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!

Review of Elena Brower’s Element: Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga

At one point while doing Elena Brower’s Element: Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga I thought: “hey, this is like what I know as yoga.” That seemed like a weird thing to think considering the number of yoga videos I’ve been doing lately. But Elena Brower’s program reminded me of the yoga classes I used to take in New York, in the kids’ playroom of our apartment building, with one super-intense and wonderful yoga teacher. It has the same kind of slow, careful movement, with very precise instructions that are sometimes difficult to conceptualize, but work brilliantly once you get what she means. Later, I checked the DVD case and realised Brower does Anusara yoga, which is what we were doing back then. Maybe it’s because it’s what I’m used to, but there’s something about Anusara yoga that really hits the spot for me — more dynamic than just one position after another, but more measured than vinyasa flow.

Pigeon pose — brilliant for prenatal back pain

The program itself is short: it’s about half an hour, and flies by in what seems like less time. There are subtle modifications for pregnant women, things like very careful twists and gentle backbends and squatting work. That said, it doesn’t feel like a prenatal program. It won’t get all the kinks out (at least it didn’t for me), and it’s not so much about relaxing or stretching. Instead, you get warrior poses, some pigeon poses and forward bends and downward dogs and moves in and out of plank, and a final seated relaxation.

While I was doing the video, I felt like I was building strength. It wasn’t nearly as tiring as Jennifer Wolfe’s Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga, but I could feel it. Then, strangely, when I finished the program, I felt like I hadn’t done anything at all! The only difference was that my hips felt looser.

The verdict? I’ll wait a bit and see how my body feels. I loved the precision of Brower’s instructions, the way focusing on one muscle or breath could enable me to stretch further comfortably. I would happily purchase more of her DVDs, and am certainly looking forward to working with the postnatal part of the program. However, I don’t think this video is the complete package for prenatal conditioning or relaxation. Use it in conjunction with other programs.