YogaAway Finding Focus: Feeling Clarity of Mind - ConcentrationBija Bennett
Year Released: 2006
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Iím reviewing this workout after doing it once.
General workout breakdown: This 46-min. viniyoga practice is designed to help you find concentration with its focus on asymmetrical poses that are supposed to stimulate both brain hemispheres.
The practice begins with simple breathing in sukhasana (simple seated pose) before moving through vajrasana (diamond; standing on knees with one arm up and then bowing forward), ardha salabhasana (half locust; opposite arm and leg lift, with head moving to side in rest), cakravakasana (goose; kneeling on all fours with chest lifted, then into childís pose with back rounded), tadasana (straight tree; standing in mountain, then on toes with one arm overhead and the other out to the side), parsvottanasana (upward side stretch; standing in pyramid, lift and lower torso with one arm overhead), utthita trikonasana (standing triangle; a dynamic sequence that moves in and out of triangle, with several positions for the overhead arm and head), vajrasana & cakravakasana (moving from standing on knees to childís to whatís often called a bird dog with opposite arm and leg extended), salabhasana & ardha salabhasana (moving between full and half locust, resting with the head to one side in between series), urdhva prasarita padasana (upward spread; on back, stretching arms overhead and legs straight up), supta parsva padangusthasana (one-side toe holding; on back, opening one leg to the side), janu sirsasana (head to knee; seated forward bend with one leg extended), dvipada pitham (two-footed posture; bridge with one arm to vertical and the other overhead), and apanasana (downward-moving energy vital posture; one knee to chest at a time). The practice ends with about 4 min. of breathing exercises, done in a seated position - analoma ujjayi and viloma ujjayi (breathing with and against the grain, or alternate nostril exhale and then inhale) - before a very brief savasana of about 2 min.
As you may have gleaned, in viniyoga you often go through a range of motion rather than getting into a pose and holding it. Youíll move through the sequence a few times before moving onto the next side or exercise. This isnít vinyasa yoga, really, as you wonít move through a number of different poses that flow together but rather repeat the same exercise several times in a row.
Exercises are repeated a reasonable amount, maybe 3-8 times on each side. The pace is controlled. Each posture series ends with a little rest or pause, during which Bija announces the next poseís name in Sanskrit and then English before explaining its purpose.
Level: Iíd recommend this to someone preferably with at least a little prior yoga experience. The poses are gentle and should be accessible to most healthy people, however, although if you have very limited lower body flexibility you may need to modify. This is hard to label as being of a certain level, as itís not really meant for a certain point in a progression; itís supposed to be doable by anyone looking for help with concentration.
Iíve been practicing yoga for 7 years or so now, although Iíve never gotten into fully intermediate postures like headstands and simple arm balances, but thatís not an issue here since there arenít any. Iím still working on flexibility and strength in a few areas, but I found this very doable. I have worked with Garyís Viniyoga DVDs from Pranayama and read one of his books, but thatís the limits of my experience with this particular style of yoga, which I find interesting and helpful in certain situations. I found this practice accessible the first time I tried it and can see that it will continue to have some appeal to me for a while to come.
Class: 1 person (sometimes a man, sometimes a woman) demonstrates each exercise. Instruction comes via voiceover.
Music: kind of upbeat space agey, as in something youíd expect to find on a low budget sci fi TV series, although as the video goes on the music morphs into space age jazzy elevator muzak (is that what theyíd listen to on the Enterprise?). Itís a bit more upbeat and beat-driven than your average relaxing yoga soundtrack, but itís definitely not as energetic and beat-heavy as a drum-laden one.
Set: interior space with white floor and a screen on the back wall onto which somewhat abstract images, vaguely natural shape-inspired (i.e. they look sort of like leaves and flowers or drops of ink on water) and usually with a lot of blue in them, are projected.
Production: The picture and sound are clear. The music is clearly audible, which isnít necessarily the best thing here (unless it has been chosen specifically to stimulate the brain in some positive wayÖ). The camera angles show the whole yogi or yogini, although they eschew close-ups in favor of some faraway shots, including some that are kind of overhead. Most of the shots are helpful, however, coming from the side or between the side and front. This was filmed in high definition and has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means this will appear in letterboxed format on most screens.
The voiceover matches up well with the movements of the yoga model on screen. Bija cues the right and left of the model, which isnít a big deal since most shots are from the side, but for those few poses where the yogi or yogini faces front or those few moments when the camera sweeps around to almost in front of him/her you will not be mirroring what you see on screen if you follow Bijaís verbal cues.
Equipment: yoga mat or equivalent.
Space Requirements: enough space to stand and lie down while sweeping limbs around.
DVD Notes: This DVD starts right up with Bijaís introduction. There is no main menu. The DVD is chaptered by exercise.
Comments: So, the million doller question is of course ďDoes it work?Ē The answer: Well, I canít speak very well right now to how well this works, but after my first run through I feel like my concentration and focus are better than they normally would be on a Monday morning, especially one after a time change (that is, until a nasty cold virus or something pounced on me and knocked me to the ground mere hours later, but thatís totally not the fault of this yoga practice). I feel like this would be something that if done regularly (say, once a week or so) could help you learn how to sharpen your focus and attention when you want to sit down and get some stuff done. Of course, as they say, you get out of it what you put into it, and the postures alone most likely wonít bring you from totally scatter-brained to in the zone to complete that great American novel in record time; you have to be in a place where youíre ready to concentrate. And if you expect your workout videos to be a party in a box or visually exciting this probably wonít be for you.
As a graduate student this seems like a great addition to my collection. Not only should it help me regain focus when my mind starts going astray, but the postures will help loosen up tense muscles, especially in the lower body and upper back, areas that get tight with too much sitting and reading / typing on the computer. Plus itís not all that long, so it should be easy to slip in first thing in the morning, as I did it the other day, or during a break.
Besides the YogaAway series, Gary Kraftsowís Viniyoga Therapy DVDs by Pranamaya are the only other viniyoga DVDs I know of, but then I havenít looked that hard. The two series are similar: they incorporate many of the same poses, are instructed via voiceover with one model in a large, bare room, have specific areas of focus, and are intended to be accessible both in the not too strenuous nature of the poses plus not too long lengths of the practice. One obvious difference is that Gary leads the Pranamaya while Bija leads the YogaAway, but their manner of speaking and style of instruction, especially in cuing breath, then movement, is very similar. Personally I like Bijaís voice a little better than Garyís; her voice comes off more smoothly and with just a hair more warmth.
Gary also has two books out; I have his Yoga for Wellness one, which I found helpful in understanding better the sequencing, breathing, and reasoning behind this style.
Bija speaks clearly and concisely, with straightforward language that focuses on cuing movement and breath. I have no issues with her voice or manner of speaking.
Although Bija provides the voiceover, Gary Kraftsow, the founder of the Viniyoga school, is credited with designing the routine itself.