Review of Elements of Yoga: Earth Foundation with Tara Lee

Tara Lee’s Beginners Yoga and Beyond: Elements of Yoga: Earth Foundation is meant to be a grounding practice. As Tara explains in her introduction, it’s supposed to help you let go of the stresses and anxiety of daily life, to find a balance and connection to the earth.

Tara Lee, yoga instructor

I tend not to get excited about the symbolic poetic effusions of yoga instructors, but I will say this. I worked with Earth Foundation after a period of no yoga at all. (Isn’t this always the case somehow?) I had been traveling a lot, my body was stiff, tired, inflexible… I wanted a yoga program that would stretch me out nicely without making me fall over. I wanted something that wouldn’t be too painful. In short, I wanted something forgiving. And this DVD hit the spot.

Tara Lee doing upward dog yoga position
What, did you expect blue skies and a tropical beach?

Earth Foundation┬áis divided into three practices of about twenty minutes each, plus a 5-minute shavasana. In fact, the sections really build one well-constructed hour-long practice, though I guess you could do just one if you were pressed for time. Practice 1 starts out gently, with breathing to get centered, and continues with a series of slow, delicious dynamic stretches that get your body warmed up. Plenty of pauses in between too, with more breathing and relaxation. A number of the movements in this section were similar to exercises I know from Gary Kraftsow’s excellent Viniyoga programs, and since those have basically saved my back, I was inclined to trust the usefulness of this section. I may be getting you warmed up without too much trouble, but it also carefully strengthens the back muscles.

Tara Lee doing thigh work in her yoga DVD


Practice 2 begins with soft twists and forward bends, and moves into a long sun salutation. While it is not painfully challenging, I did feel myself working, getting warmer and even a bit tired. There are some deeper stretches like pigeon, and some delicious strength work. It’s all a bit more challenging, but still doable on a quiet evening. The third practice is more vinyasa flow, this time with warriors, triangles, and lunges. The latter part of this practice is another nice sequence of exercises and stretches for the back and hamstrings.

All in all, this is an approachable, but still satisfying, program. It’s marketed to beginners, and while you do need to know a bit about the poses, you don’t have to be in top shape to keep up. Nor do you need any uncanny flexibility. Someone very stiff could just do practice 1, and someone looking for a full workout should do the whole hour.

What I found particularly charming was the Englishness of it all. Tara has the accent of course, but even more delightfully, the “exotic” background is English countryside! It rather reminds me of a park I used to live near, and because it looks like a lot of places I’ve lived, it makes the yoga more approachable. I don’t get to practice yoga on a lot of Tahitian beaches, so why should I watch others do so?

The bonus features include three segments around ten minutes each: a more advanced balancing sequence for this “earth” program, along with a breathing segment for “air & water” and a difficult core workout for “fire.” I haven’t looked at the other DVDs, but I’m assuming they all have the same bonuses. Finally, there is a 17-minute interview with Tara, in which she describes how she found yoga and became a teacher. She also explains how her studies in shiatsu led her to focus on the elements, which became the basis of her DVD program. She comes across as thoughtful and intelligent. I should admit she really won me over with her description of yoga as a tool not only to deal with stress, but to get a sense of yourself as you, separate from the roles you inhabit in the world. Both yoga and dance do that for me (dance perhaps even more so), and it’s good to be reminded of how important that is.

I received a review copy of Beginners Yoga and Beyond: Elements of Yoga: Earth Foundation with Tara Lee.

And sometimes the universe tells you to dance

I try not to be too, too superstitious, but every now and then, the universe organizes its messages a little too neatly. Everywhere I turn I hear the same thing, and finally I start to think that maybe I should pay attention. Take breathing. Suddenly, everyone’s telling me to breathe! Alia Thabit, who tells me to prep for the 90 Day Dance Party by breathing in time to the music. Or I do Hala Khouri’s yoga DVD, and am struck by how much the breathing helps me unwind. Or my real life teachers are suddenly focusing much more on working with breath to create movement. Or I get an email from Rosa Noreen’s Delicious Pauses Online Intensive, and she’s going on about…. well, you can guess.

Okay, so I’ve figured out I should take a breath now and then. Maybe even when I’m moving. But another little synchronicity got my attention lately too. First, it came my way from Life is Cake, in the form of a video in which several dancers talk about the evolution of their style. What really hit me was Autumn Ward’s contribution, which you can see here.

Autumn talks about a period in her life when she worked on a number of skills she thought would impress a nightclub crowd, and how she wound up returning to her own passion for intricate, lyrical dance. I thought it was so honest and vulnerable for her to talk about moments gone wrong (or at least awry) in her artistic path, and also so inspiring. It’s so easy when doing creative work to get caught up in what we can’t do, what other people can, and so on. And often that can be positive — as Autumn points out, it can lead to acquiring new skills. But sometimes it’s also key to remember where your passion is, what your strength is, what’s authentic to yourself. And really, that’s where the greater part of the effort needs to go.

Then Alia posted a quote from Seth Godin on her Facebook wall:

The ability to say, “It’s not for you,” is the foundation for creating something brave and important. You can’t do your best work if you’re always trying to touch the untouchable, or entertain those that refuse to be entertained.

“It’s not for you.”

This is easy to say and incredibly difficult to do. You don’t have much choice, though, not if you want your work to matter.

Now, that’s pretty great stuff right there. I have no idea who this Seth Godin fellow is, but I’d buy him a cup of coffee if I saw him just because of that one blog post. What a wonderful line to keep in mind, not just for the living critics, but the imaginary critics who populate my head? “This is not for you, babe. Move on, there’s nothing to see here.”

Anyway, long story short, I put one and one together and figured the universe was telling me the following: first, however frustrated I sometimes get with myself in my dance classes, with the fact that I’m not further along than I really am, I needed to chill out, and also realise that at some point I’ll have to figure out what kind of dancing I most want to do, even if my skills and technique still have a lot of developing to do. And second, in my real life work, which is also creative, I needed to care a lot less about what people might think if I were to carry it out precisely as I want to. And that latter bit was much more important. Because in way, the dance world was telling me what I had to do at work.

The result? This week I finished an important chunk of a long project, and in fact, the hardest section so far — one I’ve been fighting with for more than a year. I rewarded myself by going to the wonderful local bellydance store, Saidi, and buying my first bedlah. It’s turquoise, so much louder and more revealing than what I went in looking for, and just unapologetically glittery. I’m a big believer in spending money on instruction and not on costuming, but in this case, I had earned it.

And my dance classes were filled with all sorts of little moments of joy. First, in ballet, having our teacher ask us to do a flat back, and actually getting it right. I have struggled with the flat back for ages, so having her come by, take a look at me, and say “it’s perfect” was like finishing a long hike. Or noticing that some of the armwork I did in the Aziza DVD was seeping its way into my bellydance class work. Or today, practicing those killer Soheir Zaki hips at home and finding that it actually made a difference when we drilled them.

Hmmmm…. I hear you wondering. Is there a moral to this long, rambling post? Basically:

1. Do what your passion tells you to do.
2. Enjoy small victories.
3. Try breathing once in a while.