By Yoga with Forest
As you probably already know I have extensive experience in both practicing and teaching gentle yoga. The one thing I have learned through embracing the yogi lifestyle, is that all styles of yoga are the same. Yoga styles may involve more exertion or maybe the focus is more meditative…no matter, they are still the same side of the coin so to speak. The difference in gentle is just that, gentle. Look at it this way, take the tranquil feeling you get after any yoga class (for me Ashtanga half primary) and project that feeling in every aspect of the gentle yoga class. From the ques to the design of the posture flow, a felt sense of ease should be fostered throughout the entire class. You may be saying right now that we should do this for all of our yoga classes and yes that is correct, however in gentle classes you will have an array of students with a majority of them trying to heal from some sort of illness or injury and tranquil is key for these folks. I know that the tranquil aspect of practicing yoga nidra after a posture class is what did it for me when I first started practicing.
Gentle is sometimes known as beginners. Keeping this in mind is always helpful. Even with having a regular practice sometimes the pains of whatever ailment we are dealing with can cause us to stay out of focus. Slowing down and explaining how to properly get into and stay into a pose is most helpful. For example, Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) in a gentle class I always teach going into from standing. The cueing would be like this: step your right foot back about 4 feet and make sure your heals are in line with each other and back foot is at a 45 degree angle. Left toes are facing towards the front of the room take as much of a bend in left knee that your body will allow and place your hand on your hips. When we look down we should at least be able to see our left big toe. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale square the hips off to the front of the room. Now pretend your mat is laughy taffy and spread the laughy taffy away with your feet. On your next inhale raise your arms to ceiling and gaze either to front of room or at ceiling. You can have hands apart or together. Together may give you more of an engagement. Either way continue to breath….nice long inhalations…and exhalations.
The one thing that has proven to be really beneficial when teaching gentle yoga is offering multiple modifications when possible. If I can, I prefer to offer at least three options or modifications to each pose. For example, in supine pigeon (Supta Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) once I cue them into the figure four position as I like to call it, I tell my students they can stay here while reaching the right knee to front of room, or place the palm of right hand on the inner right thigh gently pushing knee towards front of room, or if you want more you can bind hands behind left hamstring gently placing head and shoulders back down on mat…whatever version you are taking remember to breath….in through the nose….and out through the nose.
The one thing I will mention briefly is a chair option. Choga (chair yoga) is another aspects that I will focus on at a later time, however it is worth mentioning that a chair option offered in a gentle class gives your students a sense of confidence in your teaching. Think about it, why wouldn’t it? As long as you research on how to properly pull it off you are saying I know gentle yoga enough to teach multiple practices at once. Yes very challenging but can be pulled off. More to follow on that.
Props are used quite a bit in gentle yoga classes. I say not required, however very useful. Most of the gentle classes I teach I use props. Student limitations/abilities will determine if and what props to use. If you are like me when I started practicing, then all available and some I would recommend. Not using props can be useful in showing your students how to modify without props. This is beneficial because now your students can practice anywhere. Soon you will find your students using their own creativity in using props to modify their poses.
Last point I will touch on is being aware of the sounds in the room. This includes projecting or softening your voice depending on the circumstance. Music I found best to go with a gentle class is yoga radio, which most music apps offer…something very soft and soothing. If your grandma wouldn’t like it, then pretty good chance not good music for a gentle yoga class. One thing in particular I have struggled with is proper projection of my voice. I use proper projection because I really have to work on keeping the volume of my voice down. Damage to an eardrum while on active duty limits my ability to know how loud I am speaking. Through my practice of mindfulness, I discovered that certain volumes I speak make different vibrations in my chest and throat area. My outside voice as my friends call it vibrates more in my chest and my inside voice vibrates more in my throat. Interesting to see what others think on this especially the teachers who are very soft spoken.
To wrap this up I will say this….When I was a young lad growing up with a single mother, I would have to go to my grandparents when I was sick. Thinking back at how my grandma made me feel all warm and cozy when ill is how I try and make my students feel in a gentle yoga class.
This by all means does not cover everything that is to be considered when designing an awesome gentle yoga class (whether for teaching or personal practice) and I look forward to any and all comments.