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Eve sitting in Lotus pose on a rock in the water at the beach.

Photo by Julie Slavin

From the one, the spread of many

Does the phrase ‘gentle is the new advanced yoga’ make your mind do a little backflip? Well, that’s the point. How about, ‘slow is the new strong’. Change is a constant. We see that yoga keeps on transforming almost before our eyes. Slow and gentle may be the next revolution in yoga. Perhaps a reaction to Power Yoga and Hot Yoga styles?

The many ways that yoga has morphed into different styles in recent times is mind-boggling. It is overwhelming, especially for beginners trying to figure out what yoga to pursue. 

In the early 90’s, newspapers and magazines wrote about yoga finally becoming mainstream. In the 2000’s, mainstream became a torrent with the proliferation of yoga on the internet: webinars, blogs, and classes. The old styles of yoga bequeathed to us by B.K.S. Iyengar, Patabi Jois, and T.K.V. Desikachar spun-off into new varieties or fused with other methods. Younger yoga teachers branded the styles they were developing, and whole new yogas have come into being.

When people ask me what kind of yoga I teach, I say that I still retain the Iyengar influence from the yoga teacher training I did in 1980. However, Mr. Iyengar is dead now, and, even so, what he finished up teaching and what his disciples still teach is different from what I learned.

Getting back to unity

What are the elements that make yoga yoga? What is the point of doing yoga? Can we distill this huge and increasingly amorphous subject down to what is really important?

I think so. What helps me when I sit on my yoga mat or when I’m teaching is remembering three of Patanjali’s sutras. These are simple aphorisms that can help light our way and keep us focused.

1:2 The purpose of yoga is to settle the patterning of the mind.

1:3 When the mind settles into stillness then our true nature is revealed.

1:4 Otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterning of the mind.

Patanjali* hasn’t mentioned any particular poses or breathing techniques or cleansing practices. He says, let’s just have a look at what’s happening in the mind. 

I think a good approach to finding out what the patterning of the mind is is to go slowly, gently. Pay attention to what arises and do that at a little distance where it can be observed. With perspective, the mind can settle into stillness and one’s true nature is right there.

What happens if we don’t develop the ability to see the patterning? Then, the patterning of the mind remains a filter over awareness, and it’s business as usual.

There’s much to be said about being gentle with ourselves in this process and going slowly. Daily meditation practice, drip, drip, drip, gives time and space for inquiring into and understanding your mind. Slow and gentle, whether it’s in your asana practice or meditation takes the emphasis off accomplishing something. It puts it on experiencing something.

J. Brown, an American yoga teacher, wrote about slow and gentle yoga several years ago. He says on his website:

Fast and intense may serve for a time but it is unsustainable and will invariably require some reevaluation. For in the slowness of our lives is where we are able to perceive its worth. Yoga practice is no different.

*Check out more about Patanjali on this blog: Getting Back to the Source.