Yoga for BeginnersBarbara Benagh
Year Released: 2006
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I've been enjoying yoga instructor Barbara Benagh's other recent DVD release, Yoga for Stress Relief, so I decided to take a look at this one as well. This DVD, released by Body+Soul magazine, is intended for those new to yoga. There are a total of 5 shorter (<30 minutes), targeted routines which provide detailed instruction in basic yoga postures. These sequences allow the beginning yoga practitioner to build a solid foundation by learning proper alignment and taking the time to focus on form. In the second part of the DVD, Barbara combines the targeted practices to form five extended routines. These longer (30-70 minutes) practices utilize mostly the same footage (warm-up and relaxation sequences are added) to provide a more comprehensive, in-depth yoga experience. Barbara uses a yoga mat and occasionally makes use of a blanket as well.
A breakdown of the DVD is listed below; I've first listed the main menu items and then have broken down the two submenus, "Getting Started" and "As You Progress." The times for each practice are given as they appear on-screen, but I've added adjusted times in parentheses based on my own review. I've also included brief summaries of the composition of each segment; these summaries are meant to provide an overview rather than to be all-inclusive.
* Learn: Interview (8)
* Getting Started: Targeted Routines
* As You Progress: Extended Routines
* About Body+Soul: Meet the Editor (2)
* Articles: Articles and Advice - five PDF file reprints of Body+Soul magazine articles on yoga and related topics
Getting Started: Targeted Routines
* Backbends, 10m (22.5)- locust, seated backbend/shoulder stretch, cobra, bow; slow but building intensity
* Standing Poses, 20m (22.5) - tree, triangle (long, slow setup process), side angle, standing side stretch, warrior 1, wide leg standing forward bend
* Strength and Balance, 20m (20.5) - teaches
"core strength breathing" used with boat prep work, half boat, modified side plank, and plank pose; finish in child's pose
* Sun Salutations, 20m (22) - very slow flow; begins with 2 sun breaths, 2 half salutes, and then a total of only 2 rounds of sun salutations, the first more modified than the second
* Seated Hip Openers, 30m (28) - performed entirely on the floor (seems to target hamstrings more than hips): reclined cobbler's, lying shoulder stretch, reclined leg stretch, thread the needle, seated easy pose twist, cobbler's, head-to-knee, wide legged seated forward bend, finish in cobbler's
As You Progress: Extended Routines
There are three new sequences included in the below practices. The first is Breathing and Centering (12.5 minutes), which includes breathing deep and centering the mind while lying on your back, breathing in rhythm with pulling the knees in and out, and breathing during a simple lying twist (revolved stomach pose). The second is a Restorative sequence 11.5 minutes) made up of three separate segments: supported reclined cobbler's pose, upper back opener reclining over bolster, and legs up the wall pose. Finally, there is a 5.5 closing Relaxation sequence.
* Basics: Wonderful Place to Start, 70m (68.5) - Breathing and Centering (12.5), Standing Poses (22.5), Seated Hip Openers (28), and Relaxation (5.5)
* Energizing: Wake Up Your Body and Mind, 40m (40) - Sun Salutations (22), Backbends (12), and Relaxation (5.5)
* Strength: Challenging Extended Routine, 70m (71) - Sun Salutations (22), Standing Poses (22.5), Strength and Balance (20.5), Relaxation (5.5)
* Rejuvenate: When You Need to Catch Your Breath, 30m (30) - Breathing and Centering (12.5), Restorative (11.5), Relaxation (5.5)
* Quieting: Great for the Evening, 55m (56) - Standing Poses (22.5), Seated Hip Openers (28), Relaxation (5.5)
Overall, this is an extremely well-done DVD. Although it's definitely appropriate for those new to yoga, I'm not sure if I'd recommend it as a very first yoga video; because Barbara is practicing alone (on a beautiful beach at Half Moon Bay Resort in Antigua), she is unable to show modifications, although she certainly does offer plenty of suggestions for going at your own pace. I am not new to yoga myself: I started dabbling about 6 years ago, have been practicing regularly for the past 3, and would rate myself at about an intermediate level. While Barbara's detailed teaching certainly provides me with an excellent opportunity to achieve a greater level of proficiency, I do find that the practices move a bit slow for where I am at present. In addition, given that I usually have less than an hour at a time to devote to yoga, I'm wouldn't get much use from the extended sequences, although I could see myself mixing and matching to create my own practices.
In summary, I do believe that most beginning and intermediate yogis will be able to find value in this excellent video, but I've decided to get rid of this DVD and hold on to Benagh's Yoga for Stress Relief, which is similar but more versatile for my own needs.
I definitely like Barbara, but she has a slow, drawn-out way of speaking that might be annoying to some. Also, I'm not sure that her cueing (non-mirrored) would work for those completely new to yoga; she does give precise form details in some ways, but also she fails to provide other alignment details (eg, how to align your feet in warrior poses).
I am aware of two versions of this DVD. Beth has reviewed the one released under Body + Soul magazine; I’m reviewing the version that simply says “Yoga for Beginners.” I believe Beth obtained her copy before I bought mine, and I see the version I have featured more prominently on Amazon, so it’s possible the Body + Soul version was a limited edition.
As far as I can tell, the differences between the two versions are that the Body + Soul DVD does not have two additional practices sampled from two other recent Barbara Benagh Body Wisdom Media DVDs, does contain some bonus material drawn from the magazine, and has a slightly different cover.
I’m reviewing this workout after doing each routine 1-3 times each.
General workout breakdown: Beth has already broken down and described these well, so I’ll just provide a little more information, if you could possibly want to know anything more!
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 are held for a very long period of time. In addition to allowing time and providing plenty of instruction and tips to get into exercises, Barbara spends almost as much time bringing you safely out of them and usually into a counter or finishing pose.
A few other notes: I wish the relaxation pose that appears in the longer routines had been included as a separate option here, as these practices do not end in a final relaxation. It would also have been nice to see the Breathing and Centering as a separate option as well.
My favorite practice is the Seated Hip Openers, which actually spends as much, if not more, time lying down and isn’t a straight set of hip openers but rather a great collection of simple, straightforward poses that get at all of the muscles in and around the hips, including the hamstrings, inner thighs, and low back, which contribute to tension and even pain in the hip areas (which reminds me of Gary Kraftsow’s approach to hip openers on Viniyoga Therapy for Low Back, Sacrum & Hips).
Below I’ll break down the two additional practices on my DVD. *Note: These two practices, found under “Getting Started,” are only on some versions of this DVD, specifically the ones that do not have “Body + Soul” on the cover.*
Unlike the other practices on this DVD, these are made from mixed and matched poses, each in their own chapter, rather than a long series of exercises within one chapter. As a result, poses don’t flow directly into each other as one chapter ends and another begins. There are no blank screens during the pauses here, however: as Barbara sits, lies, or stands in a finishing pose the camera simply moves out to a scenic view (e.g. of driftwood on the beach), then begins on Barbara in the next beginning posture.
- Gentle Unwind (28 min.) covers the following postures: meditation on the out breath, reclining cobbler’s, frog, supported child’s, simple cross-legged seated twist, complete yoga breath, and complete yoga rest. This is a shortened version of Letting Go of the Day from Yoga for Stress Relief (missing only the supported head to knee and half lord of the fishes poses).
- Letting Go of the Day (25 min.) coveres the following postures: reclining belly twist, half lord of the fishes, standing side bend, neck stretch, easy seated twist, arm alignment, and savasana (simple yoga rest). This is a shortened version of Unwinding Muscle Tension from the PM section of AM PM Yoga for Beginners (missing only the standing wide-legged forward bend).
Level: I’d recommend this to somewhat experienced exercisers, preferably with at least a little basic yoga experience under their belts. That said, these practices seem like they could be accessible to all but the most absolute beginners. This DVD would be an excellent complement to a beginning yoga class, and it would also be a good refresher for those who have been away from yoga for a bit for whatever reason.
I’ve been practicing yoga for 7 years or so now, although I’ve never gotten into fully intermediate postures like headstands and simple arm balances, but that’s not an issue here since there aren’t any. I’m still working on flexibility and strength in a few areas, and Barbara’s nuanced instruction and effective sequences, although basic, make this worth while for more experienced yogis. When I’m in a back to basics mode, I appreciate instructors who instruct poses in a way that appeals to both yoga newbies and experienced yogis (Erich Schiffmann is another who masterfully demonstrates that not only does “beginner” or “basic” not need to be boring or pedantic but it can also have a lot of value for those who think they know what they are doing already). I’m regretting not getting this one sooner than I did, when I could have used it to work back up to my normal yoga routines after a recurring battle with a long-term illness.
Class: Barbara alone, with instruction via voiceover.
Music: ocean waves gently splashing onto the shore.
For the two premixes from AM PM Yoga for Beginners and Yoga for Stress Relief you’ll have instrumentals, ranging from slightly upbeat muzak to sort of classical guitar sounding stuff. Note that a few tunes reappear in more than one pose. (If you have many of Body Wisdom Media’s productions, you’ve probably heard much of this already.)
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. Barbara’s voice comes through clearly, never overpowered by the wave sounds. Note that the voiceover does not always match up perfectly with Barbara’s actions; in other words, every once in a while you’ll look up and see Barbara already or not yet moving into the next pose.
Equipment: a yoga sticky mat. You’ll probably also want 1-3 blankets (something firm, like wool or woven cotton, would be best; in a pinch a towel or perhaps even a flat pillow might work), a strap (substitute: tie, dressing gown belt, etc.), and perhaps a block or two (substitute: a thick book).
Space Requirements: enough space to lie down with limbs extended and to do a full sun salutation.
DVD Notes: Again, I have the version of the DVD without Body + Soul on the cover; as a result, I am missing the Body + Soul bonus material mentioned in Beth’s review.
The main menu on my DVD has How to Use This DVD: Important Information (text explaining what “beginner” can mean plus 5 pointers on how to use the DVD and advice about practicing), Learn: Interview (I’m pretty sure this is the same for both versions), Getting Started: Targeted Routines (same as the ones Beth lists out with the addition of the two I broke down above), As You Progress: Extended Routines (same as the ones Beth lists out), and Credits.
As an aside, “8 Easy to Follow Routines” appears in several places on the DVD cover, yet I count 12 routines on my DVD (the Body + Soul version would have 10). So often do companies oversell the contents it’s odd to see one do the opposite.
Comparison of Barbara’s most recent three BWMs: While there is some overlap of footage on Barbara’s other recent BWM releases, AM PM Yoga for Beginners (AM PM) and Yoga for Stress Relief (YfSR), the footage on Y4B is different, but many of the same poses reappear. Barbara also tailors her instruction to each audience. And, as mentioned above, the non-Body + Soul version of Y4B has premixes with material from AM PM and YfSR.
Each DVD has a clear focus, however: AM PM is split between short practices for the morning and evening; Y4B explores the elements of a more general yoga practice and is often more active with more flowing sequences; and YfSR features routines that are geared towards the time of day or specific physical or emotional issues and includes more gentle and/or passive poses. I would highly recommend AM PM as a complement to Y4B, as AM PM puts the poses you learn in YfB into nice little mixes that are easy to fit in, plus Barbara goes into more detail, including more discussion on things like the foot alignment in warrior that Beth pointed out are somewhat cursory in YfB. I also find the many twists and more shoulder openers in AM PM balance out the routines that pay a lot of attention to the lower body and backbends in Y4B. (I found my shoulders still feeling a little tight after my run through all of the Y4B routines, something I hadn't experienced when running through all of the YfSR and AM PM routines.)
I like Barbara’s 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, with AM PM a strong second. Y4B just doesn’t have as clear a place in my regular rotation right now, although I appreciate having it in my collection.
Barbara speaks clearly and concisely, with straightforward language. 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 won’t overwhelm those with limited yoga experience, yet each time through you might hear something you didn’t hear before or something might click with you to make sense finally. She places a subtle but important focus on listening to yourself, developing your body awareness and intuition.
When she includes directional cues, Barbara cues for her right and left rather than the viewer’s; otherwise she’ll leave the choice of which side to do first up to you.
Barbara uses English terms (with the exception of Namaste and one or two other Sanskrit words), yet she is clearly steeped in a deep respect for yoga’s 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 health issues and life experiences.
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 just notice her great instruction. Her attitude is patient, sympathetic, understanding, and gently encouraging while never patronizing.