What You Need

If you are showing up to your mat solely focused on working out, your yoga practice can leave you feeling exhausted. When asking too much from the physical asana, it can be draining and lead to getting hurt.

Slowing down your yoga sequences even once a week is physically and emotionally replenishing. This shift in the emphasis to gentler principles on the mat conserves energy. The mind is allowed to be at peace when energy is redirected to provide care. This creates the awareness of the mind-body connection and promotes clarity, so your true intentions are revealed.

A profound transformation takes place when you allow your practice to slow down. Whether that shows up by mastering posture alignment, jump back, or embracing being still, a deep connection and activation will transpire within and without.

Through the dedication of a gentle yoga practice, you become one with the Self and your environment. Gentle yoga is a coming home to yourself in a whole, complete and harmonious way. It promotes growth and balance, on and off your mat. As one of my yoga teachers so lovingly instilled in me, slow is fast. 

For inspiration to develop your own gentle yoga practice, check out the book Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, by Judith Hanson Lasater.

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Willow Marcotte is a Yoga Alliance 500 hour E-RYT with expertise in Yoga Nidra, Restorative Yoga, and alignment as taught by BKS Iyengar. Her journey in yoga began while studying Tibetan Buddhism and Meditation. A long-standing appreciation for philosophy and ancient texts, she found the path of yoga a welcoming, and natural progression of her personal interests. Willow invites students to dive into themselves, embracing balance not only on the mat, but in the yoga of life as well.

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