My Yoga Does Not Look Like This!
I remember when I was first trained as a yoga teacher 7 years ago being surprised by the fact that Yoga was originally developed for teenage boys training to be monks. Over time I really came to understand how important that fact is for my clients, students, and me. The women and men I teach are not 14-year-old boys with narrow hips and a great deal of flexibility preparing their bodies and minds for meditation. No, most of my clients are aging people living in the West with modern jobs, as well as contemporary lifestyles, stresses, and aches and pains.
The Western Yoga scene is changing in many ways including embracing a greater understanding of modern neural science and the role of the nervous system in healing. Somatics, a movement therapy that focuses on the nervous system is finding its place within modern yoga. In the last few years, I discovered Gentle Somatic Yoga, taking two certification programs with James Knight. I did so, in part, because I could no longer practice nor teach the standard styles of yoga. It was not healing my aches and pains. My body and mind were leading me to try a different approach and according to Yoga Journal, I am not alone. “Somatics is a field of study and practice in the overlapping realms of bodywork, movement, and psychotherapy. It asks you to pay attention and to be guided by your internal experience.”
From a practical standpoint, this means I give students fewer alignment cues but more cues to notice what “a movement” feels like in their bodies. I also guide them to close their eyes as often as possible and to sense their organs, connective tissues, nervous system, and areas of chronic pain or tension from the inside out. In this way, over time a person becomes more aware of changes in their body with a sense of curiosity, rather than fear. Through learning to be more objective and witnessing without creating a story, we are able to empower ourselves to move in ways that are more nourishing to our own bodies or “Somas”, (Greek word for the body).
For my students and me, this practice has been life-changing. According to a January 2021 Yoga Journal article written by Tasha Eichenseher, for many people, it is the “first step toward releasing old memories and patterns, balancing your body and mind, getting in touch with feelings and intuitions, and ultimately moving toward a felt sense of being empowered and whole.”
Major Differences Between Traditional Hatha Yoga and Gentle Somatic Yoga
I am often asked by students to describe what Gentle Somatic Yoga is and how it differs from traditional yoga. Usually, I answer, “you need to experience this practice to understand the subtle but profound differences it can make in your health.”
A typical Gentle Somatic Yoga Class will have some very noticeable differences from a typical Hatha style yoga class
- I will not do any fast-moving flows in my gentle somatic yoga classes. If you go too fast you are unable to take notice of places in your body that are numb, places where you are secretly holding tension, or if there are pivot points in your body that your movement defaults to repeatedly.
- I do not try to direct your breath during the somatic flows. The reason is that it is hard for your brain and your nervous system to focus on too many things at once. We allow the breath to be natural and do breathwork practices between the flows.
- I will ask my students as often as possible to close their eyes during asana practice to shift their gaze inward.
- I will suggest to my students a pre-check and a post-check of their range of motion. That is done for several reasons. For one thing, the human brain likes contrast and for another, it encourages the act of witnessing the subtle, yet profound movements to safely release chronic tension.
- I will discourage clients from overdoing a pose by limiting both the length of time (3-4 seconds) and the number of repetitions to three or four to avoid overstretching muscle groups.
- I do not use the word stretch when discussing what we are doing in our class. It is not that we are not lengthening muscles, but stretching is an overused word and has some inherent misunderstandings in it.
Below find a two-minute video demonstrating some unique aspects of Gentle Somatic Yoga.
Gentle Somatic Yoga is Accessible to All Bodies
Whatever your current level of fitness is and whatever aches and pains you are dealing with in your body, Gentle Somatic Yoga can provide you with some relief from chronic aches and pains.
This is truly a mindful movement practice that is innately therapeutic. I teach Gentle Somatic Yoga twice a week. Tuesday’s flow is a Gentle Somatic Yoga class only. On Thursdays, I mix in some Yin poses in which we explore our fascial tissues, our energy meridians, and other aspects of TCM. Sign up here if interested. Namaste, Andrea