The Inward Journey of Dynamic Gentle Yoga

During my slow recovery from a severe illness a number of years ago, a wise physician consoled me with the words, “Bad things happen fast. Good things happen slowly.”

Slow, gentle yoga is a practice particularly conducive to mindfulness and presence, moment to moment. Rhythmic breathing is one of the best companions on this journey.

Here’s how I describe Dynamic Gentle Yoga—what I call my brand of gentle yoga: Gentle yoga meets you where you are. Dynamic Gentle Yoga takes you where you want to go.

Dynamic Gentle Yoga (DGY) comes out of the Kripalu tradition, and has been tempered by what I’ve learned teaching a few thousand gentle yoga classes, and by my tendency toward clarifying detail.

Observing the great variety of students in classes at Kripalu over the past three decades has taught me what warm-ups, movements, and postures are accessible to those seeking a gentle yoga practice. In my DGY teacher trainings, we review a list of warm-ups and postures that generally should not be taught in gentle yoga. Many of these surprise even seasoned teachers.

DGY begins with a number of awarenesses that make it accessible and empowering to a diverse population of practitioners. It meets them where they are, rather than discouraging them with a class that’s beyond their body’s capacity for flexibility or strength.

DGY requires slow movements, sometimes moving in and out, bending and straightening a joint, sometimes progressive movement that gradually goes deeper into stretches. This type of movement is safer for the body when the experience of stiffness and tightness emerges before we think it should. It lubricates joints, warms ligaments and tendons, and loosens chronically contracted muscles.

Slow Flow to Bring the Mind Inward

Drawing the mind’s attention inward is a significant aspect of yoga practice. It’s one of the eight limbs of classical yoga—pratyahara. But because the movement in DGY is slow, the mind’s attention can tend to wander. There are a number of factors that capture the attention and strengthen concentration. One is increased sensation in the body. Another is increasing energy. A third is repetition.

To safely increase energy and inward focus, DGY is led with methodical, precise breath cues. Each movement is initiated with either an inhalation or an exhalation. This creates a smooth, rhythmic breathing flow, as well as a lengthening and deepening of breath. Simply by drawing attention to the breath, people tend to deepen the breath. Our natural breathing rate uses about a third of our lung capacity. With a bit of focus, that can increase to two-thirds capacity. With deliberate effort, breathing can begin to approach maximum lung capacity.

DGY also strengthens concentration and inner focus through clear, precise alignment cues. The cues for which body parts are moving and where they’re moving help the mind dispel confusion and remain at ease. Clear cues are required ingredients for a meditative, stress-reducing yoga practice. Through the practice of focused movement, postures and rhythmic breathing, attention begins to turn inward. Where the attention goes, the energy flows. Where energy increases, the mind will follow. The practice and experience of pratayahara leads to the next limb, dharana (concentration). Through concentration—which requires practice and repetition—the mind gradually develops steadiness.

As you’ve likely heard many times, yoga is a practice, and it's benefits are available with regular practice. Meanwhile, research is validating the impact of yoga on physical health and mental well-being.

So, we slow down, coordinate movement with breath, and pay attention, turning our awareness inward—and the alchemy of yoga frees the body’s natural healing abilities.

Find out about upcoming programs with Rudy Peirce at Kripalu.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.