Saturday, 4 August 2012

Yoga Giveaway Results

Thanks to those who took part in the yoga and ballet DVD giveaway :)  As ever, I stuck the numbers into and, after barely milliseconds, it gave me an answer. 

So, the winner is ***Jess***  Congratulations, and hope you enjoy them!  I've left a message on your blog about how to contact me with your address :)

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Yogini Workout Review

As Ellen Barrett herself says, the Yogini Workout is not a yoga class!  What it is, though, is a workout that incorporates a lot of moves from yoga, adding in pulses to increase the cardio and toning effects.  It also blends in Pilates exercises and principles, making for a constant succession of moves that focus particularly on the legs, butt and abdominals.

For example, there is a sequence that is similar to Shiva Rea's Dancing Warriors, flowing from a pulsing Warrior Two to Side Angle Pose and then to Reverse Warrior.  There is also a flow from Warrior Two pulses to Warrior One and then mixed in with grand pliĆ©s with trunk circles.

In terms of Pilates variations on yoga moves, there is an interesting standing Cat pose which focuses on the core, as well as leg pulses in standing splits, and a pulsing and twisting variation to Boat pose (Navasana) that is clearly Pilates-inspired.

Unlike any of Ellen's other workouts, some of these sequences are not straight out repeated on the other side, but instead mirrored.  For example, there is a progression through Downward Dog with pulses, Chair with pulses, Plank, Bow, Side Plank and a semi-twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana without fully rotating), which is then mirrored into Side Plank, Bow, Plank, Chair and Down Dog (rather than starting back at Down Dog).  To clarify, instead of doing A, B and C on the right and then the left side, you do A, B and C on the right, then C, B and A on the left.

Altogether, this is a quite demanding practice, in which, as Ellen puts it: "Stretch, strength and cardio converge for the perfect workout."  While some might say that there is no such thing as perfection, it is certainly an interesting, powerful and energising practice that I thoroughly enjoy :)

To check out a clip of the DVD, click here.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

What Defines Yoga?

This was a question that raised itself for me while reading a post on the Sacred Cow blog months ago.  I felt like, I know what it is to me, but how to define it?

For example, though I love sun salutations and rarely practice without them, there are wonderful practices (such as several on Shiva Rea's Daily Energy: Vinyasa Flow Yoga DVD) that don't include sun salutations.  And some styles of yoga, ranging from Bikram to Kundalini, never practice them at all.  Likewise, although most styles have a form a triangle pose, you certainly don't need to practice it to count as yoga.

On the other hand, there are practices that include sun salutations and triangle pose, yet which don't feel like yoga to me.  Tari Rose's Hard Body Yoga is a case in point.  Although based on yoga moves, and though I enjoy it, I only pull out this DVD when I want a "weights" type workout.  You don't need actual weights for this, just a yoga mat, but it is a tough toning workout and doesn't leave me feeling at all relaxed or meditative, which are both things I look for in a yoga practice.

I thought about the breath-body-movement connection that is so often emphasised in yoga practice.  Yet this cannot be defining of yoga, given that tai chi and qi gong follow the same principle.  Pilates, too, focuses on linking breath and movement and body.  And these are all "not yoga", because they are each themselves.  It could be argued that they are yogic or yoga-like, but I'd like to see the person who told a tai chi master that s/he was actually practising yoga without knowing it ;)

Some people feel yoga is a religion, for good or ill.  I even had a work colleague once say to me: "I don't believe in yoga."  I wasn't sure how to respond to that one!  Yoga clearly exists, so she obviously meant she feels it is some kind of belief system, and that she doesn't agree with it.  Yet I don't think that you need to have any particular belief to enjoy and get a lot out of yoga.  You can practice any religion you like, it's not incompatible.

Although yoga clearly has a long philosophical tradition, you don't need to ascribe to it to practice yoga.  And most of the things it suggests are not contrary to any religious system, in any case.  Dedicating your energy to what you consider worthwhile, not getting hung up on money and status, not being violent - few religious devotees would consider these principles wrong-headed.

And so this post languished in my inbox, as I found myself unable to define what yoga is.  For me, it is a form of exercise, a spiritual practice, a moving meditation, a mind-body connection, made up normally of particular kinds of movements that flow with my breath.  Yet none of those things can be clearly laid down and segmented, creating a box that "is" yoga.

Then, I was speaking with a friend, and she said, as though it were the most natural thing in the world: "Well, it originated in India and it's a holistic mind-body-spirit practice."  So simple, and yet it does encapsulate what yoga is.  It is a practice with spirit, which I find is ever more important to me.  Even when I don't practice yoga, I prefer a workout that has a bit of soul to it, rather than feeling merely mechanical. 

When I say it has spirit, I don't mean that there has to be a constant focus on intent or affirmations or deity.  It is rather that I want to remember that I am an embodied spirit.  When I move my body I am also breathing and connecting with myself and with something beyond myself.  And that, for me, is the heart of what defines yoga.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Yoga & Ballet DVD Giveaway

Having completely panned Mandy Ingber's Yogalosophy, it should come as no surprise that I don't want to keep the DVD.  I was going to take it to the charity store, but thought "Hey, what about a giveaway?"

To spice things up a little, I'm also throwing in a copy of the New York City Ballet's Workout DVD, for which you can see more info here.  There's some serious eye candy on this DVD, both male and female, I just don't really enjoy the workouts...

So, if anyone is interested in seeing/trying these DVDs for themselves, just post a comment below.   I'll pick a random winner next Saturday, 4th August, and mail the DVD's out as soon as I get an address :)

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Yoga Poetry

In a previous post, I mentioned that yoga feels like poetry to me.  On the one hand, this is because there is a flow to the practice, a dance-like quality, which reminds me of the way poetry flows.  There is also a structure to it, that guides the flow of one pose into another so that we move seamlessly from one to the next. 

At a deeper level, I think the comparison also rings true because the joys and benefits of yoga are multi-layered and subtle.  In the same way, metaphors give themselves up to us with a smile or a tear, touching us at an emotional level that we may not be able to put words to nor explain rationally.

And then there is the delight that yoga inspires poetry, and poetry may inspire yoga.  So, today I share with you one of my favourites from the book Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By, by Leza Lowitz (Stone Bridge Press, 2000).

Padangustha Dhanurasana - Bow

For woman,
bow is both
noun and verb.

How to bend
without breaking?
How to tie a ribbon
around a life
without constriction?
How to stretch
and not snap?

How to love?
How to live?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

My Pilates Shame

Let me start by saying I'm a trained Pilates instructor.  In fact, I took the teacher training twice, because after the first one I left the country I'd been living in before I could take the exam.  And for a while I taught regular classes, too, both one-to-ones and groups.  That being said, I find Pilates boring!  Not only that, I don't see the point of some of the exercises, and I just don't "get" the class structure.

The first time I tried Pilates was with a DVD, because I'd heard that it was good for sculpting lean, sleek muscles, and that it was like yoga (which I adore).  However, I found that I had no idea if I was doing the exercises right or not, and that I just couldn't follow the DVD because I didn't know what to look for or what to feel.

Several years later, I realised in my yoga practice that I was overusing my back muscles, which were strong, and not using my core much/enough.  So, I took some one-to-one Pilates classes, and really liked the new "powerhouse" strength I gained.  I also liked that there was such a deep regard for anatomical balance and understanding how different movements and muscle groups influence each other.  Still, Pilates always felt like a slog, and didn't give me any of the meditative benefits I found in yoga, either.

When I trained as a Pilates teacher, I had real trouble remembering the class running order.  I still don't understand if there is a logic to the order of the exercises.  I did ask my teachers, but got no useful response other than, "You have to memorise it for the exam."  So, if anyone out there would care to comment and explain, I'd appreciate it!

Memorising the exercise order was like learning a random list of words - no structure, nothing to hang it on.  It felt like pulling teeth.  In comparison, for me yoga is like poetry.  No only is there a depth beneath the obvious physical practice, but there is a structure and a logic that make it easy to remember. 

Then there are the non-core exercises.  Most of the leg exercises I get the purpose of, though some I still don't really feel, at least in my legs (the double leg kick, for example, probably because my hamstrings are already strong and flexible).  But what's with the arm exercises?  8 repetitions of arm circles don't feel like they do anything at all!  Admittedly, I'm used to doing a strong vinyasa practice with lots of chaturangas, up-dogs and down-dogs, but I just don't notice or feel any effect from so few repetitions with no weight at all :(

I really appreciate the core work, and incorporate it into my yoga, and into any stretching or add-ons I do with cardio work.  But I just don't like Pilates as a sole practice.  It doesn't give the flexibility and strength of yoga (other than core strength), the strength of weights, the heart and mood benefits of cardio - so what is it?

However, I recently discovered Ellen Barrett (I reviewed one of her DVD's here).  I now have all her DVD's and have incorporated them into my exercise routine to replace other cardio work.  And I love it!  For the first time, I am seeing some of those long, sleek muscles (particularly in my thighs).  This is probably because I am doing less cycling, which bulks the thighs.  The main point, though, is that I am enjoying it, getting a lot out of it, and doing it regularly.

Ellen Barrett combines Pilates with cardio.  Instead of saying, "Oh, you only have to do 15 minutes a day to see an effect," she puts the Pilates into a flowing, 45 minute cardio workout.  So, you feel the positive endorphin effects of the cardio, but get the Pilates benefits, too.  In fact, even the "cardio" bits have an emphasis on Pilates posture, breath, and incorporate some of the moves in a more dynamic and hence cardio way. 

She is also an excellent instructor in terms of cuing.  I love how she intersperses her clear directions with anatomical information, so you know what is meant to be activating, and with mind-body cues to make your practice more mindful.  She also incorporates all the possible spinal movements, core work, arms and legs, to make it a truly "whole body" workout.  Finally, a Pilates-based practice that I don't find boring or confusing!

It's still not "traditional" Pilates, but my Pilates shame is lessening :)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Shiva Rea's Surf Yoga Soul DVD Review

This is another outstanding production from Shiva Rea!  In Surf Yoga Soul, she has designed a flowing workout that is aimed at surfers and yogis alike.  This is no "gimmick" - it is an enlivening, challenging, meditative practice.

The scenes are all shot on a beach, with surf boards buried nose down in the sand to demarcate the practice area.  They are shot over the course of the day, with one at dawn, one that seems to be as night falls, and the rest during the sunny part of the day.  The first two segments show Shiva Rea practising with some surfer dudes, the rest are just her on her own.

Once again, the DVD uses the matrix format so that you can customise your workout from the seven practice sections (including the two minute shavasana).  These are:

Wave Meditation - 9 minutes

This is a moving meditation, which is quite physical, including a move where you "pop up" like you would from lying on a surf board to a warrior-type position.  It also has a gorgeous section where you move your upper body in an infinity pattern, legs in a moving warrior stance, that always makes me feel like a maori warrior.  An excellent warm-up for the body, that also introduces the context of the practice, and the emphasis on water/waves.

Agni Namaskar - 17 minutes

A flowing variation on Surya Namaskar B, incorporating push-ups to really strengthen the upper body.  There is also an emphasis on chest opening, to balance the extra focus on the arms and shoulders.  This is a challenging but delightful flow.

Balancing Flow - 20 minutes

This section includes a number of balance poses, both standing and arm balances.  It has a good mix of twists and lateral stretches, too, so the name is appropriate not only to the focus on balancing, but also the fact that this is a balanced practice in and of itself.

Mandala Namaskar - 12 minutes

As the name suggests, this section is also a variation on a sun salutation, adding in hip openers, bow pose, and side stretches.  As for the mandala part, the poses turn in the round, so that for about half the time you are facing away from the screen.  However, if you just trust the cuing and go with it, Shiva's direction is immaculate and you won't get lost.

Breath Wave - 5 minutes

This is a seated practice combining breathing with arm movements - a lovely cool down with a meditative focus.

Flexibility Flow - 11 minutes

Filmed at twilight, there is a real calm to this section, even though it is quite challenging.  No standing poses here, it moves from arm and chest stretches to plank poses, then into a back-bending sequence, followed by some forward bends. 

Shavasana - 2 minutes

Once again, the focus is on breath, and feeling it move through you like a wave.  The only complaint possible is that it's quite short.  My eyes are always closed throughout, but if you actually watch it, it's filmed at dawn, starting practically in the dark, and ending with light in the sky - lovely.

There are also a couple of "Bonus Features".  Basically, two tasters, one for another of Shiva Rea's DVD's and one for a Jivamukti DVD.  The Shiva Rea section is 13 minutes and could be used as a warm-up, as it shows a variation on Surya Namaskar C (with crescent pose).  The Jivamukti session, starts in the middle of something, though it does end having balanced both sides after a challenging back-bending sequence.  I think these are mainly good to get a feel for the excellent production values, clear cuing, and nice sets and music both offer, rather than being something I would practice with.

Overall, this is an excellent DVD which I thoroughly enjoy.  It isn't really aimed at a beginner audience, as it is physically challenging, but it does leave me feeling very meditative and relaxed.