Yoga Journal's: Step by Step Session 3

Natasha Rizopoulos
Year Released: 2004

Categories: Instructional / How To Videos , Yoga

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Note: The title as it appears on the DVD cover is Yoga Journal’s Yoga Step by Step Session 3: Balancing Poses for Focus & Energy.

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: This yoga DVD focuses on inversions and arm balances. The asanas (poses) include tadasana (mountain), ardha surkya namaskar (half sun salute) in the instructional segment only, uttanasana (standing forward bend), surya namaskar A (sun salute A), plank, chaturanga dandasana (four limb staff), urdhva mukha svanasana (upward-facing dog), adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog), *lunging twist, *vasisthasana (pose dedicated to the sage Vasitha, also known as side plank), *bakasana (crane), *handstand prep, *adho mukha vrksasana (handstand), *sirsasana (headstand; substitution: *dolphin), *sarvangasana (shoulderstand) - combined with *halasana (plow), *supine 1-legged twist, and, in the practice only, 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 without the pauses for instruction. This has elements of vinyasa-style yoga, although the pace is steady and controlled, allowing you to focus on form and breath. Natasha begins with several rounds of sun salute A, then moves through first few new poses with a plank - chaturanga - up dog - down dog flow in between. You then have a brief moment to move your mat to the wall and set up for the handstand prep, with another brief moment to get your blankets into place for shoulderstand. A short savasana, which then returns to seated to absorb the practice, closes this segment.

- 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 adho mukha vrksasana, handstand prep, lunging twist, bakasana, tadasana, vasisthasana, sarvangasana, adho mukha svanasana, chaturanga dandasana, sirsasana, and uttanasana.

- 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, 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. 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 active people with a solid basic yoga foundation and some strength looking to move their yoga practice to an intermediate level. Ideally you’d use this as a complement to a live 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, and handstand, but I can now no longer include a lack of knowledge among those reasons. I gave things a game try, but there were a few moments where this became a spectator sport. Still, so few DVDs provide quality instruction in these poses this is a worthy addition to my library, even if I use it more as a reference work than a follow along practice.

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, access to a wall, ~2 blankets (you’ll want something firm, like wool or woven cotton), and bare feet. The modifier also uses a strap (you could find a substitute, but the belted strap really is best here) and a bolster.

Space Requirements: enough room to perform a full sun salutation and move around your mat; you’ll also need enough room to have your legs behind you in plow, if you’re doing that variation. You may want to make an additional effort to clear your space of objects which could hurt you if you accidentally roll or fall out of one of the poses.

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 ahead to 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

Comments: Yes, this is the third in a series of instructional videos put out by Yoga Journal (YJ). The leap from level 2 to 3 strikes me as greater than the one from level 1 to 2. I find the inclusion of some of these inversions and arm balances ambitious in an introductory series. That said, I find it handy to have this particular video because it is difficult to find solid instruction, especially on alignment, in video form for some of these poses. (In media practice many instructors seem to say, “OK, go into headstand if you practice it or just skip it,” without providing proper instruction or alternatives. Partly that’s because many feel, and not without good reason, that a number of these poses are best taught by a live instructor.)
Now that I think about the three videos together I’m surprised there isn’t an additional one, perhaps in between 2 and 3, demonstrating standing balance poses, like tree, warrior III, and standing big toe, and hip opening poses, like pigeon, cow’s face, and reclining leg stretches. Even without such a volume, however, this series covers a lot of the most common yoga poses and will give you a solid base or refresher for your own practice.

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 focuses 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.