Yoga for Stress Relief

Barbara Benagh
Year Released: 2006

Categories: Yoga

Iím reviewing this workout after doing each premix at least twice and some several dozen times; all in all Iíve used this DVD too many times to count (the total is well over 100).

General workout breakdown: This yoga DVD contains 20 premixed routines, each with its own personality.
This is a typical Body Wisdom Media (BWM) production, with various poses (and more rarely flows) mixed and matched. As a result, poses donít flow directly into each other as one chapter ends and another begins. There are no blank screens or even noticeable pauses here, however: the camera simply moves out as Barbara sits, lies, or stands in a finishing pose, then begins in the next pose.

Barbara moves through the poses at a deliberate pace, never rushing, allowing plenty of time for setting up and experiencing the poses, although not many poses are held for a very long period of time. (I think the longest pose may be the complete yoga rest with progressive muscle relaxation, which runs over 10 minutes, and the sun salutations chapter is over 10 minutes, too, but most chapters arenít more than 2-5 minutes). In addition to allowing time and providing plenty of instruction and tips to get into poses, Barbara spends almost as much time bringing you safely out of them and usually into a counter or finishing pose.

Because the titles accurately reflect the intent and focus of each practice Iíll list out the main poses rather than wear out my thesaurus. Iíve included approximate times of each premix in parentheses, as the times given on the screen are not always accurate. Note that Barbara does not always name the poses, so Iíve used common or descriptive names in those cases.

Beginning and Ending Your Day

- Begin Your Day Slowly (25): reclining cobblerís, wave breathing, modified down dog, half sun salutes, arms clapsed behind back - chest & upper back opener (2 variations), cobberís w/ forward bend, and simple cross-legged w/ focus on breath
- Wake Up! (57.5): wave breathing, forward bend w/ hips on heels & knees wide, sun salutations (B), tree, triangle, side angle, wide-legged standing forward bend w/ twist, cobberís w/ forward bend, head to knee, seated wide angle, revolved head to knee, quarter dog, and simple cross-legged w/ focus on breath
- Evening Revival (35): forward bend w/ hips on heels & knees wide, standing twist w/ legs wide, triangle, side angle, wide-legged standing forward bend w/ twist, arms clapsed behind back - chest & upper back opener (2 variations), cobra, revolved head to knee, and simple cross-legged w/ focus on breath
- Letting Go of the Day (38): meditation on the out breath, reclining cobblerís, forward bend w/ hips on heels & knees wide, supported childís, head to knee (passive, w/ head supported), simple cross-legged seated twist, half lord of the fishes twist, complete yoga breath, complete yoga rest (image of floating, w/ focus on breath)
- Insomnia Issues (36): standing wide angle forward bend, modified down dog, head to knee (passive, w/ head supported), reclining cobblerís, supported childís, legs up the wall / deep lake, and complete yoga rest w/ progressive muscle relaxation

Neck, Shoulder, and Back Issues

- Easing Neck & Shoulder Tension (Passive) (19): half rest w/ neck roll & hands in prayer over forehead, supine arm behind back, and arm across chest twist
- Easing Neck & Shoulder Tension (Active, Extended) (29): ear to shoulder neck stretch, arm rotation & lift (shoulder alignment), arms clapsed behind back - chest & upper back opener (2 variations), cobra, standing twist w/ legs wide, wide-legged standing forward bend w/ twist, and legs up the wall / deep lake
- Lower Back Tension (35): reclining cobblerís, wave breathing, reclining leg stretch, crocodile Ė locust (2 prep. variations), chest opener w/ upper back bolster, quarter dog, and complete yoga rest (image of floating while focusing on breath)
- Hip Pain (SI Joint) (36): reclining cobblerís, wave breathing, reclining leg stretch, open half lotus, crocodile Ė locust (2 prep. variations), forward bend w/ hips on heels & knees wide, modified down dog, and complete yoga rest (image of drifting on raft)
- Tension Headaches (44): meditation on the out breath, half rest w/ neck roll & hands in prayer over forehead, supine arm behind back, arm across chest twist, supported child, legs up the wall / deep rest, and complete yoga rest w/ progressive muscle relaxation

Easing Your Mind

- Breathing Exercises to Calm the Mind (15): simple relaxed breathing, meditation on the out breath, reclined belly twist, and wave breathing
- Restorative Poses for Relaxation (13): supported resting cobblerís, supported heart opener, and legs up the wall / deep lake
- Deep Rest (18): simple relaxed breathing, complete yoga rest w/ progressive muscle relaxation
- Mood Uplift (32): wave breathing, half sun salutes, standing twist w/ legs wide, warrior 1, standing wide-legged forward bend w/ standing backbend counterpose, supported bridge / shoulderstand, supported heart opener, and complete yoga breath
- Serenity in Stillness (40): sphinx Ė crocodile w/ bolster under belly, reclining cobblerís, reclining leg stretch, open half lotus, forward bend w/ hips on heels & knees wide, arm across chest twist, supported bridge / shoulderstand, and simple cross-legged w/ focus on breath
- Anxiety Relief (40): wave breathing, pursed lip breathing, segmented exhalation breathing, extended pause breathing, crocodile, arm across chest twist, supported childís, head to knee (passive, w/ head supported), and simple cross-legged w/ focus on breath

Stomach and Digestion Issues

- Constipation (27): sphinx Ė crocodile w/ bolster under belly, childís, standing wide angle forward bend (head supported), modified down dog, simple cross-legged twist, half lord of the fishes twist, and complete yoga rest (image of floating while focusing on breath)
- Improve Digestion (28): sun salutations (B), wide-legged forward bend w/ twist, simple cross-legged twist, half lord of the fishes twist, and half shoulderstand
- IBS (26): simple relaxed breathing, reclining cobblerís, cobblerís w/ forward bend, seated wide angle, half shoulderstand, and legs up the wall / deep lake
- Diarrhea & Indigestion (25): reclining cobblerís, supported heart opener, chest opener w/ upper back bolster, supported bridge / shoulderstand, and legs up the wall / deep lake

Level: Iíd recommend this to somewhat experienced exercisers with preferably at least a little basic yoga experience under their belts. That said, this is a very accessible practice, so perhaps everyone but the most absolute beginners to exercise and yoga will find this useful.
Iíve been practicing yoga for 7 years or so now, although Iíve never gotten into fully intermediate postures like headstands and simple arm balances, but thatís not an issue here since there arenít any. Iím still working on flexibility and strength in a few areas, and Barbaraís instruction proves very helpful. In fact, although this DVD contains very doable practices for a wide range of people, Barbaraís nuanced instruction, intelligently innovative exercises, and effective sequences make this well worth while for experienced yogis. I never feel like these practices are too basic or beginnerish for me at all. Yes, theyíre gentle, but thatís the idea!

Class: Barbara alone, with instruction via voiceover.

Music: instrumentals, ranging from slightly upbeat muzak to sort of classical guitar sounding stuff. Note that some tunes reappear in multiple segments. (If you have many of Body Wisdom Mediaís productions, youíve probably heard much of this already anyway.) Ocean waves can be heard in the background, a nice complement to Barbaraís wave metaphor in a few breathing exercises.

Set: Barbara is on a canopied platform overlooking the ocean in Half Moon Bay, Antigua.

Production: clear picture and sound, helpful and never distracting camera angles. Note that the voiceover is sometimes ahead of Barbaraís actions in the picture.
Small inset pictures pop up for brief moments to show Barbara in modified or alternative positions of the pose for almost all of the poses when she mentions another way to do them (whether thatís with additional or without any props or highly modified for flexibility issues).

Equipment: a mat, several blankets (2-3 would be best; you want something firm, like wool or woven cotton; a towel might work as a substitute for an additional blanket if needed), and at least 1 block (you can substitute a firm, thick book in some cases and a bolster or pillow in others). Additional props that would be nice include a strap (substitute: an old tie, a dressing gown belt, or a towel), an eyebag, a bolster (Barbara uses a rectangular one), and a chair.

Space Requirements: enough space to lie down with limbs extended and to do a full sun salutation. Youíll also want access to a wall (or a door through which no one will walk or a sturdy chair / sofa that wonít slide) for legs up the wall pose.

DVD Notes: The main menu options are Discussion of Meditation by H. H. the Dalai Lama (part of a longer video from a lecture Ė this does not factor into the yoga sessions themselves but appears to be an extra added bonus); Interview with Barbara; Beginning & Ending Your Day; Neck, Shoulder & Back Issues; Easing Your Mind; Stomach & Digestion Issues; and Credits. The premixes are arranged as listed under my general workout breakdown.
As noted above, the times given for each routine are more often than not longer than the actual running time.

Comments: I canNOT believe there have not been any reviews for this DVD [ETA: Oops, I see Beth added her review, so there is one! But Iím still boggled this page isnít full of reviews and comments]. This has been one of the most widely recommended DVDs on VF, although I think the love affair has waned for a few folks as time has gone on, as I donít see as many enthusiastic posts and general use of this DVD as I used to.

I still like this one a lot and use it with some regularity, although I try not to burn myself out on it and harbor a (pretty much unfounded) fear that Iíll burn out the DVD from using it as much as I do. Actually, I just did this DVD and pretty much nothing else for the past month so I could list out the poses in each premix, and I have to say that not only do I still enjoy this DVD after doing it pretty much daily for several weeks straight but Iím considering doing the same thing for two of Barbaraís other DVDs. Iím not sick of this DVD, Barbara, restorative / gentle / therapeutic yoga, BWM, etc., at all; in fact, I have perhaps even more appreciation for all of them. This is hands down my most used DVD and probably the first Iíd reach for if I knew I would be stranded on a desert island (that somehow had a working TV and DVD playerÖ).

Itíd be hyperbole to say this has been a lifesaver for me, but itís almost true. I got this one shortly after it came out, when I was battling a long term illness (repeated rounds of mononucleosis) and stress from graduate school. I used it in heavy rotation that first year I had it, and I continue to find times to use it now: Anxiety Relief before presentations, Letting Go of the Day or Insomnia Issues when Iím having trouble getting to sleep, the shoulder or low back or SI premixes when Iím feeling stiff in those areas from sitting too much or being overzealous with the weights, the short relaxation or restorative poses segments when I canít squeeze in much more than 15 minutes of yoga, and so on. As someone with a food sensitivity that results in G-I distress (and a few encounters with travelerís diarrhea), the Indigestion & Diarrhea premix is my most used; I have found nothing else (and that includes over the counter medication) as effective, and this has saved me hours of discomfort. I also find the Improve Digestion and Constipation premixes highly effective in moving things along. (Do NOT do either of these practices and then rush out to sit in traffic with no access to restrooms for the next two hours, for example.) Barbaraís breathing techniques work very well for me; even though I havenít focused on pranayama in my yoga practice over the years, Barbaraís approach demystifies this practice while teaching calming techniques. Barbara has written elsewhere about her struggles with asthma, which is why I think her approach clicks with me, a borderline asthmatic, and doesnít stress out my nervous system (vs. kundalini yoga-style breathwork, with its focus on breath of fire).

Some of the practices work well for more general practices or can be adapted for other needs. For example, for TTOM you could do the IBS practice up to the inversions, then switch over to Deep Rest, for a pretty typical Iyengar-recommended menstruation series (i.e. one with no inversions, no twists, and a focus on hip openers and relaxation); Iíve also read about some people using some of the calming practices, like Anxiety Relief or Breathing Exercises to Calm Your Mind, to help with PMS emotional issues, which is a great idea.

Yeah, thereís some set up time, and itís a leisurely pace, although a few poses are a little too short for my tastes (OK, Iíve yet to meet a reclining cobblerís thatís too long, just so you know!). This can be difficult for Type A, Go! Go! Go! personalities to adjust to (although that probably means you need it that much more ;) Ė I say this as someone who wasnít able to slow down until serious illness forced me to), but itís a good gateway into longer holds, restorative and passive yoga, slower paced practices, etc. I move at my own speed now that Iím so familiar with the routines, going right down into the restorative poses and breathing at my own pace. I try to remind myself not to rush the set up into the standing poses, however, as they perfectly illustrate Barbaraís reminder that the joy is in the journey. Iím not a big fan of the more active practices, which include the two morning practices, Evening Revival, Mood Ulift, and Improve Digestion, but then I didnít click with her Power Yoga for Every Body from BWM that focused on her slow flow vinyasa. (That said, I donít mind Barbaraís similar practices on AM PM Yoga for Beginners.)

YfSR vs. other restorative yoga videos on the market: So far Iíve tried a number of restorative yoga practices on DVD: Dr. Baxter Bellís Yoga Journal for Stress (more on that below), Deborah Donohueís Restorative Yoga Practice (has several routines of more conventional Iyengar-style propped poses plus a more active AM sequence), Laura Hawesí Yoga Therapy Prescriptions (has tons of options, including some more active practices, and also has premixes for some of the same physical and emotional issues, although quite frankly I find Barbaraís give me more bang for the buck; mixes a variety of styles, including Iyengar, Svaroopa, and viniyoga; assumes prior familiarity with more intermediate postures like shoulderstand and headstand), Evelyn Neamanís Restorative Yoga (has 2 combine-able routines of more conventional Iyengar-style propped poses; includes a mudra meditation and music with Hebrew, English, and Sanskrit lyrics), Mary Pappas-Sodonasí Yoga Complete for Weight Loss (only one restorative routine here, but this is pure Iyengar restorative and a great general routine), and Sage Rountreeís The Athleteís Guide to Yoga (only one segment, and the poses are not held anywhere near long enough, so while I like this DVD I donít recommend this particular segment for this purpose). Of these, YfSR is my favorite and definitely my most used.

Baxter Bellís Yoga for Stress vs. Barbara Benaghís Yoga for Stress Relief: Although the two have similar titles, goals, and poses, there are definite differences between them. Baxterís has the advantage of allowing you to program longer stays in the restorative poses plus shows more modifications. His instruction is also aimed more directly at those newer to yoga, although the accessibility to novices is compromised by the fact most probably donít have as many yoga props as this requires. Barbaraís has many more options for practices, most of which are focused; requires fewer props (although I enjoy using the same amount of props for it); is set outside (ocean-side, in fact); and appeals to inexperienced and experienced yogis alike. Both have similar repetitive guitar soundtracks, sadly. These two came out at the same time, and to me thatís unfortunate for the YJ title. I feel like I didnít given Baxterís DVD a fair trial because I love and use Barbaraís so much. The total number of times Iíve used Barbaraís is in the triple digits, whereas itís maybe not even a double digit number for Baxterís. Thus, it shouldnít surprise you that between the two personally Iíd choose Barbaraís without hesitation.

I have not tried several other yoga titles promising stress relief, including Yoga Zoneís Flexibility & Stress Release, Conditioning & Stress Release, or Evening Stress Release for Beginners; Self Magazineís Ulimate De-Stress Yoga; Michelle LeMayís The 7 Essential Stress Relievers; Suzanne Deasonís Stress Relief Yoga / Yoga for Stress Relief; Ana Brett & Ravi Singhís Yoga for Beginners & Beyond: Stretch, Strengthen, Be Stress Free!; or Suzanne Andrewsí Beginners Dynamic Yoga for Stress Release and Weight Loss. (Iím doing so well with Barbaraís Iím OK with that. ;))

As with any serious medical condition, itís best to consult with a qualified medical professional and perhaps also a live yoga teacher specializing in therapy before self-treating with these. If you want to explore other therapeutic yoga videos, definitely check out Gary Kraftsowís Viniyoga Therapy series with Pranamaya and Jill Millerís material. When I strained my low back earlier this year Garyís sequences proved more useful to me in rehabilitating myself over Barbaraís; however, I enjoy Barbaraís better for easing the tension that comes from too much sitting at the computer or in the library. Interestingly, both Barbara and Gary focus on working around the hips and into the sacrum with their hip opening sequences. (I know hip opener junkies are often disappointed with these, as they donít have the usual classic (outer) hip openers like pigeon, but sometimes itís whatís around the hips thatís causing the tightness, so zooming in quickly on that region may not alleviate the problem fully.)

Barbaraís most recent three BWMs: There is some overlap of footage on Barbaraís other recent BWM releases, AM PM Yoga for Beginners and Yoga for Beginners: basically the PM and some of the YfB premixes contain poses also featured in YfSR, although in a few cases Barbara has laid down different voiceover instruction targeted at the main audience of that particular DVD. In addition, if you have a copy of Yoga for Beginners that does not also say Body + Soul on it, you will find one full premix lifted from YfSR. Each DVD has a clear focus, however, with AM PM split between short practices for the morning and evening and YfB containing explorations of a more general yoga practice and often being more active. Those who like YfSR and want more Barbara may find AM PM a logical next step and a good complement to YfSR, as most of the practices are about the same length (in that 15-40 min. range) and not too strenuous. The breathwork on AM PM is different from that included on YfSR, however. Or if you like Barbaraís method of instructing poses like cobra and the standing series (triangle, side angle, the warriors), you might like YfB, where Barbara walks you through basic yoga poses and sequences in a way thatís accessible to beginners while still providing new insight into poses to experienced yogis. I like Barbaraís teaching and techniques enough to feel justified in owning all three, as they each bring something different to the table, but YfSR remains my most used and favorite of hers.

Have I made it clear yet that I love this DVD? :p

Instructor Comments:
Barbara speaks clearly and concisely, with straightforward language. (The most metaphoric she gets is asking you to lift your side ribs forward or open your heart.) She has a wonderful way of giving instruction that covers the basics yet at the same time contains many tidbits that upon repetition bring new insight into the poses; in other words, she wonít overwhelm those with limited yoga experience, yet each time through you might hear something you didnít hear before or something might click with you and finally make sense. Barbara isnít just concerned with the physical, even though she gives excellent tips on form and alignment, but she talks you through emotional responses that may arise in a few of the poses (such as the feeling of vulnerability that can come with a few of the chest openers). She places a subtle but important focus on listening to yourself, developing your intuition and your ability to redirect or reprogram your usual responses to stressful situations.
She cues for her right and left rather than the viewerís.
Barbara uses only English terms, no Sanskrit, yet she is clearly steeped in a deep respect for yogaís traditions and various teachings. Barbara has her own style that comes out of her many years of practicing, studying, and teaching yoga (she mentions Iyengar as an important early influence and Angela Farmer as a more recent one) as well as her own experiences with illnesses, injuries, and life in general.
Barbara speaks with a soft southern US-inflected accent. It did take me a few times to warm up to her voice and manner of speaking, but now I donít even notice anything except her great instruction. Her attitude is patient, sympathetic, understanding, and gently encouraging while never patronizing (sheís one of few people who can rehash the by now tired ďfight or flightĒ stuff without making me roll my eyes). Oh, and something about Barbaraís tone is so soothing that whenever my cat races into my workout room while this DVD is playing sheíll be curled up asleep within moments (yes, often on the blankets Iím trying to use). If Barbara can calm my hyper cat, she can calm anyone!