Confession: I am a bad yoga groupie. While I don’t dislike Shiva Rea, neither do I think she is the best thing since sliced bread. On the plus side, a lot of the practices I see her work through are both physically and spiritually awe-inspiring. That said, a lot of the practices I see her leading are both physically and spiritually awe-inspiring — rather than something that feels accessible to me, today.
And I feel like there is a little of that in her Creative Core and Upper Body DVD, but there’s still a lot to recommend it as reasonably approachable.
Yoga Style: Yoga-inspired movement with an emphasis on core and upper body strength.
Suited To: People who are relatively familiar with common yoga postures (since there isn’t much explanation of alignment); people without wrist or shoulder issues that are exacerbated by pushups; people looking to build core and upper body strength.
Props: None suggested, nor did I see any places during the practice where I would have wanted them.
Run Time: 35 minutes from introduction through savasana (not counting the 7-minutes of “bonus footage” from a different DVD, which I did not watch this time around).
For starters, full disclosure: Shiva Rea is thin, white, and flexible. The DVD shows her alone, which is certainly fine on its own but is less than ideal if one is seeking out representations of diverse body types.
The bulk of this DVD is predicated on what Rea describes as an Agni Namaskar (fire salutation), which is a variation of sun salutation B with one very important extra element thrown in. That element is pushups, 108 of them to be exact. Or rather, 12 of them at a time times 9 times to equal a total of 108 during the course of the practice. On the plus side, not only does she offer modifications — knees down, finding a hand placement that suits you, moving at your own speed, going up to 12 but not stressing if you don’t make it exactly there every single time — but she does so as she’s introducing the first round of pushups. Too often, I watch video practices where the teacher offers modifications but only on the second side or second time through something — not so helpful if one needs those options the first time around.
That said, I totally kept my knees down because pushups are hard and I have been burned by that shit before.
Shiva Rea also offers considerable variations on other portions of the namaskar. In up dog/cobra, upward facing dog is always presented as an alternative to cobra rather than a requirement; I cobra-ed it this time because I’m still feeling out the practice. In addition, we played around with two versions of locust pose and at least two (maybe 3?) versions of bow. Similarly, during warrior I, there’s always the option — again, offered the first time around (and boy did I take her up on it!) — to keep the back knee on the ground. Beyond that, the warrior moves into devotional warrior on each side as well as a prayer twist on each side. Given the intensity of the pushup phase, I found that keeping my back knee on the ground was an effective way to turn the warriors almost into resting poses.
After the fire salutations — yes, there is an after the fire salutation — there is a Creative Core sequence that is entirely reclining work. For me, at least, that made it very easy to tailor the intensity to my reserves and my needs. There some pilates-based movements and some traditional core movements (as well as some yoga-based movements), where going “deeper” into the pose effectively means moving one’s legs or shoulders “more” — but where not moving them as far doesn’t mean one is doing “nothing.” (Think of it this way: Lifting lower rather than higher in a basic crunch doesn’t necessarily mean one isn’t doing a crunch or isn’t working their abs. It’s more about how far can you — or do you need to — move in order to feel something and build strength.) I am a big fan of reclining work for this reason: For the times when I have the strength to go further, I get to go further. For the times when I don’t, I am still supported by the floor.
As someone who’s seen a lot of core work, most of these movements were ones I’d seen before — but there were a couple that were new to me. And yes, my core did feel that I had not done those before. “WTF?” it told me.
In terms of active, fiery workout, this practice is fun, interesting, modifiable, and generally awesome. If I have one complaint about it, though, it is that it drops into savasana really effing fast. There is intense core work, then a brief reclining stretch, then — boom! — new DVD chapter and savasana. My body wanted some time in a spinal twist and maybe a reclined cobbler’s pose before finally winding down. Maybe next time, I’ll stop the DVD before savasana.
Then again, maybe next time, I’ll do some pushups with my knees off the floor.