Viniyoga Therapy for the Low Back, Sacrum and Hips

Gary Kraftsow
Year Released: 2008

Categories: Special Health Conditions , Yoga

I’m reviewing this workout after doing each practice session 2-3 times and watching all supplementary material once.

General workout breakdown: This DVD contains three distinct practices. The first one, Low Back and Sacrum Therapy, is the gentlest. Like the second program, Hip Therapy, it’s a focused practice meant to relieve and treat existing conditions. The longer integrated practice, Strength and Stability, is more preventative in nature, helping you strengthen the lower back to ward off future problems; it’s also the most challenging of the three. Gary recommends that you focus on the first two programs if you have regular back pain and/or are new to yoga; be comfortable with them before moving onto the Strength & Stability practice.
As Gary points out, Viniyoga doesn’t rush you into a long hold. You move in and out of the poses with each breath, although there are a couple of poses where you stay down for a held stretch (usually for about 3 breaths). Gary makes the point that movement in and out of as well as through a pose and the balance between elongation and contraction is important for both treatment and prevention. You usually repeat a sequence about 5-6 times, although for some poses it’s less (maybe 3-4) and for a couple it’s more (up to 8).

- Low Back and Sacrum Therapy (23 min.) is “a focused practice to rehabilitate and strengthen the low back and sacrum”; it’s a gentle practice focusing on the low back but also bringing in related areas (e.g. hamstrings). After beginning seated, you move through these poses: apanasana adaptation (knees to chest), apanasana, dvipada pitham (variations; two-footed pose, similar to bridge), cakravakasana (ruddy goose, similar to a dog tilt on all fours into a child’s pose & back again), vajrasana (standing on knees into child’s pose & back again), bhujangasana adaptation (cobra), cakravakasana, vimanasana (a supine backbend that’s a variation of locust), dvipada pitham, supta padangusthasana (variations; supine leg stretches), supta baddha konasana adaptation (reclined bound angle / cobbler’s), apanasana, and savasana (corpse).

- Hip Therapy (30 min.) is a gentle practice works the hips in a subtle manner. Gary pays attention to a lot of the surrounding muscles - the lower back, hamstrings, hip flexors, and groins - that contribute to hip tension rather than just doing a couple of hip openers; in other words, rather than just handing you a pain reliever to relieve the symptoms this practice treats some of the underlying causes to soothe the affected area naturally. After beginning in vajrasana (or other seated posture, you move through these poses: apanasana adaptation, dvipada pitham adaptations, cakravakasana, vajrasana, ardha salabhasana adaptation (half locust), cakravakasana, vajrasana, ekapada ustrasana adaptation (kneeling lunge), salabhasana adaptation (salabhasana – ardha salabhasana combo; locust), urdhva prasarita padasana adaptation (an exercise involving lowering & raising one leg at a time), jathara parivritti adaptation (supine abdominal twist), supta padangusthasana (variations), dvipada pitham adaptation, apanasana, and savasana. At first the hip opener junkie in me went, “What?! No pigeon? No double pigeon? No bound angle / cobbler’s? No whatever that pose is where you cross one ankle over the opposite knee? Wah!” But my whole pelvic region feels so loose and free after this session that I see the intelligence behind Gary’s deceptively simple set of asanas.

- Strength and Stability (32 min.) is “a stronger practice for sustained low back, sacrum and hip health.” It is the only practice on this DVD with standing poses. After beginning seated (either on knees or with crossed legs), you move through these poses: vajrasana, ardha salabhasana adaptation, cakravakasana, uttanasana adaptation (standing forward bend), virabhadrasana adaptation (warrior 1), ardha utkatasana adaptation (half chair or lightning bolt), ekapada ustrasana adaptation, cakravakasana, vimanasana, dvipada pitham, urdhva prasarita padasana adaptation, jathara parivritti adaptation, supta padangusthasana (variations), dvipada pitham adaptation, apanasana, and savasana.

My first real complaint about this DVD: way too short savasanas. That’s not such a big deal for me, as I feel comfortable with practicing a savasana on my own or popping in one from another program. But beginners will find it difficult to stay down, as they might not know what they’re supposed to be doing. They’ll be tempted to pop right back up, which could reverse some of the beneficial aspects of this practice. I would like to have seen Gary at least spend a couple of minutes just asking us to focus on the breath or relaxing parts of the body.

Level: I’d recommend this to someone with some experience in exercise and/or physical therapy; the practices should be approachable to all but perhaps absolute beginners to exercise and yoga and/or those with crippling back pain. You don’t need to have a background in yoga; there is plenty of introductory material to assist beginners. Experienced yogi(ni)s will also find these useful, especially if they don’t have much or any prior experience with the Viniyoga school (like me!).

Class: 1 person (a man or a woman – it changes with each practice) performs the moves while Gary instructs via voiceover. In the Technique Workshop, the student demonstrates while Gary instructs live. The students are “normal”-looking people, several of them older than typical for background exercisers

Music: none. (Well, there’s an upbeat flutey clip that plays during the menus.)

Set: simple interior space with neutral colors. The lectures and technique workshops take place in a warmly colored living room-type setting.

Production: Clear, crisp picture and sound. Helpful camera angles with no crazy effects, usually showing all of the student. The voiceover matches up well with the movements.

Equipment: yoga mat (it doesn’t need to be sticky) or equivalent. For the kneeling postures you may want a folded blanket or flat pillow if your knees are particularly sensitive. All poses are done barefoot.

Space Requirements: enough room to lie on your back with arms and legs extended; you should also be able to move your arms around when standing or kneeling in your space.

DVD Notes: In addition to the three practice sessions, the DVD also contains the following material:
- Understanding Back Pain is a 22 min. lecture the covers these topics: Understanding Back Pain, Types of Pain, Causes of Pain, Understanding Biomechanics, and Specific Goals of Yoga Therapy. This may not have any earth-shattering revelations for most people, but it’s a helpful reminder of the many different factors involved as well as a nice introduction to the program’s purpose.
- The Viniyoga Technique Workshop contains the following: Introduction (Principles of Viniyoga Therapy, 11 min.), Technique Workshop (Full Workshop, 31 min.; kneeling poses, 5:23 min.; standing poses, 4:20 min.; prone (on belly) poses, 5:17 min.; supine (on back) poses, 16:17), and Explore Individual Postures.
- A 4 min. Guidelines for Practice is available on the same menu page as the three therapeutic practices. There is also an explanation of the Technique Review feature; in a nutshell, when each poses begins you can press on Technique Review to bring up the relevant clip from the Technique Workshop.
- Each pose in the Technique Workshop and Therapeutic Practices is chaptered. At the beginning of each pose in the practices, the name (in Sanskrit) appears on screen as well as a very brief blurb about the pose’s benefits (e.g. strengthen sacrum).
- Special features include Gary’s Biography, Lecture Slide Review, Viniyoga Therapy DVD Series, Further Study, English Subtitles, Viniyoga Practice MP3s, American Viniyoga Institute (link), Other Pranamaya DVDs, and Viniyoga Therapy DVD Credits.

My second big complaint about this DVD is the fact that Gary’s introduction plays every single time you pop in the DVD. It’s fairly lengthy, too, just under 2 min. That really should be in a separate chapter. I hit super fast forward to reduce it to about 5-10 seconds, as hitting skip seems to confuse the DVD and make it want to pay the intro yet again.

Comments: It goes without saying that if you experience chronic, severe, sudden onset, or any other serious back pain you should consult a qualified medical practitioner. You should probably also discuss your exact condition with your physical therapist, your qualified therapeutic yoga teacher, etc., and have them review the exercises in this program with your needs, assess your form, etc.
I do not have back pain, but I experience stiffness in my low back and tightness in my hips due to my sedentary lifestyle (and I thought reading for a living would be fun…). I use this DVD and its companion, Viniyoga Therapy for the Upper Back, Neck and Shoulders, to treat these minor incarnations of physical discomfort and to prevent future back problems. I find that semi-regular use of these two DVDs (about once every other week) has given me relief from the tightness and stiffness I experience. Combining these types of practices (I highly recommend Barbara Benagh’s Yoga for Stress Relief, too; there’s also a relevant article called “Watch Your Back,” by Hillari Dowdle, in the Dec. 2007 Yoga Journal that uses many of the same poses) with my regular Pilates practice to keep my core (abs and lower back) strong should keep me in good shape with regards to back troubles.
Are these a party in a box? No. Are they intelligently designed and effective tools for physical therapy? Yes. I feel better after doing a session, but sometimes I don’t feel completely back to normal until the next morning, when I wake with no traces of what bothered me the day before. Those with more serious back pain will want to use the programs more regularly, at least once a week.
This is my first introduction to Viniyoga, so I can’t compare it to other practices. I would be interested in exploring other media and live classes that use this technique based on my positive experiences with this series, however.

Instructor Comments:
Gary’s not exactly Mr. Personality. “Clinical” is a good way to describe this DVD and his approach, but here that’s a plus. You’re not doing these to have fun; you’re doing these to seek relief and/or to prevent problems. You want someone knowledgeable to help you feel better, and Gary’s definitely your man. He’s obviously well-versed in yoga and deeply respectful of its traditions and values, as shown in his use of Sanskrit names for poses, for example. If you’re used to a more western medical perspective you won’t feel put off by his demeanor or his manner of teaching, however, because he obviously has a strong basis in that, too. After all, he’s the yoga mind behind the National Institute of Heath’s study on yoga’s effectiveness in treating back pain.
Speaking of cueing, Gary is excellent, except for the fact that he doesn’t mirror cue. Clear, concise, and practical - exactly what is needed. He focuses exclusively on cueing breath first, then movement. Every movement begins with the breath, and Gary cues that. There's no extraneous chatter whatsoever. He'll mention where you should feel each posture, but beyond that there's no discussion of anything else - no philosophy, no flowery language, nothing except breath and movement.