Insight Yoga

Sarah Powers
Year Released: 2005

Categories: Yoga

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I’m reviewing this workout after doing the yang routines and meditation 1-2 times each, the yin routines 3-4 times each, and the savasana at least a dozen times.

General workout breakdown: Christine, Denise, and Beth have already described this DVD so well there’s little left for me to do but flesh out the descriptions of the yin practices a little more. Yin yoga has its own nomenclature, so I’ve added other common names in parentheses, many of which Sarah herself uses.
- Yin Kidney targets the kidney and urinary bladder channels. The postures are butterfly (a wide baddha konasana), saddle (a reclined vajrasana; alternative = sphinx), sphinx, seal (sort of a straight-armed cobra, with the arms a little farther out), twisting dragonfly (upavista konasana), reclined twist w/ legs crossed, and savasana. Staff pose, forward-facing savasana, child’s pose, on back with knees towards each other, and knees to chest are the in between poses.
- Yin Liver focuses on the liver and gall bladder meridians. The postures are a wide knee child’s pose, seal (alternative = sphinx), swan (pigeon; alternative = eye of the needle), shoelace (the bottom of gomukhasana; alternatives = eye of the needle or square, aka double pigeon or firelog), half shoelace, seated twist, dragonfly, and savasana. In between poses include child’s pose and forward-facing savasana.
As mentioned, Sarah holds yin poses for 5 minutes each, although the ending twists are held for 2.5 minutes on each side. Sarah moves deliberately in and out of poses, with pauses in counter poses between the yin shapes.

Level: I’d recommend this to people with some prior yoga experiences. Although Sarah does include some helpful form tips and reminders in some poses, particularly in the vinyasa flows, where she is more focused on alignment, she assumes you’re already familiar with basic yoga. You don’t need to be particularly advanced in your practice, however, as modifications or substitutions are often given, but pre-existing strength and flexibility is helpful for getting more out of the postures. I’d approach this with some caution if you have a physical issue, particularly in the knee, hip, or spine.
I’ve been practicing yoga for 7 years or so now, although I’ve never gotten past into intermediate postures like headstands and simple arm balances, but that’s not an issue here since there aren’t any. Some flexibility limitations present a challenge in the long-held yin postures, and my particular elbow issue makes the chaturanga series difficult, but that’s just me.

Class: Sarah’s class includes both men (including her husband, Ty Powers) and women with varying abilities and ages, so modifications are visible during relevant poses.

Music: none. The only exceptions are the single gong that begins and/or closes practices and the “Om Mane Padme Om” chant that runs for the second part of the savasana.

Set: uncluttered, clean interior studio (Sarah’s usual?), with Buddhist and related objects in the one corner.

Production: clear picture and sound (although the microphone picks up shifting in poses and other ambient sounds), with non-distracting camera angles.

Equipment: Sarah’s class uses a yoga mat for all sessions; they have a thick pillow-like pad (kind of looks like those large square dog beds, but not as squishy) over their mats for the yin portions, and many of them also use what I think is a zafu (round meditation pillow). For the meditation and savasana practice some cover themselves with a (wool) blanket.
I use my mat, 2 blankets, and a block; I also keep my bolster and an additional block nearby. (I need extra propping for seated poses.)

Space Requirements: enough room to do a full sun salutation and to lie down with limbs extended.

DVD Notes: After the disclaimers comes the Insight Yoga logo, followed by a 2 min. introduction from Sarah, which you can skip to get right to the main menu. The main menu has these options: Vinyasa Practices, Yin Practices, Savasana & Meditation, Guided Sequences (these are the 10 premixes Beth mentioned), and Special Features (Sarah’s Biography; Sarah’s Teachers – VFers may recognize among her yoga teachers such names as Paul Grilley, Erich Schiffmann, Richard Freeman, Gary Kraftsow, Ana Forrest, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Ganga White & Tracy Rich; Further Study & Recommended Reading; Suggested Websites; Other Pranamaya DVDs; Insight Yoga Credits). There are chapters within the practices.
As noted, there is an option for cues only for the two yin practices. (I won’t give anything away, but Sarah includes some incredible stories in there, two of which involve a major event that had just happened before the DVD’s filming. The intention was to be inspiring as well as to drive home the topic at hand, but the first time or two the mention startled, almost upset me, because the images from TV and such were still very vivid in my mind.)

Comments: This is my first experience with yin yoga, and I have to say that I’m still not sure what to make of this style. This is a personal thing, however, and is not a reflection of the high quality of this DVD’s production and instruction (as always, Pranamaya makes the instructor and the yoga the true stars). Sarah has a new book out with the same title, Insight Yoga, which I haven’t yet checked out but have been meaning to because I’m not sure if I’m approaching the yin portions correctly. I know it’s supposed to be a passive practice, but I’m having a hard time processing that. I guess I just lean towards more Iyengar-influenced restorative when I want passive yoga, as I find it hard to sit in the yin postures for such a long period of time, especially with a recent back strain, and feel more comfortable with the restorative style of propping.

Sarah mixes Buddhist philosophy (during the yin practices she discusses Buddhist teachings on the human condition, namely the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasive suffering), Chinese traditional medicine (namely the meridians running through the body that affect the health of different organs), reflections on Tao and dharma, a hint of Zen, and a deep understanding of yoga’s traditions. The concepts of prana and chi influence her distinctive breathing pattern, which sends the breath down to the mula (root) bandha on the inhale and up to the heart center on the exhale (not unlike the viniyoga style of breathing, but without the abdominal lifting focus). All of this sets her approach apart from many others that I know of; most people will find the yoga poses familiar, but the presentation brings new ideas to the picture. In a way the idea that the health of organs can be affected by yoga postures is kind of sort of similar to kundalini yoga, although Sarah prefers a more classical hatha style and a slower paced practice.

I’ve actually read about a few people who use this DVD primarily or almost exclusively for the slow vinyasa sequences. The amount and variety of material on here – plus the quality – goes a long way towards offsetting what is a higher than average price.

Instructor Comments:
Sarah has a very calm presence and speaks in a measured, deliberate manner, with pauses between phrases. Everything she does is measured and deliberate, really. She seems to have a real wealth of knowledge and experience. The Yoga Journal blurb on the back focuses on her intelligent delivery, and I’d agree, especially since her words are more erudite than those usually uttered on workout DVDs. Sarah generally walks around to instruct during the yang practices, stopping to correct or point something out in a student. She remains seated at the front of the class for the yin, savasana, and meditation portions. She cues for her class’s right and left.



NOTE: I received a free review copy of this DVD from the web site

In this DVD, yoga instructor Sarah Powers offers a unique blend of yoga practices. As she explains, her work strives to integrate the Yogic and Buddhist traditions and to encourage balance by providing both Yin practices, which are more receptive, and Yang practices, which are more active. Given this, the DVD includes six main practices: two active flow practices, two Yin practices, savasana, and meditation. In all of the sequences, Sarah is leading a class of 7-8 participants, each of whom are practicing the postures at different levels. Sarah frequently walks around the class performing adjustments, and she encourages modifications as well.

The Main Menu of the DVD is set up to allow the user to select Vinyasa Practices, Yin Practices, Savasana & Meditation, Guided Sequences, and Special Features (includes Sarah's Biography, Teachers, and other info). I have broken down each segment as described below.

In each of these practices, Sarah places a strong emphasis on focused breathing, particularly integrating the prana from the upper half of the body with the lower.
1. Sun Salutation Practice (40 mins.) Here Sarah methodically leads the class through a slow and deliberate series of sun salutations. Each round includes a different lunge variation, ending with hanumanasana (splits) in the final round. Sarah adds some strength moves, such as chaturanga repeated three times in a row, as well as some other unique variations, such as a simple locust with the legs moving in and out.
2. Vinyasa Flow (55 mins.) The first 15 minutes of this series opens with a very slow round of sun salutation B. Sarah then instructs what she calls a standing sequence flow. Staying all on one side, she leads the class through warrior 1, warrior 2, reverse warrior, and then a series of variations which move between intense side stretch and warrior 1; this was a physically demanding series which really worked the glutes. She finishes with revolved triangle and standing split before moving to the other side. Next comes some simple backbending with a locust series and camel, and then the practice finishes on the floor for a reclined hand-to-foot series and happy baby pose.

A 7-minute "Notes on Practice of Yin Yoga" precedes these practices; Sarah explains the three principles of Yin Yoga (finding edge, practicing stillness, and holding poses a long time). During the Yin practices, Sarah weaves in talk of Buddhist theory and includes stories and anecdotes; however, both practices also include an “abbreviated audio” option. Most postures are held for five minutes.
1. Yin Kidney (49 mins.) This practice focuses on the Kidney/Urinary channels, which means that the emphasis on backbending postures; simple twists are included as well.
2. Yin Liver (57 mins.) This segment, which address the Liver/Gallbladder meridians, focuses more on hip-opening postures. However, this practice also includes a few backbends, twists, and forward bends.

SAVASANA. This is an 11-minute sequence that can be added on as an option to the vinyasa practices. It includes both spoken guidance from Sarah and time for silent reflection.

MEDITATION. Sarah begins this 31-minute segment with a 7-minute introduction to meditation practice. She describes the three stages of meditation—outer, inner, and innermost—and explains how these stages move from the most basic, mainly focusing on the breath, to the more complex, involving other sensations. She also reviews the three inner attitudes involved in meditation (impartiality, non-judgmentalness, and cultivating interest). In the final 10 minutes of the meditation practice, Sarah’s talking becomes less frequent, allowing more time for silent reflection.

In the DVD’s liner notes, Sarah offers tips for how to sequence the practices to best suit your needs on a particular day. However, the DVD also includes a “Guided Sequences” section, which contains 10 pre-arranged practices ranging in length from 60 to 154 minutes. Sarah encourages the user to listen to one’s own experience to chose how to best use this DVD. Overall, this DVD provides an excellent introduction to Yin Yoga with the additional option of more traditional vinyasa practice, although those who are used to more fast-moving “power” vinyasa yoga may not appreciate Sarah’s more methodical style. Similarly, some might find Sarah to be overly chatty during the Yin practices but I found Sarah’s voice to be soothing and thought that her storytelling added a distinctive element to these sequences. I would recommend this DVD to all levels of yoga practitioners who are interested in experiencing Sarah's unique approach.

Instructor Comments:
Sarah is soft-spoken, and her voice has a slight monotone quality that some may not like but which I found to be soothing--she nearly lulled me to sleep several times! ;)

Beth C (aka toaster)


Lots of variety is offered in this unique practice. You'll enjoy two, 60 minute Yin Yoga sessions and 1 60 minute more strenuous vinyasa sequence. (you'll also find a bonus 40 minute sun salutation, 10 minute guided savasana and 30 minute guided meditation)

Exploring both Yin yoga and Vinyasa yoga with traditions of meditation, Sarah slowly leads the group through various sequences. The vinyasa flow is slow so even beginners can follow along (but it's still strong enough for more advanced students).

The dvd is chaptered, bringing over 4 hours of practice sessions. (you can make your yoga rotation personal)

Sarah's yoga is spiritual and she offers lots of guidance. The holds are held longer to enhance the benefits (including toning & shaping the body). Her sequences help balance the body's internal organs (she offers sessions for the kidney & liver).

This dvd provides many options for anyone looking to blend the Yogic and Buddhist meditation traditions. This workout is accessible for all levels of participation.

Instructor Comments:



I just got this DVD this week and there a ton of material on it. I'm really loving it - lots of new stuff to try!

First - about me - just so you know, Sarah's first DVD Yin and Yang Yoga is in my Yoga Hall of Fame DVDs - one of my favorite vinyasa practices of all time. I've also been practicing with the Grilley DVD right before bedtime for the last two months or so. I very much enjoy Yin style yoga.

This DVD was produced by Pranamaya, the same as the Grilley DVD, and the production values are good. The practices themselves though are not chaptered which isn't much of an issue for me since I usually do it whole, but I know some people depend on this.

There are 2 Yin practices - one for the liver and one for the kidney. The style of instruction is quite different from the Grilley DVD - she focuses on breathing much more carefully and the meridians and energy flow. She tells stories while you are in a pose and gives lots of information - but there is an option to turn of the speech and just get the cues (I didn't try it yet). So while the Grilley DVD focuses on hips or the spine, she focuses on the meridians. I believe all the holds are for five minutes while on the Grilley it varies from 2-5.

The Yang practices are very much stylistically like her previous DVD - very slow careful movement - long breaths, detailed instruction. There is a 40 minute sun salutation sequence that is not very typical - there are lunge sequences and shalabasana sequences. It's very different and taught skillfully. The 55 minute standing pose sequence is similar in instruction style but a different sequence all together.

Her 11 minute savasana has some instruction at the beginning and then goes into some chanting singing that is beautiful and very relaxing.

The only piece I haven't done yet is the 31 minute mediation which I hope to get to this week.

If you had a problem with the original Powers DVD, I would not recommend this because it is similar in style, but the practices are quite different and she goes into way more depth about the merdians.

If you didn't like the Grilley DVD, you also might not like this because the production is similar - although their teaching styles are quite different.

Since I really like both those previous DVDs, I'm thrilled with the material in this one. Two mudras up!

Instructor Comments:

Christine Miyachi