Flexibility and the SpineDonna Amrita Davidge
Year Released: 2005
Video Fitness reviews may not be copied, quoted, or posted elsewhere without the permission of the reviewer
NOTE: I received a free copy of this video to review for the web site iHanuman.com.
In this video, Donna Davidge Amrita offers a Kundalini yoga practice that she calls as the Flexibility and the Spine set. During her brief introduction, she describes Kundalini energy as being like a serpent moving up the spine, and recommends performing this type of yoga with your eyes closed. Throughout the routine, Amrita is shown practicing alone on a rocky outcrop alongside a picturesque lakeside setting. She starts the practice by tuning in with the classic chant of “ong namo guru dev namo.” She then leads the viewer through approximately 13 minutes of traditional Kundalini warm-up moves such as neck rolls, stomach grinds, spinal rolls, spinal twists, a sun salutation, and finally, sustained practice of Breath of Fire while holding several different postures. (Note: Amrita does not provide detailed instruction on how to perform Breath of Fire.)
From here Amrita moves into the Flexibility and the Spine set. For these movements, she utilizes long deep breathing (Breath of Fire is not used again during this practice). She begins standing for a bow and arrow warrior, then moves to the floor for a leg hold in a lying position and locus and bow poses. Coming back to standing, Amrita begins a series of several dynamic movements: windmill down side-to-side, upward reach to forward bend, and side bend side-to-side. This is followed by several dynamic series on the floor. First, Amrita performs side-to-side reaches in a wide angle seated forward bend; then, she does a full seated forward bend moving back-and-forth. The next challenging series begins in plow pose, moves to shoulderstand, comes back to wide plow, and then rolls between plow and full seated forward bend.
At this point, Amrita pauses for a brief relaxation followed by a seated sat kriya in which she chants “sat nam”; she then bows forward for a short “sa ta na ma” meditation. Amrita continues to remain seated for a pumping the air exercise with the arms. Next, she returns to standing for crow squats, and then (without cuing the transition) moves back down to hands and knees for cat/cow. To conclude the set, there is another brief relaxation and, in a standing position, a cycle of left nostril breathing. With about seven minutes left, the scene shifts to an indoor studio, where live guitar music is played by Amrita’s husband, Kent Bonham, while a group class follows along with the chant “guru guru wahe guru ram das guru” for approximately two minutes. As the music fades, the video returns to the lakeside setting, where Amrita concludes with a short final relaxation. She comes out of this relaxation with a few mobility movements, ending in a seated position with a final “sat nam.”
Overall, Flexibility and the Spine is a nice traditional Kundalini yoga practice. Because of it includes some challenging sequences, however (for example, the rolling between plow and seated forward bend), I would suggest this practice for experienced yoga students only. I would also caution anyone with back, neck, or shoulder injuries to take particular care. This routine might be appropriate for those new to Kundalini yoga provided that 1) as mentioned above, they are already are experienced with yoga asana, and 2) they already know how to perform the Breath of Fire, which is not taught here.
I practice Kundalini yoga only occasionally, and most with Ana Brett/Ravi Singh DVDs. In comparison, I have to admit I found Amrita a bit lacking--although there are some nice elements to this practice, her cuing often falls short, and the production values are not the best. Furthermore, as mentioned above, Amrita includes some sequences that are fairly challenging, and I believe that working with this video tweaked a nagging lower back injury of mine. However, those looking for an alternative to Raviana might enjoy Amrita.
I’m reviewing this workout after previewing and doing it once.
General workout breakdown: This 50-min. kundalini yoga practice focuses on a set called flexibility and the spine, which includes a fair number of backbends and forward bends. The moves include (and I apologize for not getting all of the proper KY terms)
centering with om namo guru dev namo 3x
washing machine (twists with hands on shoulders)
sun salutations (1 round)
table top / bridge w/ breath of fire
on back, head & heels raised 6” from floor w/ breath of fire
tuck pose (head to knees) w/ breath of fire
while seated, arms at 60 degrees w/ breath of fire – then draw hands overhead with thumbs touching
--> With this, the warm-up ends and the flexibility & the spine portion proper begins.
warrior w/ bow & arrow arms w/ long deep breath
on back, legs at 60 degrees w/ long deep breath
standing, w/ arms to side, forward bend to one leg, return to center, and then forward bend to other leg
standing forward bend-backbend series
standing alternating side bends
side to side stretch w/ legs wide (seated)
life nerve stretch (forward bend w/ moving up & down)
shoulderstand – alternate between shoulderstand & wide plow
plow – life nerve stretch series (rolling back and forth between two)
sat kriya (seated on heels)
bow forward w/ sa ta na ma silent meditation
pumping the arms (seated on heels; looks like bird wings)
cat & cow on all fours (N.B. this transition is NOT cued)
left nostril breath (long deep breath w/ right nostril blocked) / meditation while seated
chanting (guru guru wahe guru guru ram das guru)
knees to chest – rub hands and soles of feet together – circle wrists and ankles – rock on spine – shake arms in hands
hands in prayer for final Sat Nam
Level: I’d recommend this to experienced exercisers with some prior experience in yoga (Donna does not explain breath of fire, for example, and mentions modifications without showing them), although you don’t need to be an expert yogi(ni) by any means. I suspect advanced kundalini yogis will find this on the easy side, while more beginner ones will find this suitably challenging. I’ve been practicing yoga for about 6 years but only dabble in kundalini (OK, Ravi Singh and Ana Brett’s take on KY), and I was able to follow along, although I modified for flexibility limitations and slowed down the pace. I would NOT recommend this to someone without a healthy back and some preexisting flexibility, especially in the hamstrings, however.
Class: Donna alone, with instruction via voiceover, except when she joins a small class for the chant.
Music: for most of the workout guitar and singing / chanting; otherwise, silence.
Set: on the edge of a lake in Maine. Different shots of this lake’s natural beauty are interspersed throughout the session. Parts of the final chant and relaxation are set in Donna’s bright interior studio.
Production: clear picture and sound. Even though this is a homemade production, attention was given to editing, camera shots, etc.
Equipment: yoga mat, carpet, or equivalent. Optional: eyebag and/or blanket for final relaxation. Donna is barefoot.
Space Requirements: enough room to lie down with arms and hands extended, with room behind your head for plow. You should be able to do a full sun salutation without bumping into anything, too.
DVD Notes: The video starts right up when you pop it in. The main menu offers you the options of Play All, Chapter Menu (Tune-in, Warm Ups, Set, Meditation, and Relaxation), and Info. The video is chaptered so you can skip Donna’s introduction.
Comments: As with any program, listen to your body, go at an appropriate pace, and make any needed modifications. You may not want to round the back quite so much in the forward bend (life nerve stretch), for example.
I found it difficult to do some of the poses first thing in the morning; I would have fared better later in the day when I’m more flexible. Because of the number of backbends, I wouldn’t recommend doing this right before bed, however, if you’re as prone to staying awake after intense backbending as I am. (Backbends are like caffeine to me – neither gives me a jolt, but they can keep me from sleeping.)
My only previous kundalini yoga experience has been Ravi Singh & Ana Brett videos and one of their workshops. Still, I found it easy to make the transition from their programs to this DVD. Donna is more of a KY traditionalist (i.e. more in lines with Yogi Bajhan’s teachings) than Ravi & Ana, although I’m not sure what that all means. Donna does not include as many meditation or relaxation breaks between poses as Ravi & Ana. She also doesn’t have quite as many motivational sayings and make as many claims about the poses’ benefit.
Why do some instructors insist on telling you all about the upcoming pose or sequence or meditation while you’re relaxing? (I’ve seen this more often in KY videos, but other hatha videos sometimes do this.) I’m trying to relax and focus on the now, so it’s distracting and actually stressful attempting to absorb all of that information while trying to let go.
Donna speaks clearly, with a pleasant, non-intimidating presence. Donna encourages you to close your eyes, but she misses cueing one or two moves and doesn’t explain some of the moves as clearly as she might for someone who might be new to kundalini yoga. Still, as someone who’s not a KY expert I found this practice easy to follow.