The Alchemy of gentle Yoga by Lisa Z. Hughes, PT, RYT500
I was born with boxing gloves. An early baby and a sick baby in the early 1960s meant I fought alone in a tiny chamber of isolation. Such were the times. I was 10 days old when my parents finally got to hold me. They brought me home to a full house where competing for time, food and attention became lesson #2. I was glad to have the boxing gloves.
Perfectionism ruled in my chamber of isolation. It wasn’t until my body started to rebel at the age of 49 that I began a 21 day experiment with Yoga. I liked practicing Ashtanga and vigorous Power Vinyasa in my bigger chamber of isolation (home) because I could allow myself to let go, to fall over, to practice. I tried to like class, but I was aware of my desire to excel. I enjoyed the challenge of advanced asana and was drawn only to classes where I could practice in the most advanced way in the most intense heat.My first experience with Gentle Yoga came as part of my 200 hour Teacher Training. I heard the long exhales and audible sighs of my fellow students and I wanted to punch them. Seriously. Did I hear someone moaning? Nothing made me want my boxing gloves more than Gentle Yoga. As someone who could spend 10 minutes in plank, THIS was torture! I would describe the silence like the deafening sound of fingernails on a chalkboard and the feeling it evoked in me was anger. I wondered when we would get back to the “real yoga.” I wondered who would ever sign up for this type of Yoga. I
wondered why I was unable to enjoy this type of Yoga. I secretly wished I could feel what a sigh felt like. I wanted to run. I wasn’t good at this. I looked for the door. In order for me to be able to teach this Gentle Yoga, I HAD to practice and I practiced every day. I offered my body and my mind to the experiment. I taught Gentle Yoga to anyone who would let me and in giving myself and my students the gift of Gentle Yoga, I found an ability to relax, to let go and to open to receive the gifts in each posture. I learned to listen to the wisdom of my own body. I learned to nurture myself. I learned I didn’t need to fill the space with anything. In teaching others, I taught myself. The gift of Gentle Yoga is a blessing of the Self. No boxing gloves are required. “To reteach a thing its loveliness” is the nature of metta. Through lovingkindness,
everyone and everything can flower again from within. When we recover
knowledge of our own loveliness and that of others, self-blessing happens
naturally and beautifully.
– Sharon Salzberg
FINDING ALCHEMY IN GENTLE YOGA:
1. Go Easy On Yourself:
Our society’s conditioned idea of moving our body is deluded by calorie burning, productivity, distorted body image, torture. You are learning something new, something out of your comfort zone. You are learning to love yourself from the inside out, rather than the other way around. You deserve every moment of this practice. Meditative and Gentle Yoga time is mind-FULL time. Laziness is mind-LESS time. There is nothing outside of YOU than can do this work for you. There is no pill, no mind altering substance, no amount of sex, no runner’s “high”…nothing outside of you that will bring you to this eventual state of bliss.
2. Let go of Doing:
Let go of analysis (I’m not moving enough. This isn’t exercise), expectation (should I be sighing too?), and outcome of any kind (maybe I’ll lose weight). With every exhale, let go of all of that and inhale where you are, the energy of the people around you, the feeling of the floor under you, the support of your teacher and of all those present.
3. Bring in the natural attraction to happiness:
As an intention for your Gentle Yoga practice it can be helpful to bring to mind something you have done or said that was caring, gentle or kind. Bring in something that you honestly feel was a good action. It could be a time where you were generous or a time where you were fully clear and present for a friend. Take your time and with the memory, allow the happiness to come in. Notice your comfort level with allowing that most intrinsic and fundamental drive toward happiness. Notice how beautiful that is.
4. Every Posture has a Gift. We must be open to the gift if we are to truly receive it. As you begin to flow and move, connect to the places in the body that we receive from as if you were receiving the most beautiful gift of this class. Soften to the incoming
breath. Open the palms and touch the pinky fingers together, hands soft and reaching out to receive. Connect to the ability to receive through the crown of the head and through the back door to the heart (the space between the shoulder blades). As you
inhale, receive the breath through these places. In every posture and with every breath, connect to happiness of your original intention, receive that happiness through these places (palms, crown, heart). Give yourself the time in each posture to fully receive it’s gifts.
5. Stay with the feeling that receiving evokes.
The mind will wander. It will make up stories of things you have to do, places you have to be. It will distract you with promises of Gelato and cake. It will do ANYTHING for you not to feel this. Feel it anyway. Just bring the wandering mind back. Even if you have to do that countless times, know that there is no great skill in bringing back our attention to our original intention (that happy memory of you doing that gentle, caring thing…remember?). Know that you haven’t failed just because the mind wandered. There is no duration of wandering that is impossible to begin again from. Leave the judgement behind and just come on back. We ALL leave the practice many times. Just remember to come back.
6. Gather Your Props for Savasana:
Make your Savasana delicious! Pause to reflect on what your body would most enjoy as it’s final restorative posture. Maybe you work on your feet all day and Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall) would feel best. Maybe you want to stay with your open heart space and Salamba Matsyasana (Supported Fish) would feel nice. Bring back your original intention and rest in that feeling.
Gentle Yoga is the ultimate gift to myself. It is also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve learned to open to receive the gift the teacher has prepared just for me in a group class setting – from a place of truth, sincerity and authenticity. I have received beautiful, kind and gentle assists, well placed props, lavender eye pillows, essential oils applied to my temples, warm towels on my head and the unison of my breath merging with that of my teacher. I sleep well. I eat well. I care about what goes in my body. My blood pressure is lovingly low. My heart rate rests at 54 beats per minute. In befriending myself, I’ve
opened to new and meaningful friendships, I’ve left my tiny chamber of isolation and I’ve opened to a deeper sense of belonging in my family, in my community and in the world. In bringing attention and focus to the feeling of happiness that comes from extending kindness, I’ve learned to extend further in sharing my time and my gifts with not-for profit organizations that serve our community. In being fully present with my clients, constant in the happy times but also in times of struggle, I am aware that they are able to leave their burdens at the door. Most of them forget them on the way out.
I’ve learned to be a bud that chooses to flower. Knowing my days in this state are vulnerable and limited, I open anyway…to LOVE! I couldn’t imagine life in any other state than this. I’ve located a happiness that has transformed me from within. In locating that, I seem to have misplaced my boxing gloves.
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing it’s loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower,
and retell it in words and in touch,
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing
– Galaway Kinnel