Yoga is a powerful (and to me, life-changing) practice that can help us connect mind, body, and spirit; those connections should be accessible to everybody and every body. As Jivana Heyman, founder of the organization Accessible Yoga says, “If you have a mind and a body, you can do Yoga!” I firmly believe this and strive to teach in a way to make yoga accessible to a wide range of people.
I teach a class called Gentle Yoga at Yoga Garden Pittsboro, but really my goal as a teacher is to teach all of my yoga classes gently. To me, “gentle” does not mean “easy,” it means approaching our bodies and our practice with an open and curious but non-judgmental mind and taking time to find poses gradually so everyone can find the right version of the pose for them.
Gentle yoga (and approaching yoga gently) requires deep listening to our minds and bodies which is not an easy process. If we approach this process kindly, with self-compassion, we begin to strengthen and stretch mind, body, and spirit. So whether it’s a Vinyasa Flow or Gentle class, I start my classes with thorough, dynamic warm ups so we have time to assess where our bodies are in each moment. This provides us a chance to befriend our bodies and minds by knowing them: discovering and respecting our symmetry and asymmetry, tight and overstretched areas, new and old injuries, anatomical quirks, strengths, and weaknesses, busy brains and patterns of thought, and everything that makes our bodies our own unique vessels that carry us through this life.
I believe that an “advanced” yogi is not someone who can bend themselves into a physically demanding pose, but someone who listens deeply to their body and mind and moves in a way that serves them at that moment. I love looking out into the studio and seeing everyone doing their own version of the poses, meeting themselves where they are and spending time in their bodies and in the present moment.
As Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises, change occurs in two equally important ways:
“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
Yoga is a practice and a process of making slow and steady progress, but its impacts can feel sudden and profound. I hope you’ll join me for a Gentle Yoga class and I hope that you’ll approach all of your practices, both on and off the mat, gently.
Jessica Palmer-Gwaltney is an RYT-200 and Accessible Yoga certified yoga teacher; she's passionate about making yoga accessible to all bodies. Her classes focus on helping people listen to their bodies and move in a way that feels good on the inside instead of worrying about what it looks like on the outside. She teaches Gentle Yoga on Monday mornings at 8:30am and Restorative Yoga classes on select Friday evenings.