Yoga Journal's: Step by Step Session 1

Natasha Rizopoulos
Year Released: 2004

Categories: Yoga

Note: The title as it appears on the DVD cover is Yoga Journalís Yoga Step by Step Session 1: Foundation Poses for Strength & Stamina.

Iím reviewing this workout after going through the segments once each; Iíve practiced along with the instructional segment and the practice and watched the Chalk Talk and Medical Commentary.

General workout breakdown: Annie has already provided a great overview of this DVD, so Iíll just get into some nitty gritty details.

This introductory yoga DVD focuses on sun salutations and standing poses. The asanas (poses) youíll learn are ujjayi (victory breath), ardha surya namaskar (half sun salute), uttanasana (standing forward bend), surya namaskar A (sun salute A), plank, adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), balasana (childís), chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff pose, aka yogi push-up), bhujangasana (cobra), urdvha mukha svanasana (upward facing dog), surya namaskar B (sun salute B), utkatasana (chair or thunderbolt), virabhdrasana I (warrior I), tadasana (mountain), virabhdrasana II (warrior II), utthita parsvakonasana (extended side (right) angle), utthita trikonasana (triangle), and, in the practice, savasana (corpse or relaxation pose).

Some details about some of the individual segments:
- Instruction: This 35-min. segment, after a long introduction from Natasha, adds interludes to demonstrate modifications, shown by Jason, and correct posturing, shown via Natasha physically correcting and adjusting Autumn, to the practice segment. You can practice along to this, but youíll pause to watch from time to time, kind of like what usually happens in a workshop. This portion closes in seated position with anjuli mudra (hands in prayer position) with a Namaste.

- Practice: This 20-min. segment moves through the poses in a flow. This is a vinyasa (flow) style of yoga, although the pace is steady and controlled, allowing you to focus on form and breath. Natasha begins with 3 rounds of half sun salutes, 3 rounds of sun salute As, and then does several rounds of sun salute Bs, moving into a different standing pose each time through. Youíll repeat the plank - chaturanga - up dog - down dog flow to switch sides. Youíll end by coming down to the mat for childís pose, then move into a short savasana. Natasha goes into a lot less detail here than in the instructional segment; she focuses on leading you through the practice, including form tips and reminders rather than pauses to instruct how to do the pose.

- Chalk Talk: These short clips discuss a pose at a time. Autumn or Jason demonstrates the full version of the pose as Natasha speaks from off screen, with an onscreen drawing emphasizing her points (think the squiggles sports commentators use); for example, Natasha will use this feature to highlight how doing X will cause your back to round while doing Y will cause it to arch. After the pose plays you can choose to view the relevant portion of the instructional practice or view another pose. Your pose options are adho mukha svanasana, chaturanga dandasana, utthita parsvakonasana, utthita trikonasana, urdhva mukha svanasana, utkatasana, uttanasana, virabhdrasana I, virabhdrasana II, bhujangasana, and ardha uttanasana.

- Medical Commentary: This begins with an almost 2 min. segment in which Natasha asks Dr. McCall to talk about the many medical benefits of yoga, focusing in particular on yogaís ability to relieve stress. The regular practice sessions plays, with Natashaís instruction fading whenever Dr. McCall cuts in to comment. So this isnít really a viable option if youíre intending to do the practice; itís better to watch this.
Dr. McCall is a yogi in his own right, so he talks about yoga from both perspectives. He discusess some medical benefits, usually in more general terms but sometimes mentioning specific conditions (such as how releasing abdominal tension can aid those with digestive issues or premenstrual cramps), provides tips, and explains the purpose of the modifications (such as how Jasonís slightly bent knees work for those with tight hamstrings). He does not limit himself to Western medicine, as heíll discuss Eastern ideas like tapas or yogic traditions of posesí benefits. As a result, this does not sound like a med school lecture (Jill Miller goes into a lot more anatomical detail, for example). Itís worth watching this segment in conjunction with the other instructional bits because Dr. McCall reinforces and expands upon Natashaís instruction; the more you hear these reminders, the more theyíll stick. Also, heís very good with stressing how important it is to go at your own speed, to listen to your own bodyís signals, to respect your own limits, and so on.

Level: Iíd recommend this to somewhat active folks looking to get into or refine a yoga practice. Ideally youíd use this as a complement to a solid live beginnerís yoga class, but if you donít have access to one, this may be as good of a substitute as you can find. This is going to appeal more to those who like to learn as much as they can rather than those who prefer to jump in heads first and figure out the details later, although this DVD can certainly work for both parties.
Iíve been practicing yoga for over 8 years now but havenít really made it to the fully intermediate level (for various reasons I donít practice wheel, headstand, handstand and other arm balances, etc.). I enjoy a good back to basics practice, and this certainly was one. Yes, itís perhaps a little basic for me, but sometimes thatís what I want. Like Annie I found that not only did I get a good refresher, but I also learned a few things.

Class: Natasha is joined by Jason (Crandell, a certified yoga teacher whoís done other YJ videos), who demonstrates modifications, and Autumn. Natashaís instruction for the practice comes via voiceover, but Natasha instructs live when she breaks down form in the instructional segment.

Music: repetitive instrumental with slightly exotic instrumentals and ďooh ooh ah ahĒ type vocals. Because of its repetition itís easy to tune out, although you can choose to practice without it (which should be an option on all workouts!).

Set: interior space made to look like a living room, with some Buddhist items and Chinese paintings (although Iíve never seen a living room with stairs / ramps in the middle of it). The class members are rather spread out in this space.

Production: clear picture and sound, helpful camera angles (sometimes almost too eager to help, as youíll get overhead views, side views, close-ups, full body shots - the whole works!).
The Sanskrit and English names for each pose appear on the bottom corner of the screen briefly; this is a nice touch because itíll help you learn the pose names. During the instructional segment other text will flash on bottom of the screen, including suggestions to visit YJ online for more info.

Equipment: yoga sticky mat and bare feet. The modifier uses a strap (substitute: tie, belt, long towel, etc.), two blocks or bricks, and at least one to two blankets (youíll want something firm, like wool or woven cotton).

Space Requirements: enough room to perform a full sun salutation and move around your mat.

DVD Notes: When you pop in the DVD, Natasha reads the warning as it slowly scrolls up the screen (you canít skip this), and then a promo for Yoga Journal appears; itís 2 min. before the first menu screen appears (you can skip this). Your choices are Main Menu and Watch Natashaís Yoga Demonstration (a 2 min. segment of Natasha alone, with voiceover saying, ďMovement. Strength. Flexibility. Balance. Focus. Peace.Ē).
Your menu options are Instruction Menu (Begin Instruction, Begin Yoga Chalk Talk), Practice Menu (Begin Practice, Follow Jason, Practice with Medical Commentary, Practice without Music), Yoga Chalk Talk (11 poses), Medical Commentary (Practice with Medical Commentary from Dr. Timothy McCall, a Boston-area physician who is (was?) YJís medical editor and columnist), About Natasha (a brief print bio plus Natasha on Yoga, a 4.5-min. segment of Natasha talking about what yoga does for her in between shots of her at home and doing yoga), and

Instructor Comments:
Natasha has a pleasant personality. Sheís rather down to business; her goal here is to teach you yoga, so thereís no extraneous chatter. Sheís focused on movement, alignment, and breath, using straightforward language. Natasha speaks in a measured, even pace, using a tone that doesnít talk down to the viewer.
Natasha lists both ashtanga and Iyengar influences in her brief bio, and she teaches a strong flow that still pays close attention to alignment.
Natasha cues for her right and left. Because she and her class members face different directions, this is probably a better choice than mirror cuing.