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.

What Is Gentle Yoga

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.)

In gentle yoga, you may do standing postures, forward bends, and low-impact backbends, in addition to seated stretches. While these poses will get you moving, they will not elevate your heart rate like moderate- or high-intensity yoga workouts will. Instead, gentle yoga features a focus on slow, steady movements and conscious breathing.

Benefits of Gentle Yoga

Gentle yoga—often accompanied by other mindfulness practices such as meditation and breath work—can have many benefits on physical and mental health. Here is an overview of the potential health benefits of yoga.

May Help Combat Depression

Scientific research conducted into the effectiveness of gentle yoga has found that this practice may have positive effects on fighting depression. A 2013 research article explored its effects on major depressive disorder (MDD) in women and determined that an 8-week gentle yoga practice helped lower feelings of stress and isolation.

May Help Decrease Feelings of Work Stress

A 2015 research article published in Journal of Visualized Experiments examined the practice of Mindfulness in Motion (MIM) in a workplace setting. This MIM protocol combined gentle yoga with calming music and when conducted in high-stress work environments was found to decrease stress when performed for one hour per week for 8 weeks.

With a program retention rate of 97%, authors observed participants' work engagement and resiliency increase notably following these sessions.

May Ease Restless Legs Syndrome Symptoms

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes uncontrollable movement of the legs, most often at night or right before bedtime. It can make for uncomfortable sleep or may even prevent a person from falling asleep. However, a 2012 pilot study determined that gentle yoga may be a beneficial treatment therapy for RLS, easing symptoms and improving sleep.

May Help Manage Diabetes

In conjunction with mindfulness meditation, one 2014 pilot study discovered that gentle yoga has a positive impact on helping study participants manage their diabetes. In this 8-week trial, researchers determined that regular gentle yoga helped participants improve their mental health and better manage diabetes.

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. Here are some types of gentle yoga.

Integral Yoga

Integral yoga 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

Kripalu yoga 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

Sivananda yoga is a method from the lineage of Swami Sivananda and 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.

A Word From Verywell

Incorporating gentle toga into your regular mindfulness and movement routine may provide many health benefits. The slow and intentional poses encourage focus and calmness.

If you're new to yoga, allow yourself time to adjust to this new practice and to slowly get used to the poses and meditative portions. With time and practice, you'll be improving your gentle yoga flow.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kinser PA, Bourguignon C, Taylor AG, Steeves R. A feeling of connectedness: Perspectives on a gentle yoga intervention for women with major depression. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 2013;34(6):402-411. doi:10.3109/01612840.2012.762959

  2. Klatt M, Steinberg B, Duchemin AM. Mindfulness in motion (Mim): an onsite mindfulness based intervention (MBI) for chronically high-stress work environments to increase resiliency and work engagement. JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments). 2015;(101):e52359. doi:10.3791/52359

  3. Innes K, Selfe T, Leeming K, Agarwal P. P02.156. Effects of a gentle yoga program on Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) symptoms and related outcomes in women with RLS: A pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012;12(Suppl 1):P212. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-S1-P212

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.