This was my first experience with Classical Stretch, an exercise system based on the PBS series led by Canadian instructor MIranda Esmonde-White (it's also known as the Esmonde Technique). It is difficult to explain exactly what it is like, although it incorporates elements of ballet, yoga, Tai Chi, and other disciplines. Most of the moves are performed in a gentle flow, somewhat similar to the video Yoga in the Garden of Serenity. You are stretching your body, but you are working it, too--in fact, the one thing that surprised me about this video was how challenging some of the moves were.
In addition to the three workouts, the video contains an 8.5 minute instructional portion. I would recommend that you watch this prior to trying any of the workouts, as Miranda explains proper stance (usually maintaining a pelvic tuck position), modifications, use of props, etc. Below are brief breakdowns of each workout on the DVD:
1) Spanish Hallways (performed in a covered outdoor area of a tropical hotel). I decided to try this workout first, as it was described on the DVD cover as "Standing and barre workout: focus on upper body toning plus deep hamstring and hip stretches." So, I thought I'd be mainly stretching my lower body, by I had to work it first! The workout begins with the most vigorous warm-up--lots of arm movements and marching in place--and then moves right into a very challenging arm series. In all of Miranda's arm work, you are holding the arms up at shoulder level and then performing a variety of movements for as long as five minutes or so; even though you are not using weights, your arms will definitely be fatigued! Next she moves into some plie work for the legs which was also quite tough. She then incorporates a chair for barre work, using more range of motion than I've seen in other barre exercises. Finally, the last 8 minutes or so of this workout does contain some really nice stretches for the hips, hamstrings, and lower body in general; it concludes with some Tai Chi moves and a neck release.
Oceanside (like the name suggests, right on the beach at water's edge). This workout is described as "Standing only: focus on tonigh upper body and arms plus improving posture." I found this workout to be the most relaxing of the three, with a lot of movements that definitely did seem to stretch and release my upper body area, including the shoulders. There is a plie series in this one as well, but there are no additional leg exercises. There is also what Miranda calls a "nastly little exercise for the arms" towards the end where you will definitely feel the burn. Overall, however, this workout felt the most relaxing and gentle.
Poolside Garden (performed by the pool with the hotel garden in the background). This is the only workout of the three that incorporates floor work, and it's described as "Standing and floor work: focus on upper body toning, plus abs and hip stregthening, groin stretches, and saddle bag reduction." The first half of the workout is standing and focused mainly on the upper body; you'll do lots of stretching plus a short more challenging series. There is also a very brief plie segment before transitioning to the floor for abs work. Here Miranda is mostly performing variations on basic crunches, but I found that her form pointers helped me to feel the burn more, and so this segment was short but fairly intense. There is also some side lying work for hips/outer thighs, and then Miranda leads you into an excellent series of lying stretches for the hamstrings and lower body. Again, there is nothing really new here, but I like the way the Miranda instructs the stretches. She ends with a short series of stretches from a seated position.
Overall, I feel like this DVD was a good purchase for me. I really like the variety of the three workouts (although there are some of the same moves in all three), and the length works very well for me. Also, I do yoga on a regular basis, but these workouts seem to offer something a bit different than what I get from my yoga practice. If you've never tried Classical Stretch before and are curious, I think this DVD is a good place to start, and I'd definitely recommend it.
I know some people have found Miranda a bit annoying, but I have to say, I just love her! She definitely is a talker, but to me, it's not in an annoying way because she seems so joyful and sincere--she is constantly smiling (with cute little dimples!) and just seems so happy to be there, saying things like "now doesn't that make you feel good?" in her little Canadian accent. I just get such a genuine vibe from her. She can be a little hard to follow, as she doesn't always cue the next move (also, she freely admits in the poolside workout that she is "a really bad counter"), but she is constantly giving great form tips that I found very helpful. I think part of the reason that I really liked these workouts was due to Miranda's warm, sweet personality.
Beth C (aka toaster)
June 11, 2007