Review of Chantal Donnelly’s Pain Free at Work

Although I’ve dedicated this blog to activities that make me feel physically wonderful, like dance, and yoga, and pilates, the truth is that I spend enormous amounts of time in front of the computer like everyone else. It’s not just work, though it is also work. But many things I love to do, like writing creatively (and like, well, my work) require the computer.

This means that I can reliably count on one thing: pain.

I was recently sent a review copy of Chantal Donnelly’s Pain Free at Work. The funny thing is, I’ve often wanted something just like what this video includes, namely a short stretching program that can be done in my office chair. But first things first.

Let me just pull up a seat…

Pain Free at Work is a mixed-genre DVD, made up of both informative lecture segments and sets of practical exercises. It’s about forty minutes long, and divided into multiple sections:

Pain Free Sitting
Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 1
Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 2
Ergonomics in the Work Place
Exercising at Your Desk
After Work Workout
Handling Pain: Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain
Express Stress Relief

The lectures:

In Pain Free Sitting, Chantal demonstrates how to sit correctly so as to minimize the curvature of the back, and reduce pain. She uses a live model and anatomical charts. As much as I am easily bored during this kind of lecture, the truth is that I realised how much I am doing wrong when I sit at a desk. (Just right now I was sitting back with my legs crossed on the chair!) I’ve always known I was sitting poorly, but having it spelled out somehow helps me to check my own posture. (Now I am sitting up straight, abdominals in. Aren’t you proud of me?)

This is the secret to good laptop mojo!

¬†I found Ergonomics in the Work Place very useful. Again, this is the kind of thing I’ve read dozens of articles on, but I’ve rarely been able to control my work space to the extent needed to have an optimal setup. What I liked about this section is that Chantal and ergonomics expert Brad Hutchins deal with laptops, which I never have seen before. The assumption tends to be that you have a huge desk computer. The other thing I liked was Brad’s point that even making one improvement is better than nothing. I don’t have to have the perfect setup at work, but changing one thing is still good.

Express Stress Relief was really express. It is a short conversation between Chantal and Dr. Jeff Gero, and includes a few strategies on dealing with stress. Mainly deep breathing, meditation, and positive thinking. Honestly, I think each of these take enough training to do them right that having a short segment on them is not particularly helpful.

The lectures with some exercises:

Training for Marathon Sitting – Phase 1 is basically an introduction to connecting with your transverse abdominal muscle. Chantal provides some strategies for strengthening it while doing everyday tasks. Again, simple, but good to have the reminder. I do think that people who have not had training in accessing this muscle might benefit from even more detailed instruction. (I found Helen Byrne’s postnatal conditioning workout to be particularly focused in this respect.)

Handling Pain: Elbow, Wrist and Hand Pain is another brief segment, including two self-massage techniques for dealing with elbow and hand pain that were completely new to me. Short, but very worth while.

The exercise programs:

The real gem of Pain Free at Work for me is Exercising at Your Desk. This is a compact set of exercises you can do at your desk that will gently stretch everything from the feet to the head. The thing I particularly like about this is that the exercises do not look weird — that is, you don’t have to get into any funny or embarrassing positions to do them. You could do them around your coworkers and no one would bat an eye.

This is just a delicious inner-thigh stretch

 Training for Marathon Sitting РPhase 2 is a gentle yoga and pilates-type workout for stretching the back and building strength in both abdominal and back muscles. Chantal suggests you watch it through before doing it. This is a good idea, as the cuing is minimal. (I would have liked for everything to be cued.) That said, she does give good prompts on form and using the abdominal muscles for support. And she has one of the demonstrators show modifications, sometimes using a Swiss ball.

Finally, there is an After Work Workout that uses a thick foam roller for stretching and relaxation. I didn’t have the prop, so I didn’t do it! I can say that the other two workouts are simple but definitely relaxing.

In short, I think Pain Free at Work can be very useful to anyone spending a lot of time at a computer. Watching the lecture segments is not as much fun as doing the exercises, but I did get some good tips out of them. I think the best way to use it is to keep it in your office and do the stretches and self-massages on a regular basis, once or twice a day, as a preventative measure!

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.