Gentle Yoga Styles for Stretching and Stillness

Woman doing a yoga stretch
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Gentle yoga is done for the joy of stretching and stillness of mind, not for the calories burned. Gentle yoga styles may not be in the news, but they still have an important part to play on the yoga spectrum. Most of the yoga limelight goes to the new hybrid trends and ever-escalating extremes of temperature and athleticism. While you may be up for trying new things, sometimes you just want an old-fashioned stretch, maybe even with a little chanting.

How Gentle Yoga Is Different

The dictionary definition of gentle is along the lines of moderate or mild. Gentle has been adopted into the yoga lexicon to describe a style of practice that focuses on stretching and breathing, not feats of strength or extreme flexibility. Still, you shouldn’t expect to spend the whole class in a supine position wrapped in a blanket (try restorative yoga if that sounds appealing). You may do standing postures, forward bends, and low-impact backbends, in addition to seated stretches.

Hatha Compared to Gentle Yoga

Although many Hatha yoga classes are gentle, the words are not synonymous. Hatha yoga is a much more general term that can really mean any type of physical yoga, although it is often used to indicate a class that is not flow-oriented.

A gentle class could include some vinyasa flow, but the point is not to raise your heart rate or try to get your leg behind your head. It’s to really tune into your body and your breath. Expect prop-supported postures with an emphasis on stretching.

Gentle Yoga Styles

Beginning level classes in the following yoga styles are good places to start your exploration of gentle yoga. However, classes do vary, despite how they are labeled. Speak to the teacher or studio director beforehand to find out if they consider the class to be gentle.

  • Integral yoga: Integral is a gentle Hatha yoga practice brought to the West by Sri Swami Satchidananda. It seeks to integrate the mind, body, and spirit. Classes often include breathing exercises, chanting, kriyas, and meditation.
  • Kripalu yoga: This is a gentle Hatha yoga practice with a compassionate approach emphasizing meditation, physical healing, and spiritual transformation. Students observe their thoughts without judging and come to accept and love themselves as they are. The classes usually begin with pranayama exercises and gentle stretches followed by asana practice and ending with final relaxation.
  • Sivananda yoga: This method from the lineage of Swami Sivananda was brought to the West by Swami Vishnudevananda. It is based on five principles for optimal health and spiritual growth, including proper exercise through 12 poses, breathing, relaxation, vegetarian diet, and positive thinking with meditation. The poses include inversions, backbends, forward bends, twists, balances, and hamstring stretches.

Is Gentle Yoga for You?

Gentle yoga classes are going to be accepting of beginners and people who are physically challenged. They may include meditation. They are intended to be calming and to reduce stress. If you have been intimidated by more athletic yoga styles or are looking for a way to unwind, you may want to explore gentle yoga.

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