Yoga Synthesis: Gentle SeriesRaji Thron
Year Released: 2006
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Sharon has already broken down and described this 60-min. yoga DVD very well. I’m just going to add some more thoughts on this lovely practice.
N.B. This practice is also titled Yoga Synthesis 1 and “Sukha Vinyasa” (meaning Easy Flow).
According to Raji, the main focus of this practice is synchronizing the breath with basic asanas. Raji never beats you over the head with breath reminders, however; they’re subtly woven into his cuing, which starts with the breath and then adds in the movement. In fact, subtle is a good way to describe Raji’s overall approach: you won’t realize how much is included in this practice in general unless you step back and reflect on it.
The sequencing in this practice is a little different than any other practice I’ve done. It begins on the floor with an extended series of poses before moving to hands and knees, then to standing, and then back to the floor, almost returning full circle to some of the same poses. I liked the variety, as it’s not the same ol’ same ol’; plus, sometimes I need a little bit of time to ease into stronger poses and/or those requiring more flexibility.
Another thing that this does a little differently than some of the other yoga media I have is that Raji includes a number of flows between one pose and another (e.g. twist side to side, table top – boat, reverse warrior 2 – triangle, down dog – modified up dog), alternating between one on the inhale and the other on the exhale, finally holding each for a couple of breaths. It’s not dissimilar to what Gary Kraftsow does in Viniyoga or Elena Brower in the Element yoga videos or Shiva Rea in some of her more recent flow yoga DVDs or Zyrka Landwijt in her Yoga: Gentle Practice.
The pace here is deliberate and measured, never rushed (except the too short savasana, but if you just take Raji’s recommendation to come up when you’re ready as general advice rather than a cue to come up at that time you could stay down as long as you wanted).
I’d recommend this to beginners with a little bit of yoga experience under their belts or those more experienced looking for a gentle practice. (Beginners shouldn’t feel frustrated if this isn’t “gentle” or “easy” for them, as it could be somewhat challenging for someone newer to yoga.) Raji assumes you have some basic familiarity with beginner-level yoga practices and some preexisting strength and flexibility, so there’s not enough basic form instruction for absolute beginners. But he also assumes that you’re using this as a supplement to your usual yoga class or practice, so he includes a decent amount of instruction and explains what Rose is doing for modifications (without making it seem like the modifications or variations are in anyway “lesser”).
I’ve been practicing yoga for 6 years or so now, although I’ve never gotten past the intermediate stage (into headstands, arm balances, etc.), and I felt this was an appropriate gentle practice for me, especially since I’m still working on strength and especially flexibility. I first tried it this morning after I woke up feeling stiff and sore and kind of tired from a weight training session a few days ago and a cardio session yesterday, so I needed something gentle. This definitely fit the bill, and I’m feeling better – both in terms of being less stiff / tense and more energized – as I write this, a few hours later.
Raji just uses a yoga sticky mat; Rose also uses a block, a strap, a blanket, and something to hold onto for balance (in her case, a tree, but a wall or chair might be more available). You just need enough space to extend your limbs in all directions while lying down.
The picture and sound are good. Raji’s voice is sufficiently louder than the music (which is mostly gentle chimes or gongs or something of that sort; it gives the practice a very meditative quality). This is a homemade production, so don’t expect fancy cinematography. There are a few different angles, most of which are from far enough away to give you a good view of everything. The voiceover and visuals match up all right: the voiceover is often a little bit ahead of Raji and Rose (i.e. Raji will say to come out of a pose, and you’ll do that, then look up to see them coming out of it), but a few times Raji cues something just after he does it. If you stick primarily with one or the other (I followed the vocal cues, for example), you’ll be fine, but you might get a little confused if you try to reconcile the two all the time. There are no chapters within the practice itself, regrettably. (The DVD also has previews of Raji’s other DVDs.)
The homemade vibe fits this production well, and I don’t mind it at all. Clearly Raji and Rose love what they are doing, and it shows in the emphasis of substance over appearance. The yoga practice itself isn’t anything particularly flashy or crazily innovative. It does what it does well, and it’s hard to argue with that. So there are a few points where they wiggle into position or brush off something; it all adds to the feeling of doing real yoga with real people.
If you like this practice and you don’t already have Erich Schiffmann’s Backyard Series: Beginning Yoga DVD-R, you really should pick that one up. Other good gentle yoga workouts out there include Kripalu Yoga – Gentle, Dr. Baxter Bell’s Yoga Journal Yoga for Stress, and Rod Stryker’s Yoga For Longevity (now Peak Performance Yoga); you might also try practices like Barbara Benagh’s AM / PM Yoga for Beginners, Body + Soul Yoga for Beginners, and Yoga for Stress Relief.
Raji speaks clearly and concisely in his calm voice. He cues well, focusing exclusively on movement and breath, with no extraneous chatter. (The introduction to the practice begins with some more metaphoric words – for example, he says that striving for “inaction within action” is one of the goals of the practice – but during the practice itself he’s only concerned with instructing the sequence.) I was slightly confused by a couple of cues, but once I looked up at the screen it was apparent what he meant. Otherwise I’d say Raji strikes a great balance between instructing just enough and not overwhelming the student. He cues for his right and left (so no mirror cuing).
Gentle Series is filmed in a park and led by Raji Thron. The film has a similar feel to Erich's Backyard Beginners. His wife is in the DVD and provides modifications using props such as blankets, blocks, belts. Raji's voice is very soothing.. no distracting idiosyncrasies or quirky phrases. Quiet music plays in the background. You can see a short clip of the 1 hr DVD here: http://www.yogasynthesis.com/sukha.html
Sequencing is as follows (some of the pose descriptions are made up by me ):
Start seated then lay on back
Knees to chest
On back - deep breathing exercise
Alternating knees to head
Alternating supine gentle twist
Alternating supine twist
Bridge - several variations
Boat/Half Reverse Plank - repeat several times
Alternating knee to head
Downward dog to hands/knees - repeat
Right Lunge/Forward Bend - repeat
Left Lunge/Forward Bend - repeat
Downward Dog/Upward Dog – repeat
Locust to Cobra
Downward Dog to Forward Bend
Half Squat to Forward Bend - repeat
Warrior 2 to 2nd warrior to triangle – repeat, other side
Straddle Forward bend variations
Balance Forward Knee Lift
Table to Boat
Head to Knee
Seated Forward Bend
Supine Extended Leg to side w/ Toe Hold
Half Lotus Prep
Raji has a soft and calming voice and provides lots of subtle tips while you are in a pose to adjust alignment, focus on breathing, etc.