Yoga as Mind-Body Medicine


“Yoga is not about doing the asanas—it’s about un-doing what’s in the way of the asanas...” ~ Leslie Kaminoff

Have you heard that “gentle [yoga] is the new advanced?” I came across this headline by way of a yoga teacher named J. Brown - and instantly felt that we spoke the same language. I’ve always felt this way about my gentle flow yoga class, because this class is not only for a small, specific population of people, but that it is a smart choice for all populations. This is because it is important to diversify your practices, just like it is with your physical workouts or with what you eat day in and day out.

Adding a gentle, restorative or slow flowing class can help your body relax, restore and renew, creating balance for your nervous system, which extends to all other systems of your being, allowing your body and mind to function optimally. 1As shared by The Shepherd Center, a private, not-for-profit hospital in Atlanta specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury and brain injury, “The practice of yoga trains the relaxation response through the encouragement of breathing and the practice of focusing the mind. This is a well-understood physiological response in the nervous system.”

While moving mindfully through a gentler yoga class, you’re building strength and flexibility, just in a different way from other physically challenging yoga classes. We already live in a world that is skewed towards keeping us in rhythms that are overstimulated, over-stressed, and overly challenging. The basic function of the human being is to constantly find homeostasis, balance. We are resisting this natural function if we only practice the hardest, sweatiest, most kick-ass yoga practices, which is great to do while alternating it with other types of mind-body practices. Working in a grind-y rhythm all the time is not sustainable from my experience, what about yours?

The philosophy I use in my class is that instead of striving (or sometimes seriously straining) to create a pose that looks like what some label as ideal from the outside, we can learn to create a pose from the inside out, that offers us an ideal experience, created from a place of inner wisdom. When we practice like this, we get up and leave our practice better than when we started it. It’s important for yoga students to learn to discern this, to become aware of how yoga class affects your energy and well-being. Understanding this helps us make sure we are choosing to do the appropriate type of practice for that day and time, whether it’s a challenging vinyasa class or a therapeutic gentle class. It’s great to ask yourself, did the class make you feel tired at the end, like you could go take a nap all day or did it leave you feeling rejuvenated and clear-minded. Do you feel calmly energized and focused or did it leave you wired and unfocused or irritated and self-critical? How does your body feel afterwards and even the next day or two?

We can learn to deconstruct and dissolve that which is in the way of our experience of healing and well-being while in yoga class. That’s what gentler styles of yoga is great at establishing in you. This can be an advanced yoga. This is in contrast to forcing ourselves sooner than we are ready, going so far past our edge, that we create injury to ourselves. Refining your awareness from only recognizing the brashest, loudest, most obvious sensation or thoughts to sensing the subtle, secret, and deep experiences is profound for our yoga practice and immediately translates into tools for our everyday life. This is how the yoga practitioner becomes an advanced yogi. Boundaries dissolve and innate wisdom prevails victoriously over all aspects of our lives. This is seriously, quality preventive healthcare, don’t you think?

1 “Yoga Program Expands Amid Growing Popularity And Clear Mind-Body Benefits,” Shepherd Center, news.shepherd.org/yoga-program-expands-amid-growing-popularity-and-clear-mind-body-benefits, (February 22, 2016)