Yoga Journal Yoga for Total Back Care

Annie Carpenter
Year Released: 2010

Categories: Special Health Conditions , Yoga

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NOTE: I received a free copy of this DVD from Yoga Journal to review.

This new DVD release from Yoga Journal features yoga instructor Annie Carpenter, who states in her included 6-minute interview that she teaches what she calls "Smart Flow" yoga. Carpenter teaches live in a large, airy studio, where she leads two models (yoga teachers themselves) through the two 45-minute practices on this DVD. (Carpenter herself does not participate in the practices; this style of teaching is very similar to what is seen on the Stott Pilates DVDs, and in fact Carpenter's entire demeanor reminded me significantly of Moira Stott.) The Main Menu of the DVD offers the following options: Lower Body (45 minutes), Upper Body, Neck, & Shoulders (45 minutes), Interviews (with Teacher and Models), and Play All (Sequences 1 and 2).

In introducing each of the two practices, Carpenter explains that she will be offering postures focused on both stretching and strengthening to help undo the effects poor posture, misalignments, etc. and to serve a preventative function for the future. You will need a mat, strap, two blocks, and a blanket for these practices.

For the Lower Body practice, Carpenter has the participants start on their backs in a half savasana position. She spends some time focusing on the breath, combining this with establishing a natural arch in the lower back. She encourages you to continue to maintain this arch as you use a strap for reclined leg stretch. While still on their backs, she then has the participants perform a more challenging abs-strengthening move, holding one leg straight up while the other hovers just off the floor. Then it's on to hands and knees for a single cat/cow and a few repetitions of bird/dog before moving through down dog, coming to standing, and beginning lunge salutes. (During the lunge series, Carpenter makes an error and repeats the twisted lunge an extra time to the one side only.) The final standing sequence is a wide-legged forward bend performed with blocks under the hands, adding a twist. Coming back to a supine position, Carpenter has the models place a block between their thighs for bridge pose, adding a one-legged bridge. There are two lying twists before Carpenter concludes the practice with a short (2-minute) savasana.

For the Upper Body practice, Carpenter again has the models begin in half savasana. From this position, they perform neck rolls (first with the arms by the sides, then spread out in a "T") as well as an arm stretch with the block in the hands and moving the arms overhead. Next, several rounds of cat/cow are performed on hands and knees. From here, Carpenter transitions the models through down dog to standing at the front of the mat, where she leads them through sun breaths, emphasizing the stretch in the arms. Two standing postures follow. The first is Warrior 2: Carpenter sets up the pose, then has the participants repeat, adding in a neck stretch. The second standing posture is extended side angle; here, Carpenter instructs a little vinyasa in which the models repeatedly come in and out of this pose. After moving through down dog and plank to return to the floor, side plank is performed with an optional modification. Then, Carpenter has the participants come prone for several locust variations. Carpenter closes with seated postures, including cow-face arms (using a strap), eagle arms, and a simple seated twist; she ends with a 1 1/2 minute savasana.

Both of these practices were decent overall, but they did not provide the soothing, tension-relieving function that I had expected. On the one hand, I could see how regular use of these practices could be beneficial in maintaining a healthy back. On the other, however, I did not feel significantly stretched in the target areas (i.e., upper back and lower back), and I'm not sure that users who are already experiencing difficulties (including tension and/or pain) would be likely to find relief here. In fact, I have chronic upper back and shoulder tightness myself, and I did not achieve nearly the same relaxation results with this video as I have had with other yoga DVDs targeted to this area (e.g., Yoga to the Rescue for Neck & Shoulders and Yoga: Relief from Neck and Shoulder Pain).

Still, I would have recommended this DVD for ongoing prevention purposes if it were not for one major problem: the music. I have to agree with the first reviewer on this one; the flute music is WAY too loud. Although I didn't have any problems hearing Carpenter's instruction, the music was as loud as her voice, which I found to be a distraction--and, over time, an annoyance. I rarely take issue with the music on fitness DVDs, but it was SUCH an irritation here that it affected by overall view of the practices, which is a shame.

Instructor Comments:
Like the workout itself, I thought Annie Carpenter's instruction was just okay. First of all, she doesn't mirror cue--how hard is it to mirror cue when you are moving around adjusting others and not doing the poses yourself? Secondly, she has a bit of a quirky/annoying habit: when she makes a suggestion to one of the models (e.g., move your shoulders down) and then they do it, she will say "yay!", which just sounded rather juvenile to me. Finally, I don't think Carpenter is really in tune with her audience--i.e., who are these practices for? She gives detailed instruction at times (and one of the background exercisers offers some modifications), so you might think that they are appropriate for beginners, yet I'm an intermediate and I felt challenged a few times, including during the abs work and the side angle vinyasa. Therefore, I don't think she presents a consistent level of practice throughout this DVD.

Beth C (aka toaster)