As I started to write this month’s blog about the difference between Gentle yoga and the yoga everyone thinks they know…i.e what they see on magazine covers. I found myself journeying down memory lane.
I took my first yoga class sometime in the late 70’s…. 1976 or maybe 1977. I was visiting my sister in Alabama where she was a graduate student, she took me to the university gym and we took a class. No yoga mats, no lulu lemon clothes. No blocks, bolster or blankets Oh My!
No jumping, no flipping your dog, no flow, no power and no heat.
The students used beach towels and old blankets and gym mats (you know the thick one’s gymnasts use).
(This is pretty much what classes looked like way back when. Street clothes and no sticky mats)
I was hooked. I loved it! And over the years I mostly learned from books and I practiced on my own.
As I grew older and married and began raising a family my practice fell away, as is the case for a lot of people. But during the mid 80’s after a long illness and all of life’s challenges I began to teach fitness classes. Aerobics!
Yes I wore head bands and scrunchy socks and played “lets get physical” by Olivia Newton John on my boom box. But I always added yoga in my workouts, Always!…… now jump ahead a few decades and trust me yoga looks very different. I started teaching full yoga classes in the late 90’s and in early 2001 I was teaching at a gym in Nashville. A flow class because that’s what everyone was teaching. That’s what everyone wanted in the gym. But my practice, my own personal practice, didn’t look anything like the power classes I taught. You see, that long illness I had in the 80’s never really went away. I have had many diagnoses from Fibromyalgia to MS. And most recently (about 10 years ago) a neuromuscular disorder.
I don’t really care about the name of my disorder because any way you spin it, it means I tire very easily and that my muscles spasm and ache and don’t always work like they should. Oh we could chock it up to age at this point in life and I have been told by well meaning friends, family and even Doctors that this is all part of the aging process. Really? Then I have been aging for as long as I can remember.
The point of saying all this is that I am a ‘spoonie’…. A spoonie is someone who struggles with chronic illness or chronic pain. The term spoonie was coined by Christine Miserandino who created the Spoon Theory. The theory provides an explanation about what life is like for anyone living with chronic illness/pain. Check out her explanation here
What does all this have to do with how Gentle Yoga is different that Magazine yoga? Well for starters the way I teach yoga, or fitness for that matter, grew out of my own experience with chronic fatigue and muscles spasms. Even when I was teaching High impact STEP classes and Power yoga classes I taught them differently because otherwise I simply could not do them.
Personally, I hate the term ‘Gentle Yoga’ it implies a practice that is less than… that you do it because you can’t do real yoga… I cry bullshit on that! But what else can describe the class in a way that separates it from it’s Power / Ashtanga cousin. A description that lets people know that here is a class you can do. How is Power Yoga the Real yoga anyway. It is simply one way to do yoga.
Don’t be mistaken, Gentle Yoga isn’t an easy class and it isn’t a beginner class either, it is simply a class that doesn’t have a heated room, it doesn’t have Jump backs or head stands. It doesn’t have hand stands or any pretzel poses. And it doesn’t always ‘Flow’. It is a class that makes sense to the body and it makes sense to the brain. It moves, perhaps more slowly, but it moves. And it moves far more deliberately than many other styles of yoga. What I mean by that is that it allows for a great deal of movement but interlaced with static poses and poses that protect joints and promote strength but gives the student choices for resting, modifying and changing poses so that their body can participate.
I started doing some research on what Gentle yoga was and I could list you all kind of benefits of gentle yoga and I could give you a stock definition of gentle yoga, no doubt written by someone more articulate than myself. But that’s not what I wanted to really write about, I guess I wanted to write about why gentle yoga is appealing to someone like myself.
You see someone in chronic pain or dealing with an on-going illness is often very frustrated with ‘regular’ classes, because some days they might be able to get through all the vinyasas and some days it’s all we can do to hang out in Childs pose. Also, yoga classes themselves are often taught by instructors that don’t know how to make the class accessible for everyone. Even I find it difficult to take public classes and I am often embarrassed that I can’t do everything that a yoga teacher should be able to do.
But a Gentle class (gotta come up with a better name!) is anything you want it to be. Anything you need it to be in any moment. Taught well a Gentle class will help ease pain, it will help you gain mobility and it will help you get stronger. And that extends off the mat too… well all yoga should extend off the mat. We’ve talked about that before haven’t we? Here and Here.
So in a nut shell the difference between Regular yoga and Gentle is …. Nothing… no real difference. They are both ‘Real’ Yoga, both styles help you make strength gains and changes in your body that are positive and both styles should also give you a better sense of yourself. They are simply two different approaches that help you bring yoga into your life.
That yoga class I took in the 70’s, well that is pretty much what my practice still looks like today. Simple but challenging, Gentle but never easy. Poses and movements done with an attention to the breath and stability more than linking them together and making it a dance.
What does your own practice look like? I really want to know.