What is Gentle Yoga? (From a Student’s Perspective)

Over the years, I’ve run into two bold stereotypes about yoga. Either you’re a human pretzel who mysteriously contorts the body, or you sit on a mat and chant into a cloud of patchouli incense.

Both are extremes, but could pop up at a yoga studio near you.

The type of yoga I do falls somewhere in the middle of that wild spectrum. Often, you’ll hear me chatting on my social media feeds about heading out to a gentle yoga class, but you might not know what exactly I’m doing with that hour of my time.

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Well, let me share!

First off, the goal of most gentle yoga classes is to relax both the mind and the body. We do this by releasing tension through meditation, physical movement, stretching and intentional mindfulness.

Sure, it’s exercise, but it’s very slow and…gentle!

Over the past four years I’ve taken gentle yoga classes with six or seven different instructors. Each teacher brings their own vibe and sequence of poses to the mat. Some focus more on the meditative aspects, while others flow right into movement. But, in all of the gentle yoga classes I’ve attended, there are common factors.

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1. A slow pace is set.

When moving from one pose to the next, we’re usually encouraged to linger and move organically in response to what feels good for our bodies. Sometimes I move a bit side to side in cat-cow or use varying hand and arm positions in child’s pose, depending on what feels right in that moment.

2. Poses are held longer.

If you’ve tried a vinyasa, or flowing, yoga class you know that you keep moving, usually to the pace of your inhales and exhales, the music or an instructor’s cues. In gentle yoga, we often linger in a pose for multiple breaths and use props like blocks or bolsters to feel supported. (Here’s my fav bolster. Firm and cute!)

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3. We stay grounded.

Many of the classes I’ve attended focus on seated, grounding poses to start and/or finish the class. This means you’re moving at floor level for multiple poses, then doing a series of standing poses, and wrapping things up back down on your mat. This progression, with less alternating between standing and sitting, is great if you have sore knees or trouble getting up and down.

4. Quiet moments happen.

It’s not uncommon for a gentle yoga class to start with a short five-minute meditation to help students mentally arrive in the space, leaving their to-do list at the door. This helps the mind relax, so you can focus on uniting your breath and movement. We also close with Shavasana, an intentional quiet moment of relaxation.

5. We breathe a lot.

This may sound silly, but there’s more than one way to breathe. In gentle yoga class we sometimes focus on increasing the length of our exhales, or even balancing the inhales and exhales. We work to really oxygenate the blood and refresh our bodies, all through the magic of breath work.

On the flip side, you won’t find vigorous cardio-intense flows from one pose to the next or unsupported inversions, like headstands. If that’s the type of yoga class you crave, look for one with “power”, “sculpt” or “vinyasa” in the title. Or, try an Ashtanga class!

Do you have questions about gentle yoga? Feel free to ask me in the comments below and I’m happy to answer from the student perspective.

Until next time,
Choose healthy!

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