Tips and Guidelines for Gentle Somatic Yoga

12 Tips and Guidelines for a successful Gentle Somatic Yoga® practice

All of the Gentle Somatic Yoga® (GSY) movements are inherently safe and natural.  If you have physical challenges or concerns, as with all new exercise routines, consult your health care professional.

All of the Somatic Movement Flows® (SMFs) are designed to reeducate and strengthen your mind to muscle memory.

To support you in your practice, please follow these tips and guidelines.

1. Intention

Yoga means Union. The main intention for practicing Gentle Somatic Yoga is to embrace our Whole Self. This means accepting our body, our perceived limitations, and basically removing all judgment.

It also means learning to love ourselves unconditionally and enjoy letting go of anything in our life that no longer serves us. As we release old habits of holding stress and pain in our body, the more space we create for peace and harmony.

Our natural state, beyond pain and suffering, is peace and wellbeing. This is our birthright.  This is one of the many benefits of Gentle Somatic Yoga.

2. Honor your limits:

Be aware of what your body is telling you. Never endure strain or pain in any of these   movements. Some of the SMFs may be challenging at first, but they are not meant to cause you strain or pain.

Please listen to the subtle messages of your body.  If you feel pain or discomfort, ease out of the movement and take a break to reevaluate.

If something feels good, then keep doing it! If an exercise or particular movement is bringing you pleasure, then enjoy and accentuate those feelings! Trust what your body is telling you and adjust accordingly. Ease and mobility will come over time!

3. Feathering technique:

Honor your limits. If you discover tightness or soreness within a movement sequence, identify your “edge” of discomfort and then back off slightly. With an attitude of curiosity, gracefully discover a way to move in and out of that area by varying the angle, speed and range of motion.

4. Slow and focused movement:

The way to reverse old habitual patterns of holding stress in the body is through building internal awareness.  Moving slowly and mindfully will stimulate the part of your brain       that will bring freedom of movement. Think of the Somatic Movement Flows as a process of discovery, and not something to rush through.

To achieve the maximum benefit, keep your attention focused on the specific muscle group that you are instructed to use while keeping the rest of your body relaxed. For    example, if the instruction is to lift your left shoulder only, then do the best you can to keep the rest of your body relaxed.

5. Move smoothly

For optimal benefit, intend to make the movements smooth. Often times this means you will also need to slow down significantly.

If you experience jerkiness, skipping, or popping noises it most likely means you are experiencing sensory motor amnesia (SMA). These are positive signs because they show you where your soma wants to be re-educated.

SMA can also show up as numbness and/or a tingly feeling in the body.

In either case, moving slowly will engage the sensory motor cortex in the brain. By doing so, you will regain function of that muscle group and experience more freedom through movement.

One of the unique signatures of Gentle Somatic Yoga is the feeling of empowerment through regaining control of the muscles in your body.

6. Perform movement with eyes closed:

During your movement practice, it is optimal to keep your eyes closed and focus on the feelings within your body. If your eyes remain open, you may be distracted and miss the subtleties of sensation.

The less external stimuli, the more effective your muscle to brain re-patterning will be. Mellow music (no TV!) and soft lighting can provide a calming effect that invites more internal sensation.

Gentle Somatic Yoga is a process of neuromuscular re-education that refines your body awareness from the inside out. Think of GSY as a moving meditation.

7. Breathing

There are different ways to explore using the breath in GSY.

Since each SMF has detailed instructions, the brain has a lot to focus on. Therefore, if you are new to this practice, keeping a neutral breath flow will help you have a successful practice.

If you find yourself breathing shallow, or holding your breath, try a cleansing breath: Breathe deeply through your nose on the inhale, and slowly exhale through your mouth making an audible “ah” sound.  This will help you regain your focus.

Once you feel like you have an understanding of the instructions, then observing your breath and experimenting with different patterns can add another layer of information for learning.

8. Repetition

The average repetition for each SMF is between 3 – 5 times. Don’t overdo, less is more and slow is better! Focus your attention on the muscles you are re-patterning. Remember, GSY is a re-education for your mind/body (Soma). The brain needs time to integrate the new learning before you move on to the next SMF.

If you are recovering from chronic pain due to overuse or injury, you may consider performing the SMFs several times a week.

If you are not recovering from injury, you can choose to perform any given SMF whenever needed.

9. Practice on a firm surface

For best results practice on a firm surface so that you have increased feedback relayed from the muscle to the brain. Lying on a carpet, blanket, or yoga mat on the floor is preferable.

Performing the movements in bed is typically not advised because the surface is too soft and the brain has less opportunity to receive the necessary information for re-education.  However, if you are bedridden, then the gentle movements can still be beneficial.  Even visualizing the movements can make significant impact.

Most of the Somatic Movement Flows can be modified to be performed while sitting in a chair.

10. Wear loose and comfortable clothing

During a GSY practice your body will be moving in many directions.  Loose, comfortable clothing such as something you would wear to a yoga class or gym, allows for freedom of movement without external restriction.

11. Modifications and Props

Each of the Somatic Movement Flows can be modified based on your current level of mobility. Instead of focusing on the outcome, choose an attitude of discovery and exploration.

Small pillows, yoga blocks, blankets, and other props can be helpful accessories that can add comfort and just the right amount of support.

Even when individuals have chronic pain or restricted physical conditions, the act of visualizing a SMF can provide profound benefit. If you visualize a movement first before performing it, you have started creating a new pattern in the brain.

12. Body Scans

After each SMF, pause for at least 60 seconds and feel all of the new sensations in your body. Enjoy the benefits of your efforts.

In addition to feeling peace and wellbeing, the feedback you are registering during each body scan is an important process in the re-patterning old habits.

Notice your breath, and reflect on how you feel. By doing so, you become aware of “witness consciousness”, whereby you are the observer. This is very different than “thinking” how you are. Witness Consciousness is a state of BEING.


James Knight, E-RYT, CHSE



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