Doing rather than Being is too often the emphasis of our yoga practice (and our lives). Incorporating gentle yoga into our practice is important on many levels. Take a look at some of the reasons why …
For those of us who gravitate towards a strong and dynamic yoga practice, sometimes we need – though we may not want! – something a little more soothing, to help us regroup and reground; to reconnect with our breath and clear some space in our mind.
Doing more, Being less
In the West, the emphasis is generally on Doing. Most of us learn that it’s important to be ‘successful’ (whatever that means!), we must ‘achieve’, be productive, go faster, work harder, make more money, be better, get stronger, compete, compare and above all, keep busy… This frenetic pace of life can often be transferred onto our yoga mat.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with challenging, dynamic yoga – it can help us increase our strength and stamina, improve our flexibility, along with encouraging us to face some of our psychological fears…. Headstand in the middle of the room, anyone?
It’s when we find ourselves only being able to ‘relax’ after doing a very dynamic practice, or when we find ourselves habitually resisting – manifested perhaps by irritation in the mind or even avoiding altogether – a gentle, slower-paced practice, that we may need to look a little deeper.
Running away from the mind
I was guilty of this for years. I tricked myself into thinking that by doing yoga, I was giving my body something back after the toll that too much running, cycling, swimming, gym-going etc took out of me. One day, on my mat, I had an epiphany – I realised I was doing just as much pushing and punishing on the mat as I did off the mat. I was only able to relax my mind when my body was physically exhausted. I remember this moment very clearly. It was the moment my ‘true’ yoga practice began.
A moving meditation
There’s no doubt we gain innumerable physical benefits when we practise yoga regularly; however, yoga is not solely a physical exercise but a moving meditation. As Erich Schiffmann so beautifully puts it:
Sometimes we just need to move at the speed our bodies want to move at, not at the speed dictated by our minds. And to really connect with how we are feeling physically and emotionally, to notice the movement of our breath in our body, to get out of our own way … sometimes we just need to slow down.
Benefits of gentle yoga
- Like other forms of yoga, gentle yoga can develop flexibility, strengthen the body and help to relieve stress
- As we move and and out of each posture more mindfully and slowly, this helps to protect the joints, muscles and connective tissues so we are at less risk of injury
- Gentle, rhythmic movement can help to soothe and calm the nervous system
- It can deepen self-awareness, inviting us to pay close attention to how we’re really feeling – physically and emotionally
- It gives our body a well-needed break if we naturally veer towards a dynamic practice
- It gives us breathing space – literally and metaphorically – to connect with our breath and ‘clean the mirror’ of our mind
- Done in the evening, it can help us to sleep more deeply
Be kind to yourself
If you recognise the tendency to push yourself by overriding what your body is telling you, or if you feel you have lost connection to your body or your breath, or even to the reason you practise yoga in the first place, then it can be very beneficial to practise at a slower pace. I can personally vouch for it; the benefits will stay with you much longer than the buzz of a handstand!
For EkhartYoga members
Here are five suggested classes with the emphasis on gentle:
1. Move and pause with Esther Ekhart – for those times when you know you need to slow down, but you don’t know where to start. With both flow and Yin, one after the other, throughout the class.
2. Gentle Flow with Anat Geiger – give your whole body a gentle buzz of energy and optimism. Mobilize your hips, lower back, upper back, shoulders and get those legs going too!
3. Get grounded with Irina Verwer – in need of a sweet, gentle and very grounding practice? Here you go! A Vata Dosha class that will give you a sense of strength, grounding and warmth.
4. Sports casual with James Reeves – a soft Vinyasa practice with a difference: letting go of details, precision and alignment in favour of listening, feeling and being with your body as it is.
5. Slow down and explore with Julie Martin – slowing down to really feel through shapes and the options available – like one long body massage.