Yoga for Real People: Six Easy-to-Follow DVDs for Strength and Relaxation
The Beauty of Yoga at Home
Do you feel intimidated by the body-twisting antics of yoga? Do you wish the instructor at the gym or local yoga studio would show you a few basics first? Maybe you only have 30-60 minutes total to allot to your session, and have a hard time fitting in classes.
Perhaps you're also overwhelmed by the myriad ways to gain core strength and balance: yoga, Pilates, BOSU® ball workouts, weight routines, resistance-band workouts, boot camp-style bodyweight workouts... What if you just want to do some yoga, but don't necessarily strive for a perpetually glassy-eyed, pretzel-bodied, yogic state?
These DVDs may be just what you're looking for. All of the DVDs listed provide easy-to-follow, accessible routines that offer all the benefits of yoga, without the fuss. This list represents some of my favorite, at-home yoga-style routines. Some of them are cornerstones of my plan for strength and recovery while competing in triathlon. Others are my saviors from stress, or have helped me to recover from a very weak state (such as illness).
There are many styles of yoga, and there are multiple practices and techniques for strengthening the core and relaxing body and mind. I will not give detailed descriptions of specific yoga or core strength styles in this article. Instead, I suggest that you not even worry about what the routine you're doing is called! Regardless of the style or method you choose, the basic tenets are the same: Breathe, activate and strengthen the muscles in the core of your body (back, abdomen, shoulder rotation system, glutes, hip flexors), stretch, relax, and calm the mind.
Here are a few tips on getting the most out of a yoga session, whether you're just beginning, or are already at an intermediate level:
- Breathe. It's OK to vary your rhythm or breathing speed slightly from the instructor's, as long as you keep breathing. Just don't hold your breath! Try gently reminding yourself to breathe every few minutes. Ask yourself, "Am I breathing?" and let yourself exhale.
- Don't worry if you put your left leg forward first, instead of your right; just do the other side when the instructor gets around to switching.
- Don't be afraid to rewind! The beauty of an at-home routine is that you can have all the re-takes you need to figure out a posture. That you are doing the routine is more important than whether you do it perfectly.
- Work with your personal range of flexibility. All of the instructors provide modifications of the postures. It's OK to reach a little, but maintaining correct form will get you much farther, sooner. Learn the basic form, and then move on to a more challenging variation of a pose.
- Heed the instructor's cautionary statements. For example, if he or she says not to do a full forward bend if you are pregnant, follow those instructions.
1. Flexible Warrior 1.0 – Athletic Yoga for Triathletes
This DVD is a perfect reflection of how your level of expertise doesn't really matter. As friendly, energetic instructor Karen Dubs reassures, it's OK if you slip and breathe in when she says to breathe out, as long as you are breathing. Though this routine is billed as "Yoga for Triathletes," I feel it's fantastic for everyone! Granted, her warm-up segment is a perfect kick-off to a swim, bike, or run; and she has the sequence of hip stretches for triathletes down pat. But, taken in part or as a whole, this is a great range-of-motion, strength, balance and flexibility routine for the whole body, no matter what sport you do or don't do.
The DVD is split into three sections: A 25-minute warm-up (which is also a perfect, short strength session), a 30-minute conditioning section, and a 25-minute stretching routine for cool-down and recovery.
Karen talks quickly and definitely has energy! But, despite the energy in her voice, the actual pace of the movements is comfortable. She starts off with a good amount of instruction and muscle activation, and then gives you ample warning before she picks up the pace a little bit.
Reviewer's trivia: At one point, Karen Dubs was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I find it particularly interesting and gratifying that she found yoga as a way to recover gracefully from a long period of fatigue and illness. Clearly, she has recovered, and has come back to share more of her great experience as a fitness instructor.
2. Yoga Conditioning for Athletes, with Rodney Yee
Rodney Yee is a well-known yoga instructor who has built a small empire with his yoga and marketing skills. We all benefit from his enterprizing ways!
The DVD consists of three, 20-minute segments: Opening, Conditioning and Integration. The full sequence carries you from loosening any bodily stiffness and activating your core flexibility, to developing a strong, solid base with core and legs, to performing deeper, full-body stretches that really work out the knots. Rodney's smooth, patient voice washes through you like the ocean waves of the Hawaiian location.
I credit this routine for preventing injury in my first three years as a competitive triathlete. I could not have swum, biked and run at such a level without it. (Admittedly, after I turned 30 the story began to change, and I had to broaden and increase my core strength activities in order to keep up.)
Do not be discouraged by the title! Rodney's routine is simple to learn and beneficial to everyone, regardless of what "athlete" means to you: running a marathon, carrying a baby up and down stairs, or working too many hours in a desk chair.
Reviewer's trivia: Rodney is a former ballet dancer (!) who finally turned to yoga as a much more forgiving, restorative endeavour which can maintain the extreme strength and flexibility of a dancer.
3. Kundalini Yoga with Gurmukh
With her single-word name that means "One who helps people across the world ocean" in Sanskrit, Gurmukh might at first appear intimidating or too...specialized for regular people. Do not let the authentic image fool you!
It may take you a few minutes to let yourself get into Gurmukh's free-flowing Kundalini yoga routine. When you do, however, the benefits - and the sheer fun - of doing her workout will amaze you. Get ready for an energizing ride, supported by your own body. You get to hum, swing your arms, roll back and forth in a ball, and generally feel like a kid again.
Based on the precept that human strength and energy come from the base of the spine (or the "kundalini"), this routine literally awakens you, makes you stride more confidently and stand up taller. I swear, it takes a year off your life, takes two pounds off your frame, and adds an inch to your height. (--At least for awhile.)
Instructor Gurmukh is extremely patient and forgiving; she offers modifications for the more challenging movements, and emphasizes the breathing and the letting go above all.
The entire routine is 60 minutes. But, if you're short on time, even doing 15 or 20 minutes' worth calms you and creates a buffer against the stressors of the day.
Reviewer's trivia: The fact that the incredibly flexible, youthful and serene Gurmukh is in her late 50's at the time of filming speaks for itself. She has been teaching and sharing her yoga expertise for decades.
4. Qi Gong: Fire and Water, with Matthew Cohen
OK, this is not actually yoga. So what is it doing here? I had to include it because its benefits are so great, and yet so easy to reap! Matthew's routine is truly designed for all fitness levels, and involves no risk of injury or overreaching.
Although Qi Gong is an ancient Chinese technique (elevated to an art in some cultures), here are those same basic tenets again: Breathe, activate the body's core, relax, do fluid movements. Qi Gong is especially helpful for relieving stress, stabilizing the mood, and dare I say, even increasing the libido.
Total running time is 80 minutes; but again, doing half the routine, or even doing just one or two movements (two to five minutes each) can change the direction of your day. You finish feeling refreshed, not tired.
Reviewer's trivia I like Matthew's down-to-earth style (simple, loose clothing, plain speak, and apparent lack of ego), and that you get to watch both a male and a female doing the movements. (Men and women frequently interpret the same move a little differently with their bodies.) As a bonus, gazing at that gorgeously open mountain backdrop helps to clear the mind.
5. Total Yoga
This is somewhat of a "classic" yoga video. Tracey Rich's Total Yoga features Hatha (or "flow") yoga. This is the style many people are the most familiar with: sun salutations, forward bends, triangle poses, and their close relatives.
In format, the routine reads almost like an instructional video for teachers-to-be. This makes for a helpful introduction to technique. The first time you do the routine, it's a good idea to do all the moves as presented. Then, as you gain familiarity, you can modify postures and increase the challenge.
Tracey Rich filmed this routine together with Ganga White, so Total Yoga features both male and female renditions of various postures. If you can't quite relate to one, just pay attention to the other! Running time is 60 minutes.
Reviewer's trivia: Tracey Rich's lilting voice with its gentle southern accent lulls you into a rhythm and makes the sequence feel even more accessible.
6. Yoga Conditioning for Women, with Suzanne Deason
This is a wonderful, energizing routine specifically designed for women. It starts with a segment where you lie down on the floor and focus on your breath and your abdominal region. This sets the perfect stage for letting go of your worries, and is a welcome break from trying to do a million things at once (as women are often wont to do!). You get some great, unique instruction on breathing from your core (i.e., diaphragm), which forms a foundation of confidence and centeredness for everything else you do.
I find the sequences fairly easy to follow, but some poses are not described in detail first. Suzanne's pace is brisk, but not fast. Don't be afraid to rewind! For those who like to keep the flow going with the breathing pattern, the pace is a plus. However, if you like to settle into each pose and hold it for a long time, this may not be the best routine for you.
Suzanne's ultra-flexi body and sleek yoga unitard may at first appear intimidating, but remember that she is a yoga instructor by profession.
At 100 minutes in length, the entire routine may be long for some. However, it lends itself well to doing just half of the routine at one time.
Reviewer's trivia: Suzanne places a lot of emphasis on "the belly." At first, I had to make myself stop giggling at the cute way she says this word. After I got into it, it was easy to focus on what I was doing, and less on a giggle-inducing word.