Monday, June 4, 2012
Kindness Yoga: No Pain—GAIN!
You will be amazed to discover that, if you are kind to your body,
it will respond in an incredible way.
Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening The Spine 
The practice of yoga is fundamentally an act of kindness toward oneself.
Judith Lasater, [judithlasater.com]
IN MODERN YOGA PRACTICE, the idea that yoga is an act of kindness toward oneself is likely to be more of a dream or aspiration than a reality. If “kindness” only references taking time for exercise to enhance body-mind health, then all exercise, no matter how stressful or anxiety-driven might be referenced as “kind”. But if “kindness” references practices that relax and listen to the body and, at the same time, enhance body physiology and functional strength and suppleness, then many sequences of yoga are far from “kind”. Body-mind practices such as tai chi and qigong are universally more physiologically and mentally “kind”.
Contemporary yoga practice is dominated by a fitness orientation, with the most popular classes in fitness centers and yoga-specific studios offering a flowing “workout” aimed at toning and trimming. And yet, even with this orientation, there is often an inherent quality that underlies the physicality that offers something mentally soothing which participants cannot find in general exercise.
Speeding up the flow of typical yoga asanas [poses] may decrease the soothing quality and be more akin to interval training and classes such as “cardio-pump” where the emphasis is on fitness. Slowing down the flow of typical yoga asanas opens up this soothing quality and brings this soothing quality more to center-point as yoga itself, as something beyond exercise. And this shift to slowing/holding may optimize gains in flexibility and strength because more time is spent in releasing and expanding muscle and joint tension. The language of the health objectives may gradually evolve from fitness terms such as “flexibility and power/strength” to wellness terms such as “mobility and functionality,” and even go to very cutting-edge thriving terms such as “suppleness and balance/proportion.”
proportional body balance
An intentional emphasis upon kindness is not simply something of ethical value or for spiritual transcendence, but a process that may directly affect and improve the physiology of practitioners. Writing on the impact of yoga on endocrine glands, Yogiraj Sri Swami Satchidananda writes, The glands are stimulated not only by your physical movements, but by your thoughts as well. [p. xx, Integral Yoga Hatha. Buckingham, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications, 1995]. And so, an intentional orientation toward yoga as a process of kindness toward oneself, directs mental activity to direct physical actions to be qualitatively different. And has been described in detail in the posts in this blog [Islands Of Grace], the process of intentionally calming and quieting and holding asanas largely flip-flops all body systems [neuro-endocrine-cardio-lymphatic] from a sympathetic [fight-flight] response to a parasympathetic response.
Let us be less impatient. Let us move wise and take things easy.
If the asanas are done peacefully, this yoga will indirectly slow us
down (also improving the immune system which suffers from stress)
and strip us from many useless and harmful efforts, giving us the
feeling of a different quality and introducing a delicate fragrance
into each day’s existence.
Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening The Spine 
Restorative-Yin Yoga can be the penultimate (near the pinnacle) expression of “kindness yoga.” Restorative practices are “gentle, gentle” yoga to optimize both a qualitative leap in physiological restoration/rebalancing and high-level listening to the body-mind-spirit.
Other forms of “kindness yoga:”
Soft “Cat-Stretch” Yoga that moves beyond restorative poses to increase the variety of yoga poses but with a primary emphasis on
· [A] Stretching without discomfort [like a cat waking up in the morning],
· [B] Selection of a sequence of poses that stretch and that do so with comfort,
· [C] Calmness/slow movement into and out of poses.
· Those who would like to stretch but finding stretching agony [involving those who have done little intentional exercise and athletes who have become very inflexible], and
· Those who can stretch, and want to deepen their relaxation/body-mind work
Soft Power Yoga incorporates the full vocabulary of yoga poses but with an emphasis on holding poses and relaxing into them [See Islands Of Grace 10/11/2011 post: “Soft Power: A Remarkable Outcome Of Restorative-Yin Yoga” and 4/5/12 post: “Soft Power Mini-Workshop [3/14/2012] Post-Workshop Notes.”
“Kindness Yoga” is a QUALITATIVE SHIFT in body-mind work: It is a shift from a mindset of “no pain, no gain” to one of “no pain, GAIN.”
In “no pain, no gain,”
We work against the body, not with the body….
In “no pain, GAIN,”
No self-centered attitude, no self-immolation, no violence against ourselves, all
these things belong to the past and it is an old-fashioned way of behaving.
Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening The Spine