Yogic Arts - Awakening LevelDuncan Wong
Year Released: 2006
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I tried this video twice, doing the whole thing once in total (I did each premix once). That was about two years ago, and I havenít touched it since. Itís, well, something different, perhaps too different for my tastes.
Duncan combines yoga (particularly the Ashtanga style), martial arts (specifically Korean Buddhist Gung Fu), and even massage / body work (mainly Thai bodywork) into an intriguing practice. Duncan tries, perhaps a little too hard, to combine a little bit of everything; the practice includes breathwork; stretches and strengthening exercises for the wrists, shoulders, and feet; martial arts kicks and thrusts; and yoga poses, including sun salutation components (e.g. down dog), backbends, forward bends, hip openers, twists, scorpion prep, and savasana. He does combine some of the disciplines, such as blocks in warrior poses.
The practice runs about an hour, with 2 about 30-min. premixes. You can also select a chapter (by segment rather than by pose). The DVD allows you to practice with or without the instruction (music plays in both). Other DVD features include a Gung Fu demo, explanations of mudras and bandhas, and a discussion of downward scorpion.
This video is labeled as beginner / intermediate (his other one, Yogic Arts Ė Source Power, is more challenging). You need to have some prior experience with the disciplines involved, and you should have some preexisting strength and flexibility in order to get the most out of this. Those new to yoga, martial arts, or massage will feel lost, because although Duncan does provide some instruction, it can be inconsistent (a lot for one pose, not enough for another). Additionally, the instruction doesnít always match up perfectly with the pose (he may tell you to get into a pose, but if you look up youíll see heís already preparing to get into the next one). In fact, I had purchased this with an eye to enticing my SO into trying yoga, because I thought the fusion of yoga and martial arts would be more palatable to his tastes, but there is no way I could sleep at night if I let a yoga novice like him loose with this video. On the other hand, if you have more yoga experience like me (I had about 5 years under my belt when I tried this) and/or are a more advanced exerciser you may feel that you arenít getting enough of a challenge and/or that you arenít getting enough of a chance to explore the poses, especially since Duncan seems to rush through things. I definitely wanted a little more time to set up and to enjoy the postures or exercises.
The cinematography is one of the most compelling aspects of this practice. Shot entirely in black and white inside an interior set that appears to be a Buddhist monastery or something of that sort, the video is gorgeous to look at, especially with Duncanís precise, fluid, graceful movements. The camera angles get artsy at times as a result. In fact, both the cinematography and the pace make this feel more like a demonstration piece than an actual workout video meant to be followed along with. (This is a problem Iím having with many of Acaciaís offerings, including those starring Duncanís friend Shiva Rea.)
A little background: I have studied under Iyengar instructors for about 5 years, Power Yoga/Ashtanga instructors for about 3 years and Hatha instructors for about 3 years. I have attended a Yoga Journal conference, various workshops by various instructors and styles. I have even gone to Kundalini workshops. Fusion yoga Ė pilates and other forms have never really clicked with me. But I keep trying, as I try to have an open mind and attitude towards all form of exercise.
Yogic Arts Ė Awakening Level is Duncanís introduction to his yoga/Gung-Fu blend. The DVD is well chaptered and the chapters are short, 3-5 minutes in length. Duncan starts the practice with bandhas and breathing exercises. You perform ďBreath of FireĒ, Ujai and even breathing. Then on to his warm up. He has arm movements similar to Tai-Chi but in a more rapid movement. His chapters cover opening the hips, shoulder and wrists before beginning the actual practice, all quite effective. The Duncan then moves on to a form of Sun Salutes, then his form of Warrior, standing poses such as Triangle, side angle pose and revolved side angle pose. You then move on to glute work. You are on all fours and then back kicks, back leg lifts, side kicks and side leg lifts, leg swings and then stretching the glutes. Duncan then moves on the baby backbends. He has you practice just lifting on to your head, you go no farther than that. On to modified plow pose and more glute and leg stretching. Next is core work ending with bicycle core work and savasana. The entire practice from start to finish is 60 minutes.
The DVD has an energy practice and one other for shorter programs. Also, there is Duncan performing and describing Gung Fu. This practice is a cross between Tai-Chi and Yoga and Karate. Somewhat like Budokun practice DVD with Shane. Duncan comes across as a good instructor. No real form pointers just how to maneuver into an asana. Your right leg under your left leg, right arm under your left arm, align your heels and squat. I would be interested in taking a live class with him just to see if he can instruct and define his type of yoga in a comprehensive way. As I stated above, the chapters are short and the practice just didnít have a flow for me. You practice the warrior sequence on the right then the left and your done, same for standing poses. I suppose you can keep repeating the chapter till you feel you had enough. How did I feel after the practice? Well I did start out with tight hips and shoulders, felt better at the end of the practice. But mostly I was feeling like I missed something. I know this is his beginner's practice and it showed, however the biggest challenge you face is mastering the arm movements and squats with your leg and feet placement. As I stated above fusion yoga practices just haven't clicked with me.
Duncan Wong is a confident instructor. This is his fusion yoga combining Gung Fu with Yoga. While I agree that the principles are similar the postures are not the same. Thus Fusion Yoga. Mr. Wong is amazing to watch.
background about me - I consider myself at an advanced beginner level for yoga. I tend to like medium paced flow practices along with relaxation/restorative practices. Favorites include: Total Yoga the Original, Yoga Shakti, Pure Tranquility, and Yoga in the Garden of Serenity.
setting - The practice is filmed in black and white in what I assume is a yoga studio. The overall background has a buddhist theme.
The DVD includes one full length practice as well as two shorter practices. The DVD is well chaptered and is filmed in widescreen. Set up is similar to Yoga Shakti where each chapter is titled and makes up a separate part into itself. There is no yoga matrix however.
Gluteal Ground Work
Hip Opening and Core Floor Flow Series
Backbends and Finishing Poses
The practice begins with breathing exercises. Duncan does an excellent job with this, going through a number of different breathing techniques. Since he is not wearing a shirt you are really able to see what he is doing with his body to deepen his breath. From there he precedes into a variety of different poses.
The practice is a flowing routine, but not in the classical sense. There are no typical sun salutations, and Duncan seems to give a martial arts feel to the standard yoga poses. There are very few down dogs but many kneeling dogs to upward dogs (I'm not sure that is the correct term.)
The practice involves a lot of elements that I have not seen in other practices. The wrist therapy section was excellent and the Gluteal Ground Work reminded me of Billy Blanks meets iballet (I appreciated the uniqueness of it).
Truthfully I'm having a hard time describing the practice because the routine is very different from the norm. My overall impression is that I really enjoyed it. It is completely different from anything else I have and definitely fills a void. I've discovered a new favorite yoga move, the scorpion. =)
gripes - My one big quibble with the practice is that at times it feels like Duncan is trying to accomplish too much and doesn't give you time to enjoy this wonderful pose he has just shown. Also since the practice is geared towards beginners, intermediates, there are portions where you are just begging him to go into crow or a full down dog, but it just doesn't go there.
summary - This is a unique practice that I really enjoy. I really look forward to trying his more advanced routine.
Duncan Wong appears very composed and has a very pleasant voice. I also think that because he has no shirt on it really helps you to understand what he is attempting to accomplish with the breathing exercises.