Yoga Journal's: Step by Step Session 2

Natasha Rizopoulos
Year Released: 2004

Categories: Yoga

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Note: The title as it appears on the DVD cover is Yoga Journal’s Yoga Step by Step Session 2: Bending & Twisting Poses for Flexibility.

I’m reviewing this workout after going through the segments once each; I’ve 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 I’ll just get into some nitty gritty details.

This yoga DVD focuses on backbends, twists, and forward bends. The asanas (poses) you’ll practice are ujjayi (victory) breathing, *cat and cow, balasana (child’s pose), *virasana (hero), adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog), plank, chaturanga dandasana, *salabhasana (locust), bhujangasana (cobra), urdhva mukha svanasana (upward-facing dog), *ustrasana (camel), *setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge), knees to chest, *urdhva dhanurasana (upward-facing bow, also commonly called wheel), *sukhasana (easy seated pose), *parsvasukhasna (easy seated twist), *ardha matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes), *dandasana (staff), *janu sirsasana (head to knee), *paschimottanasana (seated forward bend), and, in the practice, savasana (corpse). Note: * indicates a pose that’s new to this level.

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 you’ll 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-style yoga, although the pace is steady and controlled, allowing you to focus on form and breath. Natasha begins with 2 rounds of ardha surya namaskar (half sun salutes) and 2 rounds of surya namaskar A (sun salute A), holding plank pose to build some heat, before linking the first few backbends with a plank – chaturanga – up dog – down dog flow. Once you get to camel, though, you’ll focus on a pose at a time until the final short relaxation.

- 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 cat and cow pose, janu sirsasana, ustrasana, ardha matsyendrasana, parsvasukhasana, urdhva dhanurasana, paschimottanasana, salabhasana, virasana, dandasana, and setu bandha sarvangasana.

- 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 yoga’s ability to relieve stress. The regular practice sessions plays, with Natasha’s instruction fading whenever Dr. McCall cuts in to comment. As a result, this isn’t really a viable option if you’re intending to do the practice; it’s 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 the use of backbends in treating depression, provides tips, and explains the purpose of the modifications. He does not limit himself to Western medicine, as he’ll give equal weight to traditional yogi arguments about poses’ benefits (such as twists massaging internal organs). As a result, this does not sound like a med school lecture (Jill Miller goes into a lot more anatomical detail, for example). It’s worth watching this segment in conjunction with the other instructional bits because Dr. McCall reinforces and expands upon Natasha’s instruction; the more you hear these reminders, the more they’ll stick. Also, he’s very good with stressing how important it is to go at your own speed, to listen to your own body’s signals, to respect your own limits, and so on.

Level: I’d recommend this to somewhat active folks looking to get into or refine a yoga practice; preferably you’d already have at least a very basic understanding of simple yoga poses and breath. Ideally you’d use this as a complement to a solid live beginner’s yoga class, but if you don’t 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.
I’ve been practicing yoga for over 8 years now but haven’t really made it to the fully intermediate level (for various reasons I don’t practice wheel, headstand, handstand and other arm balances, etc.). I enjoy a good back to basics practice, and this certainly was one. Yes, it’s perhaps a little basic for me, except for the upward bow / wheel, but sometimes that’s what I want. 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 who’s done other YJ videos), who demonstrates modifications, and Autumn. Natasha’s 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 “ooh ooh ah ah” type vocals. Because of its repetition it’s 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 I’ve 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 you’ll 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 it’ll 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 (you’ll want something firm, like wool or woven cotton); he also has access to a wall.

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 can’t skip this), and then a promo for Yoga Journal appears; it’s 2 min. before the first menu screen appears (you can skip this). Your choices are Main Menu and Watch Natasha’s Yoga Demonstration (a 2 min. segment of Natasha alone, with voiceover saying, “Movement. Strength. Flexibility. Balance. Focus. Peace.”).
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?) YJ’s 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. She’s rather down to business; her goal here is to teach you yoga, so there’s no extraneous chatter. She’s focused on movement, alignment, and breath, using straightforward language. Natasha speaks in a measured, even pace, using a tone that doesn’t 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.



This workout is easier than what I am looking for, but I was pleasantly impressed with both the instructor and some of the options on the DVD. The instructor, Natasha Rizopoulos, is one of those people who you just know must be a really nice person in real life. She also instructs very well. I would buy another workout of hers if she made one. The DVD has options for an instructional session, a 20-minute flowing yoga workout, the option to follow an assistant doing modifications, and my favorite – a medical commentary. The medical commentary is the regular workout, but with a voiceover from an MD who is talking about the benefits of the various poses and things to do/not do. You can actually do the workout with this option, but his voice does drown out some of Natasha’s instruction, so you’ll have to look at the TV a lot. Overall, I found this to be very well-done, even though it’s not what I’m looking for. If Yoga Journal comes out with an intermediate or advanced series, I’d by it in a heartbeat.

Instructor Comments:

Annie S.