Backyard Series: InversionsErich Schiffmann
Year Released: 2002
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Disclaimer: I received this video as a free review copy from iHanuman.com.
In his 4-minute introduction to this practice, yoga master Erich Schiffmann explains that the entire video was created by him—not only the instructing, but also the filming, editing, etc. Therefore, as with all the videos in Erich’s Backyard series, there is no camera person; Erich remarks that the camera angles might be a bit off at times, but this is hardly noticeable as you move through the practice. Erich also suggests that Inversions is a “more intermediate” practice due to the inclusion of some “mildly advanced” poses. I believe he minimizes a bit here, as this session includes some quite challenging moves, but more on this later. As one might surmise from the title, Erich devotes a significant amount of time to inverted postures (approximately 21 minutes total), but this is also a full, 68-minute yoga practice, with much attention paid to the abdominals and hamstrings as well.
Erich begins the session with a 7-minute warm-up sequence which incorporates long, slow holds of standing forward bend, squat, cat/cow, and down dog. From this he moves right into the first series of inversions, an 8-minute headstand sequence. Starting in one-legged headstand, Erich comes into full supported headstand (Erich performs the pose free-standing, but less experienced practitioners will benefit from the use of a wall here for balance assistance). Headstand variations include twisting headstand, splits, one-legged splits, and wide-legged headstand. Erich then states that shoulderstand is the traditional counter-pose to headstand, but before going into the shoulderstand work, he thoroughly warms up the abdominals with a series of abs prep moves as well as several levels of bridge pose (11 minutes total). Finally, Erich concludes the preparations for shoulderstand by rolling in and out of plow pose several times (very similar to the Pilates Roll-Over exercise).
Now Erich embarks upon the 13-minute shoulderstand sequence. This series is even more challenging than the headstand work—it’s longer, and in addition to balance, it requires a good deal of strength and flexibility. Erich first rolls back into plow and performs knees-to-ears posture before lifting up into a hands-free shoulderstand (very tough!). He follows this with the traditional shoulderstand but moves into more difficult variations such as one-legged shoulderstand, side plow, one-legged bridge (lowering down from shoulderstand and then hopping back up), full bridge, and lastly, walk-around-the-head, a very tricky cycle that flows from bridge to side plow to plow and then back down around the other side of the body. Erich spends almost as much time in counter-poses as he does in the actual shoulderstand series. Here he notes that fish is the traditional counter-pose to shoulderstand, but he performs a fairly challenging variation of this posture which he calls “toe fish”—basically, he starts in a sort of squat, keeps his heels up, lowers the top of his head to the floor in the fish position, and then lowers his calves to the floor, almost as in reclined hero’s pose, which in fact he goes into following the fish posture. This entire sequence comes to an end with a squat and standing forward bend.
The last active sequence of this video consists of seated forward bends. The first cycle (9 minutes) includes full seated forward bend, head-to-knee pose, and a reclined leg stretch series which concludes with a lovely full-body twist. Then it’s back to a seated position for the final 10-minute cycle: a wide-legged seated forward bend series (including twisting to each side and bending over each leg), a cobblers pose series, and a series of seated twists (full twist, bent leg twist, and sage 3 posture). Finally, Erich sets you up for savasana, spending about a minute to set up the posture and then allowing you to relax in silence while the credits roll (a bell rings after about 4 minutes).
Sound pretty advanced? Well, yes, it is! Erich, who uses Sanskrit names for the postures almost exclusively, maintains that even beginners could get something out of simply watching the inversion sequences; while I agree with this, I would caution beginners or even low intermediates against attempting this practice. For these postures to be practiced safely, the practitioner needs to have not only prior familiarity with inversions (which Erich does not actually teach here) but also a strong knowledge of how to safely modify poses as necessary. Therefore, I would recommend this video only to very experienced high intermediate and advanced students. If you are in that category, however, this yoga session would an excellent means to build on and expand your inversions practice.
Erich is a yoga master who teaches in a methodical manner with a calming voice.
A word of warning: Do not use this DVD unless you are fairly experienced with yoga and know your limitations. This DVD will not teach you to do inversions: It is assumed that you already know how to do the poses safely. Erich labels this sequence as “Intermediate to Advanced”. However, if you know your limitations and can modify poses safely on your own, you can get value from this DVD even if you cannot do all the poses. I can only do headstand (sirsasana) supported by a wall, but I was able to benefit from the DVD and enjoyed it. (While Erich did headstand variations, I worked on the entrance to & exit from the supported headstand and on taking my feet away from the wall.)
If you normally don’t preview videos, or if you preview at high speed, I suggest watching the headstand and shoulderstand sequences of this DVD at normal speed before doing them. You can really damage yourself by turning your head to look at the TV while in an inversion. If you are not expert at inversions, it’s also a good idea to think through which variations you’re going to try and which ones you plan to skip.
That said, this is an excellent DVD with a lot of variations that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Erich’s slow, relaxed style fits the practice of inversions perfectly, and the whole sequence works very well.
Sequence: There is only a short warmup before you go into the headstand (sirsasana) sequence. This sequence lasts about eight minutes with many variations of leg position, one-legged headstand, etc. The headstand sequence is followed by abdominals, bridge and plow, then a ten-minute shoulderstand sequence, also with many variations. There is a long sequence of counterposes including fish variations and delicious leg stretches, then savasana.
This is a nice well-rounded sequence of about 70 minutes; the counterposes are extensive and lovely. Because my shoulders are very tight, I may do some extra shoulder openers before starting this video next time.
Savasana: The savasana is fairly brief. Erich guides you into relaxation & is then quiet. After the savasana, the DVD goes back to the main menu, which is silent, so you can stay in savasana as long as you like.
How I feel afterward: Erich’s videos make me feel nicely stretched and very relaxed. They are not exhilarating like some power yoga or koundalini practices.
Props: Erich uses a blanket for the headstand and shoulderstand sequences. Since you’re in the inversions for quite awhile, this may be a good idea even if you normally practice those poses without props.
Modifications: Erich does not offer modifications, but most people will need to modify or skip some of these poses. Be sure you understand your body and know how to modify appropriately before you attempt this video.
What he talks about: Erich talks quite a bit, but it is nearly all about the physical effects of the poses, how they should feel, how to subtly adjust your alignment. There is no spiritual talk. He emphasizes that the poses should feel good, and you should have fun.
Music, setting, production: Erich is alone in his back yard, with an attractive flowering hedge behind him. The instruction is voiceover. The production values are just fine, although he does these videos entirely by himself. This is a DVD-R. The music is nonobtrusive and unexceptional. I did not see Fig the cat in this video.
Chaptering and features: The DVD is well chaptered, but the chapters are titled with only the numerals 1 through 9. You may want to make a cheat sheet. There are no extra features, unless you count the bit at the beginning where Erich apologizes (unnecessarily) for the production values.
Erich is extremely knowledgeable and provides a lot of detailed information on alignment. His cuing is excellent and his voice is soothing. He does not have the athlete’s body you often see on exercise videos, but I don’t find him unattractive.