This is one of the best DVDs I've seen in awhile. The setting is just gorgeous. Shiva does the practices on a sandbar in the Maldives, so the waves are washing up on either side of her. There is soft music on most tracks--though in shavasana it's just the waves crashing (so nice!). Shiva's instruction is warm and encouraging, and she does a great job of showing different levels for the poses (she calls this krama). I'm glad she did this because some of the poses are difficult (leg behind the head, etc.), but even as an advanced beginner I could do the variations. The program is vinyasa-based, and Shiva actually does some neat flowing moves in the standing poses, etc. For example, in side angle pose, she'll have you move your arm over the head and back by your waist several times in a flow. This feels great on the shoulder, which is one of my tight areas! So, it's traditional vinyasa yoga with Shiva's own twist. I did find that Shiva would do her own sequences like Dancing Warrior without a whole lot of breaking down--so it might be good to watch once before trying it.
So far, I've done Basic Flow, (a shortened) Solar Flow I and some practices I created on my own. The thing that strikes me as most unique about this DVD is a feature called the Yoga Matrix. This is kind of like Cathe's workout blender, but better. It's a yoga blender, and you can take any of the chapters (for example, sun saluations--there are even a few different kinds of these) and put them in the order you like to create your own sequence. Unlike Cathe's blender, you can pick as many chapters as you want. In addition, the DVD has 4 pre-mixed practices: Basic, two Solar, and one Lunar. I've already used the blender extensively both to shorten Shiva's pre-mixed practices and to make my own based on what I wanted to do for the day. The matrix is set up in categories (inversions, standing poses, forward bends), so you're don't have to put something together totally randomly (unless you want to). I like this because it gives you some guidance on sequencing.
The only downside to the DVD that I can see is that sometimes the chapters don't flow right into each other (and there's a slight pause in between each). For example, you might be in downward dog at the end of a chapter and need to jump through to sitting on your own for the next chapter. This doesn't bother me, but I know people have disliked other DVDs with this format (the Body Wisdom DVDs, for example). I think this DVD is worth getting past it.
In this DVD, Shiva is not too over-the-top in her poetic or spiritual language, so I think even those who are a little wary of woo-woo instructors (as she can be in her CDs), might like this. I'd say her woo-woo level is more like Yoga Sanctuary than Drops of Nectar, for example. She does read a poem before shavasana. Most of the pose chapters are focused on instructional language, though. There are chapters for meditation and invocation, but it's easy to skip them (if you want--I personally like them) because the DVD is so well chaptered.
Yoga Shakti is a beautifully filmed, extremely well put-together yoga DVD with virtually unlimited options. As she did with her yoga CD, Yoga Sanctuary, instructor Shiva Rea has broken down the practice into a series of segments of varying lengths. These segments form the "Yoga Matrix," a mix-and-match option which allows you to complete customize your yoga practice. But that's not all: if you prefer a pre-designed practice, Shiva has done that for you as well, offering four unique practices to choose from.
Here is a summary of the selections available: 4 opening meditations (these generally combine breathing with flowing, almost dance-y movements); 5 sun/moon salutation series (although once of these, Rhythmic Vinyasa 2, is only available via the pre-programmed practices and is not on the matrix); 4 dancing warrior series (3 to 6 minutes in length); 2 transitional series (breathing and core work); 3 standing pose flows (moving from basic to much more challenging postures such as arm balances); 3 backbend prep series; 1 handstand and 3 backbend flow series; 2 counter pose sequences; 3 closing series (including 1 on inversions); and finally, shavasana or final relaxation. If you add that all up, you will see that you have a choice of THIRTY different segments to choose from, which allows you to customize both the posture focus and the length of your practice (the segments vary anywhere from about 2.5 minutes to almost 25 minutes for the longest standing series). In the very helpful booklet that accompanies the DVD set, Shiva talks in detail about how to use the Yoga Matrix to best suit your needs.
As I mentioned above, Shiva has also included four complete practices pre-designed from the matrix offerings. The first is a 36 minute "Basic Flow" which leads you through simple sun salutations, basic standing poses, and easy backbends/counterposes. There are also two "Solar Flow" practices, each over an hour in length (86 minutes and 92 minutes). Both include the more challenging standing and backbend sequences, with the shorter adding core/handstand and the longer adding inversions. The final pre-programmed sequence is a 1-hour “Lunar Flow,” a gentle, flowing practice which could also be considered a more basic or beginning level.
I would not recommend this DVD for those completely new to yoga; although Shiva is an excellent instructor, she seems to assume some prior familiarly with yoga, as she does not always go into detail about form. Furthermore, she often moves quickly, especially in the standing flow sequences, and it can be difficult to see the television as you are trying to follow along, especially if you are inexperienced. In fact, I consider myself to be at about an intermediate level, and I found that Shiva sometimes moved too fast for my liking. I much preferred her more gentle flows; some of my favorite segments of the DVD were the Prana yoga (one of the opening meditations), the first two backbend flows, the counter poses, and the inversions. I also enjoyed the final pranayama (breathing) and meditation, both of which I found very relaxing.
In addition to all of the above, there is a second DVD in this set which contains interviews with various yogis and similar footage, certainly a worthwhile bonus. And it must be said that the scenery in this DVD is absolutely gorgeous: most of the segments are filmed on beautiful beaches in the Maldives, sometimes in daytime, sometimes at dusk. I would not hesitate to recommend this DVD set to anyone who is at least at the experienced beginner level, who enjoys fast-paced, flowing vinyasa sequences, and who thrives on variety in their yoga practice.
Shiva is beautiful in this video; she is so graceful and poised in her practice. She is an excellent instructor, but as mentioned above, she does not always give detailed form cues, especially on a more basic level. Also, her style of performing sun salutations and other standing pose flows tends to be a bit too fast for my liking.
Beth C (aka toaster)
March 1, 2006