I’ve been keeping this blog for about 5 months now, and this is the first time I’ve been motivated to write a DVD review. Of course, part of that is because I don’t always use DVDs to practice, but part is because of how much I liked this practice when I tried it out yesterday. (Of course, if there’s actual interest in reviews like these, I would be happy to write more.)
First, some quick specs:
Yoga Style: — I’d call it an intro to vinyasa. There is definite intention and movement toward linking asanas into traditional sun salutations. However, a lot of the movements are broken down and entered into slowly, especially the first time through each.
Suited To**: If this were my very first time doing yoga, I think I’d be confused and a little frustrated by the faster pacing. However, there’s a lot of explanation, so I think if I were at least a little familiar with yoga, I’d be pretty okay with this. In terms of physicality, this practice is active but doesn’t really tax my strength or stamina.
Props: Yoga block (or book or whatever) recommended but maybe not strictly necessary.
Run Time: There’s some interview at the beginning, but for practice length, I get about 65 minutes from integration through savasana.
The instructional format is Seane Corn alone in a studio demonstrating the poses as she’s instructing. The tone and pace are very informal and conversational, more like I hear when I’m taking a class at my local studio and less like I hear from other instructors on DVDs, which have a tendency to sound a little bit scripted or rehearsed.
I was really impressed by Seane’s attention to and explanation of body alignment. She’ll give a cue (for example, pressing with the inner palm in chaturanga) as well as an explanation of why a particular positioning is important (in this case, stabilizing and reducing strain on the wrists). There’s a strong emphasis on safety and avoiding injury, which: a) is a huge factor in being able to enjoy my yoga practice; b) is sometimes missing from other instructional DVDs. There’s also a focus on exploring sensations or reactions as one approaches different postures, rather than feeling like a given pose is supposed to be easy or difficult or that one needs to match the picture made by the very flexible person onscreen.
The practice follows a sequencing that’s pretty familiar to me. First, there was a seated section, focusing on breath integration and setting an intention. I appreciated that length of this section was substantial — maybe three to six full minutes — again, more like what I’m used to in live classes, less like what I’m used to seeing on other yoga DVDs. I also liked that Seane explained a little bit about intentions: why a yogi might set one, what setting an intention might look or sound like. Additionally, she continues to come back to this intention throughout the practice, which is a nice way to remember that yoga is not only about the physical.
The next section of the practice is sun salute. She starts slowly, detailing alignment in tadasana and upward salute, then moving into forward fold and ardha uttanasana. Even when we started to do full sun salutes, I believe all of them were modified — knees down to lower through chaturanga, low cobra rather than upward dog. Certainly folks familiar with and able to do other versions could substitute, but the verbal instructions always involved the expressions described above. There’s some work with warrior I and incorporating it into a modified sun salute, but as she explains, her intention is largely to get a feel for how to step into the standing postures from down dog.
After sun salutes come standing poses. The DVD covers tree, triangle, warrior II, extended side angle, and pyramid, all interspersed with some straddle forward folds. There was a strong emphasis on the alignment and activation of the back foot and hip, which — even though I’ve been practicing yoga for something like eleven years — made a substantial and immediate difference in how I hold myself in the warriors. (And I have the soreness today to attest to it!) Seane starts instructing these poses in isolation — that is, not inside a sun salute — which I think would be very helpful for folks who aren’t so familiar with these poses. Extended side angle is introduced from down dog (how one might typically enter it in a vinyasa class), but that’s after exploring the entrance with warrior I as well as the other standing postures.
Finally, there’s a grounded section that incorporates some gentle back bending (bridge), twists, and forward folds. Again, there’s a lot of attention paid to alignment, both with the use of props and via explaining some common body tendencies. For example, I discovered that one error — I’m going to call it an error because the pose works better for me with the correction than it did before — I was making in twisting was to initiate the twist from my hips. I suppose this would be fine if I was actually wanting to feel a lot of sensation through my hips, but what it was really doing for me was limiting the sensation and eventual release in my spine. Even if not every verbal cue or alignment suggestion brings me extra freedom or release, there are a lot that work for me personally, so I think it makes sense to at least try them out. At the end there’s a short savasana (characteristic of what I’ve seen in other DVDs) and a substantial revisit of the intention (characteristic of what I’ve seen in real-life classes).
I am also a fan of the way Seane incorporates props into the series. She only uses blocks (sometimes one, sometimes two), but they’re introduced with the very first sit, and she makes it a point to suggest other times when blocks could be used (as a headrest for forward folds, for hands in lunges, etc.). I like that they’re introduced relatively quickly into the explanation of a pose; fairly often, I’ve seen DVDs that only suggest a block or other prop when they’re doing the second side of an asymmetrical pose. It’s nice to know, but it’s nicer to know the first time I do a pose. I also enjoy that she approaches triangle and side angle: a) with using blocks at the default; b) by saying — “I’m going to reach for my block” or something similar in a way that implies using blocks is her personal preference for these poses. I’ve witnessed a number of assumptions — from instructors and students — that blocks are “only” for “beginners.” It’s refreshing to see an instructor who runs counter to that, at least in a couple of asanas.
In terms of accommodating different body sizes, there are some good and not-so-good points to this DVD. While Seane herself is thin and conventionally attractive (not a criticism, but a factor to consider in context of the relative lack of DVDs from folks of larger sizes), there is zero talk of weight loss or body size in this DVD. As this has not been the case for other yoga DVDs I’ve used — even ones I like — it’s a point I appreciate. That said, there are a couple of what I see as pretty standard pose variations that might help larger-bodied people but that Seane doesn’t offer with this instruction.
The first is in tadasana: Per Seane’s instruction in the DVD, the feet are together for this pose. I have some wide hips and find it much easier to find stability when my feet are hips’ width apart. I’m not sure if it’s because there’s a greater absolute difference between “feet together” and “feet hips’ width apart” for me, but it makes a difference to my practice.
Similarly, when she introduces child’s pose, the knees are always together. I have some bulk in my front body (quadriceps, abdominal fat, boobs), and child’s pose with my knees together basically stacks these areas on top of one another, which is kind of squishing and not terribly restorative. Offering an option with the knees apart might do more to accommodate different body types.
These are relatively small criticisms in light of how good I think the overall DVD is. But as it seems to be a DVD aimed at folks who are less familiar with yoga, I think it’s pretty important to make sure they explicitly are options. After experimentation, I felt pretty free to modify the instructions to what works for me, but I also know not everyone has that “toolbox” of yoga knowledge and confidence.
All that said, even though I might not be the “intended audience” for this DVD, I consider it a good investment and am happy to add it to my “keeper” collection.
** I realize that it’s helpful for people to know how much strength, endurance, flexibility, etc. is required to practice the sequences of asanas. But I really, really hate talking about “levels” of yoga because doing something that requires more strength/endurance/whatever is not necessarily “advanced.”