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

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Review of Ruby Beh’s Pilates for Bellydancers

I’ve been traveling lately, and it hasn’t left much time for dance, or for any kind of working out. It’s pretty terrible, going from pretty regular movement to nothing. So tonight, after I put the kiddo to bed, I decided to try out Ruby Beh‘s newish instructional on RAQStv, Pilates for Belly Dancers. I wanted to dance, but even more, I wanted to give my abs a little attention.

Ruby Beh showing pilates hundred

What I found is an answer to a lot of my dance problems of the past year. One of my challenges lately has been moving from the idea that bellydance is totally “loose” (I’m not really sure where I got this, except by some dumb opposition to ballet), and building up abdominal strength, learning how to keep my core engaged, and hardest of all, learning how to breathe with all of this. I don’t think there’s a single dance class I attend where the teacher is not constantly on me to keep my core “zipped up.”

Well, that’s what Pilates for Belly Dancers is all about. Ruby starts out slowly, really slowly, with posture and practice breathing both standing up and lying down. I loved the meticulous tiny movements that at least started giving me a sense of how the breathing and muscular contractions should feel. She then guides you through some classic pilates movements (the hundred, roll-ups, etc.) but interweaves exercises that help you gain control of the specific muscles useful for bellydance.

After a workout that is challenging if done attentively, Ruby has you practice some basic bellydance moves with special attention to the core. Finally, she teaches a short combination. In both of these segments, she explains what effects can be achieved with a strong, controlled pilates foundation — the fast spin that can stop on a dime, the quick-changing footwork that doesn’t make you bob up and down.

The video is 1 hour and ten minutes long. There was a brief but satisfying stretch to cool down with in the bonus content material, which also included the pilates section from Ruby’s Flawless Floorwork: The Lost Art of Belly Dance Floorwork DVD. The filming is clear throughout, though there is one blooper that was not edited out and a few camera cuts are confusing. Think filmed class, not pro DVD. Still, I had no problems following along.

In short, I was thrilled with the program. Ruby’s generous with pointers on form, and she will sometimes give modifications. She has the experienced instructor’s ability to know, magically, through the screen, just what I’m doing wrong and to correct it. She also has a knack for coming up with lots of illustrative similes to help conceptualize a movement.

All in all, it was so good for me to spend an hour really paying attention to what my core was doing at all times, how all other movements, whether exercise or dance, related to it and drew on its strength. Like Ranya Renee, Ruby talks about engaging the kegels too, though I haven’t heard this talked about in my classes. I haven’t been as delightfully concentrated during a pilates program in a long time. I wish I could buy this on DVD, but at least it’s being offered as a two-month rental on RAQStv.

Stream(lin)ing my practice with Datura Online

Today I hooked up my computer to my projector and tried something new: doing an entire practice using streaming online programs. I’m used to live class, I’m used to just popping a video in and working with it, but I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’m working on a comprehensive review of Datura Online (and have review access for a month for that), but I wanted to work with the offerings out there to customize my very own practice session, just the way I want it. So here’s what I did:

I scrolled to the “topics” section of Datura Online, selected the “Warmup” option and picked a basic little warmup with some ab exercises for toning; in a second tab, went to “Movement” and then “Shimmies” because I’d seen a basic tutorial on layering 3/4 shimmies onto traveling steps; opened up another tab, pulled up RAQStv and loaded Maria Sokolova’s mini-class from Project Belly Dance so I could get a bit of dancing in; and in a final window, got a quick cool-down with yoga focused on the lower back from Datura. I had everything opened in its own tab, and I organized the tabs in order, so that I wouldn’t have to pause too long between segments.

I’m going to talk about Maria’s lesson in a different post, so I can focus on the Datura offerings here.

Warmup: Ab Warm Up + Conditioning: #1 with Colette Todorov (12:22 min)

To warm you up, Colette has you do slow, deliberate high steps, adding a few arm moves and twists to add a bit of challenge. It’s the kind of thing that looks very easy, but if you’re holding your stomach in as she instructs, becomes more challenging — especially at the end of a long day.

The real goodness is in the ab exercises. I loooved this bit. It’s short and sweet, but involves doing four different kinds of pilates ab exercises. However, instead of repeating each one for a long time and then switching, Colette has you do combination sets — first four slow, controlled reps of each move, then two. There was burn. It targeted the obliques and the lower abs too. Not the kind of thing that will give you washboard abs, but fun to do, and easy to work into a bellydance practice.

Drills: Basic Traveling with 3/4 Shimmies with Ashley Lopez (20:16 min)

This is a standalone section of a longer workshop on the 3/4 shimmy. I was drawn to it because the preview showed Ashley doing a simple, unaccented 3/4 shimmy. This is what I’m learning in one of my live classes, but is pretty different than what I have on most of my videos, and, indeed, from what I’ve learned in other classes.

Surprisingly, Ashley begins by getting you to do a regular shimmy, then try walking with it, then try smoothing it out. At my level, this is a bit easier said than done, and I had trouble figuring out how I was supposed to do that. Then she goes back to basics — phew! — talks about driving the shimmy from the obliques, and does it very slowly. Once the slow shimmy is going, you start walking forwards and backwards with it. And eventually, Ashley has you walk in a large square doing the shimmy at full speed, then try the shimmy on releve. Finally, she does the 3/4 shimmy on the down, and goes through the drills again.

What I liked: Ashley explains and demonstrates why this shimmy is useful. I find it a less exciting shimmy to watch and do than the “hip up hip out” kind of 3/4 shimmy, but her point is that once you get it down, you can accent whatever you like. She has helpful tricks, like clapping on the “1” before you even start lifting your foot. And, she gives pointers on form, as well as occasional tips on what to focus on if you’re just starting.

What I still wanted: I think it would be helpful to have an exercise to isolate the obliques in the movement, and the rev up to full speed was too fast for me. (Mind you, since I didn’t watch the entire workshop, I don’t know if she does a slower breakdown elsewhere — but I’m reviewing the videos as I find them.) I think this video would be a great drill for someone who already has a 3/4 shimmy going, but wants to polish her form and work on layering it onto traveling moves.

After I was done with the video, I wound up going to a full-length mirror and just working with the shimmy. I found that moving away from the screen was actually useful, maybe even necessary. Once I took Ashley’s tips but just watched myself, trying to get the form right, I started to see and feel improvement. Eventually, I got faster, and I was even able to walk a few steps with it. So I will most likely return to the video, but after I’ve drilled the shimmy for a bit on my own.

Cool Down: Basic Short Yoga Sequence with Rachel Brice (9:07 min)

This is a quick way to stretch out and relax your back after a practice. The exercises Rachel chose here are for both the upper and lower back. They resemble some of the moves in my Viniyoga back videos, but with an extra twist or two. Basically, the cool down is composed of slow motion stretches and movements, timed with inhalation and exhalation, and the result is a delicious feeling of relaxation. Simple, sweet, a winner.

So, it was a good time this evening. It was amazing what could fit into each short segment. The beginning and closing videos were very handy as-is, while the 3/4 shimmy drills needs some, well, preliminary drilling on my part to be do-able. (I will most likely work with the entire workshop for that, so I can get a sense of how Ashley builds up to full speed.)

Review of Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy

As I was working with Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, I had two thoughts:

1. While prenatal workouts are mostly light workouts that other, non-pregnant people could enjoy, especially if they have an injury or are suffering pain, postnatal workouts are pretty specific. Man, I thought kegel exercises were detailed — it turns out that the kind of exercises you do once the baby’s out are way more internal and precise.

2. This video has some really fun Swiss ball exercises, the kind that make having that silly rubber bubble worthwhile.

I previously reviewed Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy, and while I thought it would be good for someone advanced in their pregnancy and needing very gentle exercises, I also found it quite a bit lighter than what I could do, and sometimes a bit fussy in the set-up required. Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, on the other hand, is a much better fit for what I was looking for. (Both are review copies, by the way.) It’s still not about sweating, but getting the exercises set up is much easier, and the moves themselves are a bit more challenging.

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy also includes the “Fusion Essentials” intro to proper form. And then it’s straight into the workout!

The workout itself begins with pelvic floor exercises. These are very well taught, even though it’s always kind of a challenge to translate these kinds of descriptions of very internal muscular contractions into real practice. The idea is to build up the pelvic floor to offer stability and resistance before doing abdominal work that presses down on it. The exercises are taught slowly, gradually, and with different kinds of breaths. There are enough reps to really get a feeling for things.

You may not be able to tell, but this woman is working her pelvic floor.

The rest of the workout consists of gentle but targeted and, for a new mother, intense pilates-style moves on the ball. For many of them, Gianni will start with a variation for very new postpartum moms, and then build on it for women in the advanced postpartum period. I thought this was a great way to both teach moves and make the video useful to women at different points beyond pregnancy.

Just about every part of the body has an exercise — the upper back, the abs of course, the legs and glutes. There are even some exercises that build on the pelvic floor work done at the start of the workout. And there is one truly delicious upper back/shoulder stretch. When I started doing it, I thought “oh, this is so good for anyone breastfeeding,” and sure enough, Gianni’s voice piped in and said the exercise is ideal for nursing moms! And although a number of the moves require a wall, I was able to use a couch and a chair successfully, as I did not have a free wall available.

Best of all, a number of these were really fun. I’m not a master of Swiss ball workouts by any means, but I have done a few of them so far, and I find that the ball is often a bit unnecessary. It could be replaced by a chair or weights depending on the move. Gianni has you do some rolling and balancing exercises that really only do work with the ball. They were so much fun, that I think I will put the baby on his playmat tomorrow and bounce around next to it on the ball!

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy is also available from http://www.fusionpilates.com/.

Review of Myra Krien’s Anatomy of a Hip Circle

One of the great things about working with DVDs is that you can always get exactly what you need. Want a quick yoga workout? You’ve got it. Want a long bellydance choreography? It’s there. My only problem is — and I blush to admit it — that I’m such a video addict that I often don’t know what I have. There are so many videos I haven’t really worked with yet that it’s hard to know which to pick. So I look over them and choose one, and sometimes, karma smiles on me and gives me exactly. what. I. wanted. that day.

Myra offers safety tips for the Jewel

This was the case for me yesterday. One of the things I noticed when attending Sunday’s workshops was how completely and utterly out of touch with my core I am now, post baby, post c-section. This is, of course, tragic for a bellydancer. So I knew that I wanted something basic today, but something that would get me in touch with my long-lost abdominals, teach me how to feel them again. Enter a karmic smile, in the form of Myra Krien‘s Anatomy of a Hip Circle.

Despite being a regular on various online forums dedicated to discussing bellydance and bellydance videos, I hadn’t heard of Krien’s videos until I found them by accident, while poking around on the internet. And in fact, she has a whole series of them. When I started my review copy of Anatomy of a Hip Circle, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Was this a beginner DVD? It is the first in a series of three videos ostensibly dedicated to hip circles, but what exactly would be included?

The video begins with a brief introduction to Krien’s Pomegranate Studio. Krien then goes over proper bellydance posture, reminding us to check in on our posture as we practice. And, in fact, like a good teacher she really does remind you to protect your lower back and keep your upper body lifted throughout the following exercises.

The posture check

In the section on Anatomy, Krien goes over the muscles used to create hip circles, focusing on the psoas, the glutes, and the obliques. She also includes a few brief exercises to get in touch with these muscles.

The 17-minute section with Support Exercises starts to get really meaty. Here are a series of wonderful exercises and drills meant to help you become aware of the different muscles key in bellydancing and practice using them in releve and with different foot positions. This is great stuff, exactly the kind of drills you need to take the abstract discussion of muscles into dance practice. The exercises targeting the psoas were particularly difficult and, for that reason, most valuable. As a beginning bellydancer, it’s not hard to learn to use your obliques; it’s more challenging to get to your glutes (especially individually); but it’s hardest of all to target the psoas. This video is the best resource I have found so far for targeting the psoas that is aimed at bellydancers.

Drilling the psoas every which way

What follows is a four-minute section on the Jewel, one of those moves dancers are always trying to define and find instruction for (or so it seems). Krien acknowledges that there are different ways of teaching and even doing the Jewel, and that hers is just one — again, her version is very psoas-centered.

Next is a twenty-minute Technique Practicum that contains a short warmup, and uses a variety of horizontal and vertical hip circles, building up into more complex and interesting patterns. Circles build into figure eights, and these are varied upon in turn. Sections of circles become horseshoe-shaped movements. Movements are done up and down, backwards and forwards, each time giving a different feel.

The video closes out with a seven-minute Stretching section that serves as a delicious cool down.

So what is Anatomy of a Hip Circle, after all? I think the best way to think of it is as an information-dense one-hour workshop on using anatomical awareness to improve bellydance from the ground up. The information is way too detailed for a true beginner. Most beginners, unless they have a background in dance or movement, just want to learn the shapes and some hand and arm work. It’s really when you advance a bit in the dance that you start caring about using specific muscles to drive movements. An advanced dancer might find this a good review of material, and will probably pick up a few tips, but is unlikely to be challenged. So I think the best audience for this video would be advanced beginners and intermediates.

The entire program is about an hour, and on the surface, the material looks simple enough. Just a bunch of hip circles and figure eights, right? But I think it will bear repetition. A lot of the drills I could fake my way through, but I knew I wasn’t really “grabbing” the movement with the right muscle the way I should. After all, that’s what the drills are for. This is a video to return to when I want efficient, targeted technique practice. It’s like going to a great drills workshop, but being able to take it home with you as well for further work.

The video is shot in a bright studio with a live drummer. Myra Krien is filmed facing a mirror, and the image and sound are clear at all times. I like her affect — she speaks with the authority of an experienced teacher, is friendly, but not perky in an annoying way. Everything is drilled on both sides. But my favorite aspect of the program is Krien’s attention to safe movement. She is careful to point out movements that might tempt dancers to move in an unsafe way, and gives tips for avoiding muscle strain or injury. I wish more videos gave this kind of attention to safety, especially as dancers at home, without a teacher to watch them, are at even greater risk of injury.

The major con is that the structure is confusing. There is no warmup at the beginning, though a screen tells you to do so on your own. But the Technique Practicum begins with a slight warmup, as if you had not been doing the Support Exercises. And I would have liked a few words at the beginning explaining why the video was set up as it was, and how best to use it. The stretching segment at the end is really effective and relaxing, and Krien also offers a stretch to do when you don’t want to get down on the floor at a workshop. A warmup would have made the program perfect.

All that said, I’m still delighted with the video. A day later, and I already feel more control over my abdominals (and is it my imagination, or are they a little more pulled in?). It’s clear that these drills will be key to getting wonderful, gooey, Egyptian-style movement. In other words, I have my work cut out for me!

Anatomy of a Hip Circle is available at Persephone Store.

First workout with Helene Byrne’s Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning

My mother’s day gift to myself? Starting to exercise again.

Even though there are many people who exercise before hitting the six-week mark, it’s my nature to have a sense of fearful respect towards any process that involves cutting my body open and rearranging my organs. So I was really careful to toe the line before I got my doctor’s ok: I didn’t lift heavy things, I didn’t exert myself too much — at least not two days in a row — and I did absolutely no exercise. Not even the lightest movements. None.

But man, was I ever dying to. So to ease into it again, I decided to start with my review copy of Helene Byrne’s Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning. There are two workouts. “Gentle First Moves” can be done early in the postpartum period, and is all I’ve worked with so far. Then there is “Bounce Back Fast!”, with an “Abdominal Separation Program.”

Bounce Back Fast! begins with a series of informational segments on beginning postpartum exercise, using kegels to recondition the pelvic floor, dealing with Diastasis Recti (I didn’t have this so I skipped watching this segment), and ways to work the abdominals so as to pull in the stomach. I think it’s really worth watching through these at least once for two reasons. First, Helene introduces the postures she later calls on in the workout. And second, the tips on keeping the abs engaged during movement have made me much more aware of how I hold myself when walking, holding the baby, breastfeeding, and so on.

Now, let’s be frank here. This is not an exciting video. It’s filmed in a very plain studio, though the shots are very clear and professional. Helene enunciates everything slowly, explains in detail what the postpartum body needs, and doesn’t use cutesy words for body parts the way exercise video instructors sometimes do. There’s no “tushy” here. When Helene means “anus,” she says “anus.”

Nor is the workout exciting. If you were simply to watch it, you would probably think nothing is happening. And this, my dear readers, is why I always insist on doing the videos I review. Because this plain 30-minute workout, with no music and no flashing lights, is ridiculously effective.

I’ve done it three times so far, and each time I was suffering from upper and lower back pain before I began it. The first time I worked with the program, I felt pain relief the following day. The second and third times, I had no more back pain immediately after finishing the program. I am serious. One moment I was in lots of pain, and exactly half an hour later, I felt good.

How did this happen? The exercises themselves are fundamentally basic stretches, the kind I know from physiotherapy and from pilates/yoga type workouts. They remind me quite a bit of the Viniyoga back therapy videos I love so much. However, Helene cues them with precise attention to which muscles should be tensed and which relaxed. And each of the exercises has something just a little bit different about them. One focused on pulling in the abdominal muscles uses breath work and hand spotting to get those loose muscles working again. (Incidentally, this particular exercise would be great for belly dancers looking to isolate lower from upper abs!) A hamstring stretch uses the included elastic band to do a gentle but powerful variation. These are just a few examples.

The other thing I want to note is that while these exercises seem like nothing from the outside, doing them correctly is very difficult, especially postpartum. While my strength and flexibility have improved with each repetition of the workout, I’ve also come to see more and more how much concentration they need to be done according to Helene’s instructions.

I’m looking forward to working with the second part of the workout. But I’m also looking forward to returning to dance and yoga instructionals, to say nothing of other postpartum exercise programs, with the increased awareness of my abdominal muscles taught in Bounce Back Fast!

Bounce Back Fast! is also available on www.befitmom.com.

Review of 10 Minute Solution Prenatal Pilates, with Lizbeth Garcia

I’ve been feeling pretty fit and pleased with myself lately, but 10 Minute Solution Prenatal Pilates pretty much kicked my butt tonight. Maybe it was my body telling me to take a day off, or maybe it was the fact that I was working with the video pretty late in the day. But while I meant to try all five prenatal segments (there is also one postnatal workout), I only did two full ten-minute parts and about half of two others.

Lizbeth shows how it’s done

Despite the fact that this program made me feel, well, weak, I think I’ll wind up a fan. It’s one of the most strenuous workouts I’ve tried so far, without leading to overheating. Both the “Standing Pilates” and “Total Body Pilates” segments have significant arm work, with light weights, which not only feels pretty good for the upper back but reminds you that you can work out more than my hips and back during pregnancy! The “Core Pilates” segment has you prop yourself up with pillows and then do modified pilates abdominal work, and trust me, you will feel this, especially if your other workouts have avoided the abdominal muscles. “Pilates for Buns & Thighs” will give you serious burn in the aforementioned regions, and “Pilates for Flexibility” offers some really delicious stretches. Basically, the pace is fast enough and the exercises challenging enough that you could do just one ten minute segment a day and feel that you had done something for your muscle tone. The DVD allows you to customize your own workout, so you can decide how much you want to do and in what order.

Pregnancy, it turns out, is no excuse to ignore your inner thighs

Lizbeth Garcia is visibly pregnant throughout the exercises — though also visibly buff! I’m easily annoyed by too-peppy workout instructors, but she is just cheery enough without grating. (And there’s something a little rough about her voice that I really like too.) And — I think this is kind of adorable — although the picture on the DVD has her perfectly styled, in the actual video her workout shirt is too short for her belly. I think pregnant women can sympathize!