One of the aims of Gentle yoga is to listen to how movement feels, developing body and breath awareness whilst staying within our comfort zone. Even when we set a target to achieve a goal, we engage with what is happening in the moment.
In gentle yoga movement is designed so that the journey into and out of a pose, contains its essence. Developing an attitude of Sukumára, (the beginners mind), helps us let go of our preconceptions and ask key questions:
-Am I tense or relaxed?
-How does my body respond to this movement?
-How do I feel as I move into and out a pose?
-Am I able to relax in this asana?
Through listening and being open to the answer, we respond with kindness and compassion to ourselves. This is mindful yoga , we slow down and find space to befriend the places that are tense, and painful. If we find feelings that are uncomfortable. We greet them with tenderness, kindness, and care. This means that progress happens by releasing tension and finding freedom of movement through relaxation.
Sometimes when we want to achieve a goal, we ignore the messages from our mind and body; of discomfort and tension, and the need to rest. When this happens, we add another layer of stress to our system. If we continue to ignore the messages from the body eventually we suffer pain and injury. Very often we may seem to arrive at our goal quickly, but it is unsustainable.
Let us explore this in the seated forward bend, Paschimottasana, the West Facing Pose. As a small child I loved this asana, with my young flexible body it was natural to fold forward and rest my head on my knees. It gave me a place to return to whenever life became too much or there were too many thoughts whizzing through my mind. When I laid my head on my knees the external world fell away, I returned to rest in the still quiet centre. For me this is the gift of Paschimottasana, it is as if we come to rest with the setting sun, into a naturally meditative space of pratyahara, sense withdrawal.
Often in Hatha yoga the movement into the pose begins in Dandasana, the Staff Pose. The classical text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika ”describes stretching the legs like a stick and bringing the forehead to the knees”.
However, if the body is not flexible, if the hamstrings are tight, or there is stiffness in the back, simply sitting with the legs straight, is not comfortable. When students begin with their legs as straight as possible and fold forward, they stop midway. It is difficult to rest in this position, and tension may start to build quickly.
In gentle yoga we adapt the pose by bending the legs, to experience the sensation of ease and rest. Begin in a mild forward bend where the torso is supported by the thighs. Cultivate the feeling of rest, before beginning to move. Sitting quietly with the legs bent in a comfortable position, lengthen the back, and rest the torso on the thighs. We move gently withdrawing into the centre, bringing the awareness to the steady flow of the breath. Notice the expansion and upward flow with the inhalation. Then the release with the exhalation, which takes us deeper into extension. The legs have the space to lengthen with ease by walking the feet forward, as the body relaxes.
If the body is flexible the legs may walk out straight. Or practising many times may bring the legs into a straight position.
If not, it does not matter. Wherever you are on your yoga journey, however stiff or flexible, with Gentle Yoga you experience something of the essence, the gift of Paschimottasana. In this way you can rest at ease in this pose, whenever the mind is overwhelmed, or you need to withdraw to the still quiet centre.