What is Gentle Yoga?
Gentle Yoga is one term used by many to mean many things. Gentle Yoga can refer to a variety of types of yoga classes taught by teachers from various styles of yoga. In this era of the rapidly growing popularity of yoga, classes are springing up everywhere. If you are shopping around for a satisfying yoga class you’ll want to know whether you are going to fit in or be okay in a given class. Gentle Yoga is often considered easier, less intense, non-strenuous, minimalistic, quiet, meditative, or restorative. But these words that are intended to be descriptive can still seem broad and vague.
Generally speaking, gentle-style yoga classes attempt to serve a variety of distinct needs: people with movement limitations, or profound stiffness due to lack of activity; relief from disabilities and chronic conditions e.g., arthritis, back pain and other musculo-skeletal issues; recovery from surgery, illness or injury; for seniors, new practitioners, women who are pregnant and those seeking stress-reduction or weight management. A gentle yoga approach has even been found to be an important compliment in programs to reverse heart disease or provide relief from the challenging conditions of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, as well as mood disorders.
Gentle yoga classes are typically described as appropriate for those who want a softer, nurturing, slow-paced, well-supported and relaxing practice. The approach hopefully includes carefully orchestrated movements, controlled pressure, and well-measured stretches, including range of motion exercises. Postures may be approached in gradual steps, with plenty of time to focus on breathing and repetition so that the practice is simple to do and easy to remember. A gentle yoga style encourages a highly individualized approach to practice with on-going encouragement to make moment-to-moment adjustments.
The key to right teaching is in the adaptation of yoga to the individual, not the individual to yoga…the whole spectrum of yoga practice must be carefully adapted to the individual’s situation. Nothing can be forced. ~T.K.V. Desikachar
I came up in the Kripalu tradition of yoga in the seventies and eighties, certified in 1983, long before yoga hit the mainstream. Since the late 1980s, as a teacher trainer, I helped pioneer a shift at Kripalu Center from simply offering beginner and intermediate classes to offering three levels, based on the intensity of the class rather than length of experience alone. Since about 1991, the three levels of classes at Kripalu have been called gentle, moderate and vigorous.
The practice of yoga in America has evolved dramatically over the last twenty years. There has simultaneously been an increase in yoga classes specifically called Gentle Yoga. Although this distinction is still somewhat broadly defined, there are even Gentle Yoga Teacher Trainings and Gentle Yoga training modules now being offered in 500-hour advanced curriculums.
These classes intend to be inclusive rather than exclusive, an approach that has birthed the term accessible yoga. This is a style for people who don’t have the flexibility, coordination and strength which photos of yoga poses typically portray. In fact, many people find the so-called beginning practices of yoga way too advanced for them. They get discouraged, scared off, or never begin. Many people really think that they can’t do yoga. In response, accessible yoga classes attempt to meet yoga students “where they are.” An effective Gentle Yoga class then, provides a compassionate, non-competitive environment that is welcoming to all.
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