How to Teach Gentle Yoga


All yoga is based on hatha yoga. But there are so many distinctions -- hot yoga, power yoga, ashtanga, vinyasa -- that hatha has become synonymous with gentle yoga. When hatha yoga requires no strenuous athletic effort, and is slow, thoughtful, supported by props and designed to be therapeutic or restorative, it can safely be labeled "gentle." The approach and the practice of gentle yoga is different because the overriding concern is to release stress and quietly restore a sense of well-being. Gentle yoga could provide you with a thriving teaching practice. It could just as easily help you to heal yourself.

Service Strategy

  • Before setting up a class or practice teaching gentle yoga, determine which audience your sequences will be designed to serve. Restorative yoga is a popular end-of-week stress-buster when offered at a studio on Friday evening. Recovery from illness and rehabilitation from injury can be facilitated by a gentle yoga practice. Seniors restore range of motion, improve balance, lower anxiety and depression, and become stronger and more flexible with chair yoga or another gentle practice that isn't too taxing for limited abilities. A chill-out class for mixed abilities might feature relaxing music and dim lights. Post-surgical or limited mobility yoga might go better in a bright, cheerful space with good visibility and plenty of props. Tailor your yoga to the crowd you hope to attract.

Props for Props

  • Mild stretching gets the blood flowing to muscles and prepares the body for slow, supported poses. Ideally, a gentle yoga sequence uses blocks, bolsters, blankets or the wall -- whatever removes the effort and allows a deep settling into a pose. Stretches might include slow Mountain pose into an easy Standing Forward Bend; lying supine on a mat with a towel or bolster under the knees and practicing diaphragmatic breathing; or a variation of Revolved Abdomen pose in which you open arms to the side, draw the knees to the chest and drop them to right or left as you turn your head in the opposite direction, and then alternate. The objective is never to push into the pose. Rather it is to melt into the movement, savor it and then flow into the next pose. A good connector between different poses is Supported Child's pose, using a bolster under the torso to help loosen tension in the pelvis, back and hips.

Open Heart and Hips

  • Poses commonly encountered in gentle yoga class include those that expand the chest and target the heart area, and those that open the hips, a place where the body holds a lot of tension. Supported Bound Angle pose might use blocks, bolsters, a yoga strap to hold feet together, rolled blankets and light sandbags to cradle a student in the pose and encourage attention to breathing or a brief meditation. Bridge pose might be slowly repeated, lifting the hips and thighs toward the ceiling as the spine and soles of the feet remain planted on the mat, and then releasing. A Supported Bridge uses bolsters and rolled blankets under the lower back and hips so you don't even have to lift them. Legs up the Wall is an effortless lower body inversion with a folded blanket under the torso, and legs extended straight up and resting against a wall.

Seated Serenity

  • Chair yoga is a gentle practice for the mobility-compromised that also works to relieve tension when you've spent too long at your desk. Poses are supported by the chair, and you may add a blanket as seat cushion or a rolled towel to support the upper torso in a Forward Bend. Movements are as simple as a Spinal Twist holding the chair seat with both hands; a Head and Neck Stretch from side to side; or Leg Lifts, breathing in and out as you grip the chair seat, raise a straight leg and flex the foot, then lower the leg and alternate. Try a Seated Sun pose to boost circulation, loosen spine and hips and massage internal organs. Sit with feet flat on the floor, legs relaxed and knees apart. Raise your arms over your head as you inhale, look up and stretch. On the exhale, bend as far forward as is comfortable, letting your arms dangle toward the floor between your legs.

Sounds and Silence

  • Quiet instructions and long periods of silence, as students find their focus in a relaxed pose, are hallmarks of a gentle yoga session. Don't be tempted to fill the void with more instructions; students should be turning inward to pay attention to their own sensations, not your constant voice. One technique to enrich the silence is the addition of gentle yoga breathing to each pose after the initial instruction. Guide students through a slow inhalation and exhalation,s and remind them to continue letting go of tension as they focus on breathing while they rest in the pose. Alternatively, vary the quiet spaces with a reading from a peaceful, reflective text -- Rumi poetry is melodic and multilayered. When you've settled your class into Savasana, treat students to a guided meditation to help them slow overactive minds.

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