Yoga Journal's: Yoga Step-by-Step: The Total Guide To Managing StressBaxter Bell
Year Released: 2004
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Note: This is also known as Yoga Journal’s Yoga for Stress.
I’m reviewing this workout after doing each segment 2-4 times.
General workout breakdown: Danielle has already provided great descriptions and time breakdowns, so I’ll just list poses (and a few peanut gallery comments).
- Yoga for Stress Prevention: mountain (tadasana), mini sun salutes (ardha surya namaskar; the arm movements here are a little fussy for my tastes) with standing forward bend (uttanasa), modified sun salute A (with full and low lunge, downward-facing dog or ardha mukha svanasana), modified sun salute B (w/ modified powerful pose or utkatasana, lunge w/ twist, down dog w/ frog bends, locust or salabhasana), warrior II (virabhdrasana II), reverse warrior, tree (vrksasana), side angle (parsvokanasana), wide-legged standing forward bend (prasarita padottanasana) w/ twist, vajrasana, cobbler’s (baddha konasana) – half boat (navasana), half king of the fishes (ardha matsyendrasana), supported bridge (setu bandha), reclined leg stretches, constructive rest (on back with legs bent & feet on floor) w/ low back massage, and final relaxation (savasana).
- Yoga for Stress Relief: centering in seated, passive backbend, head side to side and then pelvic tilt in constructive rest, reclined pigeon, psoas opening w/ pelvis on block, mountain w/ shoulder rolls, single arm circles, eagle (garudasana) arms w/ slightly bend knees, standing forward bend w/ arms clasped behind back, wide-legged standing forward bend w/ head supported, down dog w/ head supported, child’s (balasana), simple cross-legged (sukhasana) w/ forward bend & head supported (why is this only done on one side?), supported child’s, supported forward-bending twist, legs up the wall (viparita karani), queen’s (supta baddha konasana), and final relaxation.
- Pranayama Breathing: done in corpse, this is more about breath awareness, as Baxter has you become aware of belly breathing before moving the breath into the upper torso. You use a block on your lower abdomen to help you feel your breath in space.
- Guided Meditation: done seated, Baxter has you bring your awareness to the breath and/or different areas of the body.
Each segment begins with an intro with shots of poses during the practice (which confused me, as I keep thinking, “Wait, am I supposed to be in supta baddha konasa to start?”). Next Baxter speaks for a few moments in a seated position, and then you move into the true beginning pose.
Baxter alternates between active and passive poses, with some being dynamic and others static. Overall the pace is deliberate, although a hair fast for me for this type of practice, and it feels like Baxter regularly spends less time on the second side. I appreciate Baxter’s emphasis on consciously exiting as well as entering poses, pausing between them.
Level: I’d recommend this to those with perhaps some yoga experience under their belt (a beginner’s class and/or video(s) and/or book(s)); the many modifications and careful instruction should make this accessible to most people, regardless of fitness level. Those who are less experienced in yoga and/or exercise in general may find the Stress Prevention practice somewhat strong, but most people will find the segments more restorative in nature.
I’ve been practicing yoga for 7 years now, although I’ve never progressed past the low intermediate point due to some physical issues, which are in part why I appreciate a good restorative sequence. Because I’m not the most flexible, I like seeing the many variations, although I don’t need most of them here. I’m afraid this one is perhaps too basic or introductory for me at this point, especially since I now have other restorative practices plus the confidence to do some of these poses on my own.
Class: as already mentioned, 2 women join Baxter, with each showing different options (being consistent with what level they demonstrate through the entire practice). Baxter begins each segment live but switches over to voiceover for the stress prevention and stress relief practices.
Music: soft guitar that’s repetitive and rather upbeat.
Set: bright interior set that looks like a living room with an outdoor patio just beyond.
Production: clear picture and sound, with Baxter’s voice clearly louder than the music; helpful camera angles. This is in letterbox (16:9 ratio).
Sanskrit and English names of some of the poses appear at the bottom of the screen at their start.
Equipment: yoga sticky mat (or equivalent) plus bolster (you want something firmer than your average couch cushion), 2 blankets (thick and firm, like wool or woven cotton), 1-2 blocks, and a strap (substitute: tie or belt); you may also want a chair if you’re especially limited in flexibility. An eye bag may also be helpful.
Space Requirements: enough room to lie down with arms and legs extended plus do sun salutations; you’ll want some extra space off to the side for the props. You should have access to clear space along a wall (or closed door through which no one will enter) for legs up the wall; if you don’t, the back of a sturdy chair may do.
DVD Notes: The main menu’s options are Introduction, Yoga Practices, Play All (which plays EVERYTHING, including the YJ promo and introduction before starting the practices, and I’m not totally fond of the fact the pranayama comes before the guided relaxation because the two main practices put you down in savasana before cutting away), How to Use this Disc, Special Features (About Yoga Journal, Meet Baxter Bell, Alternate Audio Tracks = these are soundtracks with slightly less talking for the stress prevention and stress relief segments only, preview more yoga videos = YJ’s Yoga Step by Step and Yoga for Pregnancy, and credits), and Web & ROM Resources (link to Yoga Journal’s site and articles about dealing with stress). There’s a quick general intro to the DVD that I’m able to skip on my main player to get right to this menu.
There are no chapters within the segments themselves, which is a little disappointing. Also, there’s no way to string segments together yourself (i.e. matrix): either you wait for the DVD to bring you back to the main menu to make your next selection or you play all in the order the DVD has dictated.
Danielle and Sharon have already discussed the timer. Your options are for 2, 5, or 10 minutes. I like the idea but find the execution lacking: unless you have complete trust in your remote - TV’s communication skills you have to pop up to peer at the screen while you fiddle with the buttons (surely I’m not the only one who struggles to find that perfect angle for the selection to register), and you have to find that right moment to hit pause for every pose for which you wish to use it (no options to program this beforehand, so that breaks up the flow for me). No music plays during the timed option, although when time’s up the guitar chimes in with the recurring “do do dee do doooo” theme and Baxter’s voice begins right where you paused (this is especially weird if you manage to stop him mid-word).
Comments: I agree with Sharon and Danielle’s points. This isn’t bad, but it sets such high standards for itself you can’t help but notice how it could and should have been just that much better. The technology at times competes with rather than completes Baxter’s teaching.
Yoga for Stress vs. Barbara Benagh’s Yoga for Stress Relief: Although the two have similar titles, goals, and poses, there are definite differences between them. Baxter’s has the advantage of allowing you to program longer stays in the restorative poses plus shows more modifications. His instruction is also aimed at those newer to yoga, although the accessibility to novices is compromised by the fact most probably don’t have as many yoga props as this requires. Barbara’s has many more options for practices, most of which are focused (e.g. a few practices for releasing tension in the shoulders); requires fewer props (although I enjoy using the same amount of props for it); is set outside (ocean-side, in fact); and appeals to inexperienced and experienced yogis alike. Both have similar repetitive guitar soundtracks, sadly. If you find your attention wandering during Baxter’s, you’re probably going to find Barbara’s just as challenging in that regard, but it’s not a bad challenge, especially if your stress comes from always having to be doing something. ;)
These two came out at the same time, and to me that’s unfortunate for the YJ title. I feel like I haven’t given Baxter’s DVD a fair trial because I love and use Barbara’s so much. The total number of times I’ve used Barbara’s is in the triple digits, whereas it’s maybe not even a double digit number for Baxter’s. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise you that between the two personally I’d choose Barbara’s without hesitation.
That said, if you like this video (or at least the idea behind it), you may also like Barbara Benagh’s Yoga for Stress Relief or even some of her other recent releases (such as AM / PM Yoga for Beginners). If you like the passive restorative postures in the Stress Relief portion, you may also like Evelyn Neaman’s Restorative Yoga, Deborah Donohue’s Restorative Yoga Practice, or Laura Hawes’ Yoga Therapy Prescriptions (definitely the most advanced of the three – this assumes you’re OK with shoulderstands, headstands, and some other intermediate postures), although each of these has its drawbacks, including lack of ability to customize how much time you can spend in each pose. Judith Hanson Lasater’s Relax and Renew book is a must for those interested in restorative yoga. A good restorative yoga teacher can be an invaluable resource as well.
If Baxter’s not instructing, cuing movement and breath, or passing along form tips and reminders, he’s explaining what the poses are accomplishing and why releasing tension and undoing stress is important. All of his talking is related to the practice, but after a few times through the more restrained audio soundtrack option is definitely welcome. Baxter’s degree is in medicine, so he tends to keep things more about the body (the nervous system, muscles, etc.) rather than aiming for something mystical or whatever, although he threatens at times to get poetic (during locust he says something like “Imagine you’re floating on a fluffy white cloud over a fertile green field”) and includes some of those little life lessons (e.g. learning to balance in tree pose will help you find balance in your life). I preferred the parts where Baxter wasn’t doing voiceover since he was just a hair less scripted-sounding.
Baxter cues for his right and left rather than the viewer’s.
Baxter’s yoga teachers include both Erich Schiffmann and Rodney Yee, and you can kind of detect bits of both in his instruction.
This DVD has 5 practices: Yoga for Stress Prevention (35 min.), Yoga for Stress Relief (35 min.), Pranayama Breathing (8 min.), Guided Relaxation (6 min.), and Guided Meditation (8 min.). As a bonus, the Yoga for Stress Prevention and Yoga for Stress Relief practices have alternate sound tracks with less instruction. In each practice, there are two women students who show different modifications. I've tried all of the practices except for the 2 alternate sound tracks.
Yoga for Stress Relief is my favorite. It's a restorative practice that uses props: bolster, blankets, block, and chair. I liked the selection of poses, but didn't think they were held long enough. As soon as I would get into a restorative pose, it was time to come out. The DVD does have a special timer feature where you can pause the DVD for set intervals but I haven't figured it out yet.
Yoga for Stress Prevention is OK, nothing special. The Pranayama Breathing was nice, but short. The Guided Relaxation was not relaxing, it seemed rushed. The Guided Meditation was nice, but also short.
Overall, I thought that Baxter Bell talked too much. I will have to try the alternate sound tracks with less instruction to see if I like them better. I think Gaiam's Meditation for Beginners with Maritza does a much better job with guided relaxation and guided meditation.
Danielle* has already provided a very nice description of this release and it's not a favorite for me either.
The good points: There is a timer feature that lets you pause during the restorative practice so that you can remain in a position longer. This feature would work better if there was a music off option (they give you other audio options, after all). The pluck, pluck, pluck guitar is maddening and of course it stops when you pause only to irritatingly resume when the timer activates. Some of the positions in this practice are fairly unusual, like constructive rest and psoas release.
The stress prevention practice is nothing special and, as with other releases in the Step by Step series, seems superficial.
Not crazy about the meditation, relaxation etc. either. I think Baxter Bell probably deserves a more worthy showcase.
I hope the timer function is adopted by other videos. Much handier than pausing and timing separately.