The dirty word in yoga

Unless you’re 80, pregnant or recovering from surgery nobody wants to do gentle yoga. Gentle is like lukewarm tea…why bother. People often start with a so called gentle class with the intention of progressing enough to then do proper yoga.

Here’s a few ideas about gentle I’ve picked up along with way.

  • You can’t heal an injury without gentle. In 12 years of teaching I’ve never worked with any injury that force has healed or made even the slightest bit better.
  • What we love in life we are gentle with, our children, our partners, the teapot that’s been handed down for five generations.
  • Ever seen a retired footballer or ballet dancer? That’s what being hard on your body all the time does. The harder you are on something the faster you wear it out. Neither a footballer nor a dancer is worth much to their sport beyond age 35.
  • Alignment doesn’t keep you safe in a pose. Being gentle does. Any posture, when held for a long time, will go from safe to unsafe unless you inject gentle.
  • Gentle speaks its own language. It’s called inhale and exhale.

I teach a super gentle class every Thursday night. I’ve taught this class for almost two years and it’s only just got off the chopping block. Week in and week out I would teach my favourite class of the week to a half-full class if I was lucky. So many times I questioned whether to change it to a hot and dynamic class, all of those classes were bursting at the seams. But then the masses ‘got it’…

You don’t have to sweat to work hard.  We have moved on from the no pain, no gain slogan of the 90’s. We don’t ‘do’ gentle in life so it’s become what we desperately need.

Gentle is incredibly challenging. It’s so easy to force and push and lever and manoeuver. It’s challenging to be patient. It’s challenging to understand the breath and how to use it to pry open deeply buried tension and stress.

When you learn the language of being gentle, the reward is immeasurable. You can now stay in a very challenging pose with ease. The difference is that you’re not in the most advanced variation of the pose, you’re at maybe 80% capacity but you’re able to speak the language of gentle, breathing in and out comfortably.

Ego and being hard go together. Ego will make you go to 100% capacity and hang on for dear life in the pose. Just survive it and then get to the next one. Gentle requires you to restrain yourself to 80% but allows you to remain alive in the pose.

Here’s an example of gentle in action. I’ve worked with many shoulder injury over the years, rotator cuffs, bursitis, tears and my conclusion is that shoulders are funny things. We don’t use them in the way they were intended which makes them difficult areas to rehabilitate. We use them incorrectly as prime movers, to bear weight, to twist and to change direction.

Students with shoulder injuries who learn gentle first make extraordinary progress. They learn to inject gentle around the shoulder girdle, protect and nurture it not unlike a nurse caring for their patient. They learn to strengthen the core and the upper back which will keep the hardness from creeping back into the shoulder.  I have no doubt if they went straight into a more dynamic practice the language of gentle would be much more difficult to grasp. Once gentle is learnt, the speed, the tempo, the heat, the postures, all become irrelevant.

For the past six months the gentle Thursday night Restore class could be filled twice over. It’s finally here to stay.