Review of Kristina Nekyia’s Bendy Body: A Flex-Stability Workout

Ever since I’ve started taking ballet classes, I’ve been on the lookout for really great flexibility programs. Ballet does help with a certain amount, but one or two classes a week don’t make up for being in my thirties’ and sitting at a desk all day. And when I can’t go to ballet for a few weeks, my flexibility decreases dramatically.

A while ago I reviewed Kristina Nekyia’s Get Bent – Circus Style Flexibility Training DVD — you can read the review here. It was a program I enjoyed a lot, but it was definitely intense and split-heavy, which meant I wasn’t likely to turn to it when feeling particularly stiff. Now Kristina has a new DVD out, Bendy Body – A Flex-stability Workout. Look, this was a review copy as was the other one, but I’ve worked with a number of stretching programs lately, and this one is the answer to my dreams.

Bendy Body 4

So what makes Bendy Body different? First, it incorporates three different kinds of stretching: passive stretching (using an external force to increase the stretch), resistance stretching (in which you contract the muscle for a few seconds and then release), and active stretching (using the strength of your own muscles).

It’s a video that can be used to work on increasing flexibility, but it’s also a fantastic program for when you’re tight. (I’ve used it while taking ballet classes, but also on break and after a lot of traveling.) It takes very little space and equipment, since it’s all basically on a mat. You can use two straps, but I’ve also just done it on a bed with towels instead of the straps. It’s also mostly done lying or sitting, so it’s easy to do when feeling low-energy.

My favorite thing about Bendy Body though is that instead of having you hold one stretch for a very long time, Kristina shifts the stretch slightly in a number of small ways so that you don’t get bored, and stretch any given muscle from more angles. Because of all these little variations, I’ve found a number of delicious stretches that were new to me. There were a few more mobile stretches too, some of which were quite challenging (one beyond me), but it was easy enough to modify.

Bendy Body 3

Bendy Body begins with a useful introduction, then moves on to four sections:

  • Stretching the Legs and Hips
  • Releasing the Lower Back
  • Opening the Shoulders
  • Backbends

You can choose any of these sections from the DVD menu, or do the entire program as one — it takes about 70 minutes. The bulk of Bendy Body is dedicated to legs and hips, which makes it particularly useful for dancers, but I found the entire program therapeutic when my back or knees start to complain.

The other interesting thing about Bendy Body is that it doesn’t hurt the next day, the way I’ve experienced with a few other deep stretching programs. It makes pain go away, in fact, and feels more like a workout than like a deep stretch. Basically, it feels good. I haven’t done it often enough to speak to whether it is effective at increasing flexibility in the long term. What I would say is that it’s a DVD I’m very likely to turn to again and again, simply because of the ease of use and pleasure of doing it — and that’s likely to help more than a very intense program I do once a year.

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What Bendy Body is not is a splits program. While it works on building flexibility necessary for both kinds of splits, you never practice splits per se. Because I’m very far away from that anyway, I don’t see this as a loss. That’s what Get Bent is for. But I should say that while Get Bent is more intense, I find the quality of instruction on Bendy Body far superior. Given the focus on really good form and active stretching, it’s also a better choice for dancers.

Production quality is excellent, and Kristina narrates the program in a calm, encouraging voice. In short: Kristina Nekyia’s Bendy Body is a new favorite, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in general flexibility, stretches useful for dance, contortion, or simply improving the strength and health of their shoulders, back, and knees.

 

Magazine DVD challenge – Day 1

Day 1, thought I’d start small with a ten-minute program off a (surprisingly) 70-minute yoga DVD. Guided by the almost-unreally soothing and relaxed Julia Pritzel, a teacher from Berlin. Unfortunately, program was more like a series of asana descriptions rather than a flow, so I had to do a bit of rewinding to even both sides out. Despite short length, some really really nice side and neck stretches that I will turn to again. Found myself improvising a bit and adding on to the end for more relaxation. Good for end of the day.

DVD contents basically a full program — wondering if Women’s Health has a longer version of this too. Really nice production quality, and whole DVD seems much more about relaxation and solid yoga than about wearing a bikini or having a sexy butt.

State: relaxed, pleased with self

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Freebie fitness

I have a secret addiction.

Here in Germany, magazines — especially women’s mags — sometimes have freebies attached to them. It might be a little book of recipes or exercises, a “sounds of summer” CD, or a makeup sample. (UK magazines have tons of really high end makeup samples, but we’re not there yet. Though I did get a free mini Chanel lip gloss once. Major victory.)

Most often, though, they have workout DVDs. Some of these are made especially for the magazines, but usually they are excerpts from DVDs available on the market, offering 20-40 min of programming.

My problem is that I can’t resist these. Every time I see one of these magazines, I have an image of myself becoming fitter and slimmer due to this little free DVD. Such a steal, when the mag is only three euros or something! Which means that over time, I’ve amassed quite a collection of them.

What I love about them when I do try one out is that they’re so low commitment. I feel like I’ve done an entire program even if it was only twenty or thirty minutes. I have so many great DVDs in my collection, but it’s often hard to find one to two hours to really work with one.

So I’m wondering if it’s worth trying to challenge myself: to make it through all my freebie DVDs. It’s not really worth doing reviews of these, since many are in German, and they’re not really purchasable in the form I have them. What I’m more interested in is the structure of a challenge, and in building a habit of doing some kind of movement even when my time is short.

So…. here goes.

Review of Go-Go Dance with Angie Pontani

Friends, it has been aaaaaages since I’ve done a review. For various personal reasons, it has been a struggle even to go to my in-studio ballet classes. Getting things together enough to do a video on any given evening has just been too much. Saddest of all, I haven’t bellydanced in even longer. At this point, it feels like I barely remember the moves!

So a few days ago I was looking to get back into things. I wanted a video that I could do in an hour or less, that would give me a real workout, and that would be dance-related. My eye fell on Angie Pontani’s Go-Go Dance, which is billed on the cover as being for beginners. I received a review copy of this from World Dance New York, and back when I got it, it didn’t seem like my kind of thing. After all, go-go dancers don’t tend to impress me in terms of dance technique. But this weekend I really liked the idea of a dance DVD that was more about having fun than about perfecting a move, so I got my workout clothes on and did the entire video.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I will never scoff at go-go dancers again. Go-go dancers now have my utmost, undying respect. Which is to stay that Angie Pontani sweetly, methodically, kicked my butt. After the workout every single muscle in my body hurt (in a good way), and I could have launched sailboats on the seas of my sweat. It was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again. In the meantime, let me tell you what it is.

The program consists of three tutorial sections followed by combinations made up of the moves already learned. At the end, the sections are put together into one song-length choreography. There are enough repetitions of the combos and the choreography at the end to give a real workout, beyond the practice of individual moves.

The moves themselves are retro- and bellydance-inspired. Angie Pontani is also a burlesque dancer, and her go-go dancing is 1960’s in flavour, with moves like the Jailhouse Rock, the Buffalo Bill, the Roll & Shoot, the Jerk, and the Pony. She also teaches chest and full-body shimmies, as well as a fast hip shake she calls “The Princess Farhana.” Despite there being extensive grinding, and not a lot of clothing, the whole video still has an air of sweetness and innocence about it. The point seems to be more fun and entertainment than seduction.

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Pontani breaks down each move, and gives little tips on safe movement and stylization. Her instruction is quick, but detailed enough for someone with a little bit of dance experience. I noticed a few tiny differences between the combo instruction and what actually happened in the combo, but this does not really matter once you are practicing the combo multiple times. And, overall, Pontani is a delight: just cheerful and encouraging enough to keep you going for about 65 minutes of dancing that looks much easier than it actually is.

Go-Go Dance is a video that beginners can enjoy, and it also has a bit of space to grow. While I could do all the movements on the first go, doing them at Pontani’s top speed was still a challenge. Working on stylization and nice arm movement would add another layer of difficulty. But the real point is that it’s fun — grab a towel, some water, and a few changes of clothes, and prepare to boogie!

Review of Lastics: A Stretch Workout Like No Other

One of my biggest challenges since starting to take ballet has been flexibility. This is odd: I’ve never been a particularly inflexible person. But ballet shows you your limits fast. So I have been on the search for programs that are focused on increasing flexibility. Yoga is great, of course, but sometimes I don’t feel like it, and it’s not necessarily aimed at the kind of flexibility one needs in dance.

Enter Lastics. It’s the creation of Donna Flagg, a former dancer, and advertised as “A Stretch Workout Like No Other.” I bought the DVD bundled with the book, since I wanted to know as much as possible about what made Lastics different. There are quite a few stretch DVDs out there, and many of them seem just to offer the same stretches most active people already know.

I’m happy to report that Lastics is quite different from all other stretch programs I’ve done. One major difference is that Donna Flagg has you extend muscles, then stretch them. I’m not a physician, and can’t tell if she’s right that it’s pointless to work on flexibility on an unextended muscle, but I do know that doing that hasn’t brought me much. Another aspect of Flagg’s program is using, as much as possible, internal force to stretch muscles, rather than external objects or devices.

The DVD itself has an intro on Common Stretching Mistakes, and then moves on to four sections:

Stretch in Motion (15 min)
Get into Your Body (19 min)
Feel the Rush (14 min)
Body Meets Mind (9 min)

The idea is that any one segment will stretch all of your body, but that you can do more if you want. This is true, but the names of the sections have no real relationship to what’s covered. I’ve done the program twice all the way through, and I think it works well that way, but I do like the option of doing a smaller program if I have less time.

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Donna Flagg demonstrates Lastics stretch with a modification

Donna’s instruction is excellent. Every single breath and move is cued, directions are clear, and every move is done equally on both sides. As good instructors do, she often anticipates your mistakes and corrects you. She also often shows adjustments for people with less flexibility.

So does it work? And is the DVD worth it? Well, I’m not sure if it works. I haven’t seen any increase in my flexibility in the days after using the program, though it’s probably expecting too much for one hour to make a noticeable difference. I think it would be more effective to do this program after some other kind of movement or warmup, instead of stretching cold — which is what I did both times.

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Donna Flagg demonstrating a Lastics psoas stretch

I am, however, very happy with the purchase. There are a number of stretches in this program I haven’t seen elsewhere, and still others that I haven’t seen directed quite in this way. Lastics targets certain areas that other programs don’t, like the psoas muscle, and its in intense focus on stretching hamstrings with a straight leg, it’s particularly useful for students of dance or ballet. Dancers might wish for more stretches that aim towards turnout or straddle splits, but the program stands on its own as it is.

And while I can’t tell if the program really improves flexibility, it certainly is a delicious and deep way to stretch, one that I suspect prevents quite a bit of pain. I think Lastics is particularly great after travel or long days of sitting at a desk, as it works on the quads, neck, and arm muscles. Lastics offers a deep stretch comparable to a yin yoga practice, one that is perfect if you don’t want to do yoga,

Ali MacGraw's yoga

Review of Ali MacGraw’s Yoga Mind & Body

Ali MacGraw’s Yoga Mind and Body has been around for a long time. I knew it as a VHS tape, but picked up a DVD version of it years ago in Half Price Books. Today my body was complaining in all sorts of ways, and I knew I needed some yoga, so I finally decided to try it.

Ali MacGraw yoga

MacGraw is not the instructor — Erich Schiffmann is. First, let’s cover the most obvious part: this is one of the most gorgeous exercise DVDs you could ever imagine. Forget pilates by the beach, MacGraw and several other practitioners are filmed in some kind of insane desert full of platinum-white sand, while dramatic New Age music plays in the background. If there were a yoga video to watch while getting high, this is it.

Ali MacGraw yoga

The less obvious thing? One of those practitioners is older (well, two are, if you count MacGraw), and two are of colour. Yoga has a race problem, as we now know, and one of the issues is that it’s difficult even to see images of people of colour doing or teaching yoga. I thought it was pretty cool that MacGraw’s DVD did, despite its aesthetic otherwise being so literally white. 

Ali MacGraw yoga

But you probably want to know about the workout. Yoga Mind and Body is a great morning workout — around 45 minutes in length, beginning with practice in breathing and very gentle cat stretches, and working up to a good basic practice.

It’s a good DVD for people with experience in yoga, and who can modify to suit their ability. The movements are well-cued, and build up through repetition. There are a few challenging poses, and these have no modifications offered. (Guess they didn’t bring blocks to the desert!) But most of the video is really quite doable.

And that crazy New Age music? Even though I tend not to like that kind of thing, it fit the pace of the movements quite well, and I found it gave me energy during the sun salutations and helped me relax at the end. Or it would have, if a certain toddler hadn’t decided to sit between me and the computer and engage me in a discussion of what it was I was doing.

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Miranda Esmonde-White doing Classical Stretch

Review of Classical Stretch – The Esmonde Technique: Complete Season 10 – Strength and Flexibility

I only recently found out about Classical Stretch. Why? I don’t have a television set, that’s why. But a very nice woman I know only from the internet had sent me a copy of Oxford American’s Southern Music Issue internationally, and she refused payment, and so I managed to convince her to accept an Amazon gift certificate, and then she announced on Facebook that she had bought a Classical Stretch DVD with it. So of course, I was curious.

Miranda Esmonde-White doing Classical Stretch barre work

Essentrics kindly hooked me up with a review copy of Classical Stretch Season 10 – Strength and Flexibility. This was in the spring. I really had no idea what to expect, even after reading descriptions on the website and various reviews online. It seems that the Essentrics DVDs are for younger, fitter people, while Classical Stretch runs on PBS and is more geared towards stopping aging. Would I be bored?

The answer was a resounding no! In fact, I’ve fallen a bit in love with Classical Stretch.

Here are the basics, for those of you who, like me, don’t go to PBS for your workouts. Classical Stretch workouts are led by Miranda Esmonde-White, a Canadian dancer and fitness trainer. Each one is about 22 minutes long, filmed in a gorgeous place, and consists mainly of flowing movements that get your muscles warm and flexible, use and extend your range of motion, and encourage you to stretch in all sorts of directions.

The movements are inspired by ballet, tai chi, and physiotherapy. They are surprisingly intense and dynamic. What you don’t have are twenty repetitions of the same exercise. Instead, you’ll be reaching down low with strong, sweeping stretches, then to the side, then up. You’ll spiral. You’ll be doing something with your arms while your legs are in a plie. Some movements are large, but then Esmonde-White will introduce a tiny variation that gives you a different feeling or a deeper stretch.

Imagine yoga, but with a thousand more directions.

Or modern dance, with less moving around.

Or pilates, with more stretching.

Miranda Esmonde--White doing Classical Stretch standing moves

In short, the movements are intensely pleasurable, and I tend to break a sweat. Which is funny, because Esmonde-White talks encouragingly about how you can maintain or improve flexibility even in old age, and the entire time I am thinking: “Who are these eighty-year-olds doing Classical Stretch? I’m thirty-four and dripping wet here!”

The other thing to know is that there is a lot of variety. Classical Stretch Season 10 – Strength and Flexibility contains four DVDs, with a total of thirty episodes. (About eleven hours of programming.) I haven’t done every last one of them, but over the last months I’ve tried to work with a range. Some are barre-oriented, either with a chair or simply balancing. Some are all on the floor, with combinations of strength training and stretching. And my favourite, because they’re the newest to me, are the standing segments with all their flowing, challenging moves. All in all, there are many, many exercises I found myself doing for the first time with these DVDs.

Also cool is that the back of the DVD case tells you the goal of each program. You can choose to work on “Back Pain Relief” or “Full Body Strengthening” or “Waist Slenderizing.” (A full list of the contents is here.) My one beef here is that it’s not always clear which episodes are on which DVD. That aside, it’s great to have a workout dedicated to whatever it is you need on a particular day. And all of the episodes I’ve tried have some kind of full body stretch, so all the particularly tight bits get loosened up.

But what I love the most about Classical Stretch Season 10 – Strength and Flexibility is that this is a workout designed to get me doing it. I can almost always fit in twenty minutes. If I’m about to go to bed, but really want to get in some movement, or have some back pain, I pick one episode, do it, and go to bed happy. If I wake up in the morning, and I want to exercise just a bit, I do an episode.

Miranda Esmonde-White does standing work Classical Stretch

The other thing that makes it really easy to do these workouts, and that I wish more DVD producers would keep in mind, is this: you need so little space. You need no special equipment. Not even a mat. You can use a chair for a barre, and books instead of yoga blocks. I’ve found this set of DVDs to be the perfect travel companion, because I can do them anywhere, and because they help me stretch everything out after sitting in planes or trains for a long time.

While Classical Stretch is aimed at anyone, really, I think it’s particularly great for dancers. I’ve been working, haltingly, on establishing my own dance practice, and I find that I can use an episode as the day’s warmup. The workouts get me properly warm, more flexible, and ready to move into a variety of directions. Then I can either do a dance DVD or just practice on my own.

I have just one criticism of some of the programs. While I find most of the workouts highly accessible and very careful about bodily safety (knee alignment is cued, etc), I think some of the barre work is really hard to follow along in proper form. In fact, in one case even the instructor has trouble keeping the hips even while she shoots her leg up. A modification should have been offered for this.

Miranda Esmonde-White does Classical Stretch barre work

That said, Classical Stretch Season 10 – Strength and Flexibility has become, in the past months, my go-to for moving, stretching, getting warm, getting relaxed, toning my waist, soothing my back, and working my quads. I’m still not quite sure I understand what it is, but for me, it hits the spot.

You can find out more about Classical Stretch and Essentrics at www.essentrics.com.