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

day 1 - cover.jpg

 

 

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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.

Ali MacGraw yoga

Desk exercises — a playlist

So, I have a problem. The problem that arises from a good situation: I have been writing a lot lately. Why should that be bad? Well, it’s doing a number on my body. My shoulders are stiff, my lower back hurts, and I seem to have developed a nasty little case of tendinitis in my wrist.

So, all the writing is making it difficult for me to keep writing. And this comes in a period of my life when I have not only many deadlines, but also a ton of inspiration and ideas.

I need to see a doctor, obviously.And my ballet classes are back in session, which already helps a lot. But until then, I’m taking frequent breaks. So I put together A little playlist on YouTube of workouts around five minutes, most of which you can do while sitting in a desk chair. Please check it out, and let me know if you have any favorite videos or exercises.

The whole list: Desk Exercises playlist.

Or watch it here:

Yogalates with Ines Vogel

Quickie Review of Yogalates with Ines Vogel

If you had told me a year or two ago that my son would one day sleep till 7:30 am, I would have called you a liar. If you had told me that I would get up at 5:45 am so that I could exercise before the kiddo woke up, I would’ve called you a maniac. But that’s exactly what I did today.

The previous day I had picked up Ines Vogel‘s Yogalates DVD at my local Rossmann drugstore. (Word to the wise: Germany has the best drug stores.) And I was determined to try it.

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

Yogalates sounds like something that shouldn’t exist. On the other hand, it’s also sort of great. Vogel notes at the beginning that yoga and pilates have different forms of breathing, and she instructs you to do the pilates-style breathing, into the chest. Otherwise, the hour-long workout is a neat flow of yoga and pilates moves. And in fact, they work great together. She cues almost every breath, and combines flowing movements, static stretches, and strength work from both disciplines. Vogel also gives lots of tips on correct form, but frankly, I know enough to know that more are necessary. (There were lots of situations where a live instructor would have told me to square my hips, for example.) The DVD itself is shot in a bright studio. Ines Vogel demonstrates the moves along with an assistant, and one or the other will do an easier variation of a move — but the variations are not guided in words.

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

What I love about this is that I have to divide my precious exercise time among too many things: bellydance, ballet, yoga, pilates, and even a bit of cardio. If I can feel like I touched two bases with one practice, then I’m a bit happier. And the workout was good, letting me sweat a little, but also giving me ample time to stretch various body parts. Lower back pain that was there yesterday is no longer there today, for example. Upper back pain is still there, but way better. But although there are no crazy difficult moves, you do need to be beyond beginner to know how to do them right, or at least be working towards correct form.

The DVD is in German. But for those of you who understand German, or are happy to follow along with the screen, it’s a great (and quite cheap) buy!

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

Kristina Nekya does splits

Review of Kristina Nekyia’s Get Bent: Circus Style Flexibility Training

Alright, admit it: I cannot be the only person to look around during the cool-down part of dance class and compare my flexibility to the dancers near me. It’s not that I’m much competition to anyone, not counting a few joints in my arms that allow me to perform East European circus tricks to the horror of all around. And it’s not that I’m planning on doing the splits in the foreseeable future. But there are so many times I come up against the limits of my flexibility — a back bend here, a plie there — and I wish those limits were a little further.

This is why when I heard about Get Bent – Circus Style Flexibility Training with Kristina Nekyia, I was dying to try it. I didn’t know if I could dream of splits, but I did want to know what tools were out there to help. I received a review copy from Kristina, and have worked with it a number of times over the last while.

Kristina Nekya does dancer stretches

The first thing to say is that this video is definitely not for people who have not moved around in a while, or for the overambitious who cannot pay attention to what their body is telling them. Get Bent is an intense program, you go into stretches for relatively long periods of time, and it plays on the edge of discomfort. As Kristina explains in the introduction, you need to differentiate between good and bad pain, and she describes how to recognize which is which.

To be perfectly honest, the first time I worked with the video I wasn’t sure if I had pushed myself too far, and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to move the next day. In fact, I felt fantastic the next day, all kinds of aches and pains were gone. This has been true every time I have done the video — for me, it works like a really good yin yoga session. But I would still say that you need to be smart, careful, and aware using this DVD, as you will not have a live coach to watch over you.

The first section is a Warmup, which is more of a joint-loosening warmup than one to get your heart up very much. You systematically move all the joints of your body, from the wrists to the ankles, and start to practice some squats and leg raises. I was very glad to have this, as I would not have wanted to stretch cold, but I imagine that doing the video after a long workout would be even better.

Part 2 is Splits Preparation, which consists of forward and sideways lunges held for a good long time, followed by a series of yoga postures designed to relax the hamstrings. While some of the moves are yoga, the instruction isn’t. Kristina carefully guides you through dynamic stretches, using gentle movement and tensing and releasing of muscles to attain a deeper stretch. Everything is done equally on both sides. I find the little “tricks”, especially with tensing and releasing muscles, incredibly helpful.

Kristina Nekya does yoga

Part 3 is Splits. This was the hardest section for me, mainly because I can’t do anywhere near the splits. As much as it was difficult for me to levitate in the position that was as close as I could get, I did feel that I was stretching in a way that was beyond the lunges in Part 2. However, the middle splits are something one can practice even without too much of a range of motion. In this section, as through the video, Kristina gives you quiet encouragement and tips on saying nice things to your body. This sounds sort of funny at first, until you realize it works. So yes, I’ll admit it, I now say nice things to my body in my head when I’m stretching! The Splits section would be particularly valuable to people who can already do the splits, since there are also exercises for going beyond a 180-degree stretch.

Next comes the Shoulder Warm Up & Stretch. This was one of my favourite sections of the DVD, and perhaps the most generally useful. I sit at my computer a lot, for both work and fun, and it is not good for my shoulders and upper back. Kristina’s exercises really loosen the shoulders, and she also has some gorgeous stretches for the front of the shoulders and the chest. Again, this section would be worth doing as a break at the office, but would also be worth incorporating into a dance warmup. Really delicious.

The Backbends section will probably be most interesting to bellydancers. Kristina uses a mirror/wall to bend towards, but she also guides you to move from the upper back only, keeping the lower abdominals still. Again, this is one of those exercises I worry about when I’m doing, because I don’t want to hurt my lower back. But I’ve always been careful only to go as far as I could while still following Kristina’s instructions, and I’ve felt fine.

Finally, you get a short but satisfying yoga-based Cool Down. You have earned it. Heck, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably shaking at this point.

Throughout the DVD, Kristina is encouraging and funny. While she is clearly very fit, she is also curvy, and frankly, it made me very happy to see someone on the screen with a body similar to mine, but doing really cool things with it.

So the big question: does it work? I haven’t done the video the recommended three times a week, nowhere near it, so I can’t speak to the effects it would have if you really did it religiously. That said, when I did work with it, I noticed a difference in my classes afterwards. My muscles were remarkably looser, I felt more flexible, and I felt like I knew how to stretch better. I have to imagine that doing the video regularly would increase my flexibility even more.

You will like Get Bent – Circus Style Flexibility Training with Kristina Nekyia if you have some experience with stretching or yoga, are aware of your body and can respect its limits, and are craving really deep, long stretches. If you can already do splits, you will probably use the video as a maintenance and extension program. All of the program is useful for dancers, but there are parts, like the upper body and shoulder stretches, that bellydancers will particularly enjoy. I also think you’ll like it if you want the feeling of having done a great yoga session — you know, that sensation of everything in your body having been pulled apart and put back together loosely — without all the yogic tralala.

On the other hand, you will probably be frustrated with the DVD if you are very inflexible; in that case, you might be better off with a gentle yoga program. You also should not expect contortionist circus tricks, despite the title. These are very straightforward, well-known stretches, guided well, and with some extra techniques thrown in to make them feel better. But don’t expect to be pretzeling your legs around your neck or anything.

Kristina’s website is The Nekyia. You can get Get Bent – Circus Style Flexibility Training with Kristina Nekyia at Amazon by clicking the photo below.

Some tried and tested free yoga for your back and legs – David Procyshyn’s Deep Release

I knew I’d have hard decisions to make as a mother: breast or bottle, organic cotton nappies or disposable, constant ravaging guilt or just occasional intense bouts of it…. no, seriously, most of these were pretty easy. But what has been hard is this decision:

It’s late.

I’m tired.

But I also lugged around a toddler today and my back hurts.

If I go to bed now, I’ll get much-needed sleep.

But then my back might be worse tomorrow.

Yoga/stretching or sleep?

Usually I choose sleep, it’s just the most basic necessity, possibly even a little more important than air. But yesterday I chose yoga, and man was I glad I did. What I found was a one-hour program for the back and hamstrings that I thought would be just the thing for my tense lower back:

So, the first thing I loved about this is that it’s all sitting. I wanted something relaxing, and I was too tired to get up. I really just wanted to sit and stretch. The other thing is that other calming yoga programs I do often have pretty expected and easy asanas, so I tend to think that I could have just done the practice on my own. This program had a number of positions I’m not so familiar with, and with some measure of challenge. It gave me really deep, delicious stretches, exactly where I needed it to stop the pain in its tracks. Twists, forward bends, more twists, all done slowly and gently and with breath.

The other thing I really liked? David Procyshyn gives an instruction a few moments before doing it on screen, not at the same time. So you have time to process what he says, prepare to do it, and then do it along with him. It took me a bit to figure this out, but once I did I loved it — I wish all yoga instructors would do this. I never had the feeling I had to catch up to what was going on on screen.

Anyway, it’s free, go do it if you have back pain like me — it’s just an hour of your life. I for one loved it so much I will be checking out David’s other online videos.

Review of Elena Brower’s AM & PM Yoga for Beginners

When it comes to yoga DVDs, I go through phases. For a while, I was looking for something that would give me an experience similar to class, a long, intense practice that would leave me utterly mellowed out and exhausted. I was frustrated with all the 60-minute DVDs, wondering where I could find a “proper” 90-minute practice that would be like the real thing.

Now it’s harder. If I do yoga at all, it’s on stolen time. I steal some time from my work, because I know the yoga will refresh me and help me to concentrate better and with less caffeine. Or I steal some time from my sleep, because my back is already hurting and I want to wake up feeling better, not worse.

Elena Brower does pigeon pose

I recently dipped into my collection, and found just the right thing for the place where I am these days: Elena Brower’s AM & PM Yoga for Beginners. It’s incredibly straightforward: no sitting through long shots of foliage, no lengthy introductions. You get a menu, and you choose one of the workouts, or both. AM. Or PM.

The morning practice is about 36-minutes long. It’s slow-paced, geared more towards waking up your body and opening it into the positions than towards working up a sweat. You have a modified sun salutation, a lot of downward dog and back-soothing cat-cow combinations, a warrior series. Some twists and balances, and a little abdominal work. Elena offers modifications to increase the challenge in some of the poses. And it does the trick, leaving me rejuvenated, but not so tired I can’t work anymore.

The evening practice is 28-minutes long. I like the AM program, but I love the PM program. It has a lot of breathing, and deep, wonderful stretches. While many of the poses look quite basic, it’s the quality of the instruction that stands out. There will be a little variation, like a twist added to the pigeon pose (as in the image). Or she will guide you to do an asana with precise muscular awareness. I always thought that staff pose is easy, but now I see that doing it right takes a lot of attention. This is the kind of teaching that affects how I do other video yoga programs too. Last night, for example, I was working with a yoga app, and found myself remembering the instructions from Elena’s DVD.

What struck me most about AM & PM Yoga for Beginners was the way Elena works with breath, and this is where I think it gets interesting for dancers too. Instead of directing you to breathe into the stomach, she will have you breathe into the back, even curving the upper back in a little and straightening on the exhalation. All of the breathwork I have ever been taught in yoga, in class or on video, has been into the stomach, then chest. This is wonderfully relaxing, but it has meant that when I’m in dance class, and have to keep my abdominals engaged, I don’t know how to breathe anymore. I know that I’m supposed to breathe both into my chest and into my back, but my back muscles are tight and won’t budge. One of the reasons I’ll return to AM & PM Yoga for Beginners is this breathwork, which is also, in fact, practice in relaxing the muscles of the back to let more air into the lungs. It may just be the trick to breathing and dancing at the same time!