The Ultimate YogiTravis Eliot
Year Released: 2012
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The Ultimate Yogi Program is a DVD set which includes 12 yoga classes. Most of which are power yoga, but some include pranayama (breath work), meditation, and more gentle yoga or yin type classes to increase flexibility, as well as the Mountain Pose series which I feel is a practice geared towards opening the shoulders and learning to “hear” your body.
The music in this series is great. It goes right along with every practice. Each practice is about 60 minutes long, except for the Mountain Pose Series, Meditation, and Pranayama which are around 15-30 minutes each. The program comes with a schedule to follow for all 108 days. Ideally, you want to practice 108 days in a row, but there are “built in” rest days where creator Travis Eliot has you do a Yin Yoga or Gentle Yoga day and there is a day every week where you do Mountain Pose Series. The first 36 days you do 10 minutes of meditation daily, the second 36 days 20 minutes, and finally 30 minutes daily. The guided meditation will help you create a meditation, you can focus on one part of it or find other guided meditations or self-directed. In this way the program is similar to Eoin Finn’s Blissology, except for the practices do have a lot more variety. The practices are mostly filmed indoors I believe in a yoga studio/set, except for Mountain Pose, Pranayama/Meditation, and Sun Salutations. On day 36 you do 36 Sun Salutations, day 72 you do 72 and day 108 you would be doing 108 Sun Salutations. I remember thinking “there is no way I’m going to do 36” but I did. By the time day 72 rolled along I knew I would be doing 72, and I did do 108 which was very empowering. I cried and am finding out that is a common reaction with many people who have done Ultimate Yogi 108.
The practices are varied. The “power” yoga practices are similar to Bryan Kest’s practices, but also varied enough that you see some different flows in there. Cross Train has a little of everything. Cardio moves fast and I must admit scared me the first two times, but it turned out to be something I could see great improvement in relatively fast. Strength is always tough and upper body oriented. The Flexibility practice is not what I expected, I expected a slow Yin Yoga-type practice and it’s not, it’s power and yet you get deeper and deeper in the poses. Balance is probably the most difficult practice. We all lose our balance as we age and this I feel is probably the most important DVD of the set for the majority of people. It will show you your weaknesses, and also when you improve those weaknesses you feel awesome! Detox is a wonderful twist filled practice, but Travis guides you GENTLY building up, as well as Vitality with the back bend/heart opening positions. There is no “jamming” involved and if you listen to his cueing, listen to your body, and have some knowledge of yoga—these are wonderful. Hardcore is a 20 minute “core” oriented routine. It is tough, but easily modifiable as well. Yin Yoga…wow. It is a great shorter practice reminiscent of Long, Slow and Deep by Kest but shaves about 45 minutes off. I love this practice. You can do it before bed without being too hyped up to sleep or first thing in the morning. Gentle Yoga is similar, but poses are not held quite as long and it’s more dynamic. I think it’s a perfect practice for a day where you are not 110%, but you don’t want to just slack off.
The schedule is set up so you do meditation almost daily, Hardcore three times a week (although sometimes I substituted other core workouts), and they build upon themselves. Most of the practices (except for Hardcore, Mountain Pose, Pranayama, Mediation and the Sun Salutations) end with a lovely savasana and I always felt wonderful after each one. You do a different practice each day which is similar to Blissology, i.e., the same practices for a few weeks almost in the same fashion. It is different than American Power Yoga 60 as that program you do a different Morning Blend daily 6 days a week (7th day is off) but the same class daily. I feel both series are good because with APY60 you can really go deeper and notice by really day 3 that your practice is a lot different than day 1. However, the same applies to Blissology and of course Ultimate Yogi because like I mentioned above by about the third time doing Cardio I noticed a huge difference in my stamina.
There is also a dietary component to the program which is simple for people with any knowledge of nutrition. Basically eat as close to the earth as possible, avoid alcohol, stimulants, and fried foods. There are also built in fasts. I didn’t follow the food program closely; however, lost about 23 pounds during my journey and did make better food choices as far as quality. The biggest change I think for me is that I take a breath before reacting to things. This is something Kurt Johnsen talks about a lot during the American Power Yoga 60 Program and he also studied with Bryan Kest. I also find this to be a perfect series for those that want to go to classes, but for whatever reason can’t attend live classes, and yet have a program set up to improve their bodies and spirits. I don’t think people who are draw to “hardcore workouts” will enjoy this program as it is set up, but it is a good addition to their collection and maybe will open them up to new things. I also feel you have to have some degree of understanding of asanasa/poses to get the most out of the program. Travis has a new DVD series called Yoga Foundations which I have not viewed yet, but is supposed to be for beginners and I think would be a good start for those new to yoga before advancing to Ultimate Yogi.
Travis is pretty thorough with form pointers; however, sometimes he shows modifications and the camera is not focused on them. I have read that people don't like his voice during previews, and that was something I did notice, but once I was TWO MINUTES into the first workout--it never bothered me. He does make the occasional joke, but nothing offensive AT ALL. He interacts with the other yogis with occasional adjustments and talking...and I will always remember Elizabeth getting into the wrong pose at the beginning of a practice :)
As a bit of background, I learnt hatha yoga in live classes taught in the conventional, progressive style for about 3 years (not in typical gym style classes). I love yoga and have been practising now for almost a decade. I cant do many advanced poses, but I am a fairly solid beginner. I can take some creativity, but by and large I like my yoga to be classic. I do power,vinyasa and even static (non flow) styles. My favorite instructors include Erich Schiffman, Rodney Yee, Shiva Rea, Sarah Kline, Janet Stone, Baron Baptist, Bryan Kest, Tilak Pyle.
I bought this set intending to use them as one off yoga classes. I am an avid cross trainer who combines weight training, yoga and conventional cardio in any given week. I did the first DVD and here I am on Day 13 of the 108 day rotation. I am not doing anything but UY yoga. In the weekend, I may swim or go for a long walk.
I have not yet done Gentle, Flexibility and Balance which feature later in the rotation. Here are my impressions of the classes I tried.
* Hardcore -The only dvd on this series that I would not call yoga (the rest are to my delight, pure and straight yoga). The first time I tried,some moves were not kind to my lower back. Some were effective and fun to do. I felt some moves in my hip flexors rather than the abs. After a few times, I have eliminated the lower back discomfort by learning better how to hold my back straight and keep the abs and lower back braced. I see similarities to Cathe's Core Max(1st routine). It is getting progressively easier to do. The first time I could barely keep up. It has no dread factor now (I have done it 6 times).
* Cross train - reminiscent of the Bryan Kest 3 DVD series (sweat, tone and energise, I think they are called) but Travis has his own style and the sequencing is different enough. Has a bit of everything - straight sun sals, sun sals with intervening poses, standing poses, balance poses, twists, backbends, forward bends. Delivers a workout combining balance, strength, heart rate elevation effect, flexibility.
* Cardio - The emphasis is sweatiness. It delivers. I don't ever remember working up such a sweat with yoga as with the first 30 minutes of this workout doing sun sal variations. Yet doable. After the 30 minute mark, the intensity drops which for me makes this workout wonderful. If it had sustained beyond the 30 minute mark, I dont think I would have done it again. 30 minutes pushed me, but never to the point that I wanted to quit. The vinyasa moves at a fast clip so I would caution someone not familiar with yoga to not try to keep pace until they were comfortable enough to get into and out of poses without compromising alignment.
* Strength - this is a good muscle endurance workout. It builds a burn in the muscles through the slow deliberate pace. But because it is still vinyasa, you don't feel "static". If the first 30 minutes of Cardio is like advanced steady state cardio, you could compare this to HIIT. You push for a while and then slow down for awhile, alternating on intensity.
* Yin - Yin yoga means so many different things. This yin session is Paul Grilley's style - long holds of poses with minimal prop usage. It is not as gruelling in pose selection as Grilley (I remember needing to sustain through pain in Grilley's Yin), and it shows less intense variations of some poses. You hold (mainly hip and low back opening) poses for 3 - 5 minutes. I prefer Paul Grilley's DVD for one aspect, as it has more than one routine. So if you cycled through Grilley, you would equally open up all parts of the body instead of so much for the hips.
* Detox - Power yoga meets twisting poses. Nice sequencing. If the other workouts so far, show a Bryan Kest influence, you see that Travis trained with Shiva Rea here. It is moderate on the intensity scale but not at all unchallenging. Some poses like the twisting cobra I member seeing in a Janet Stone DVD (she trained with Shiva too). The pinnacle pose or climax is twisting half moon. You are fully prepped to execute. I surprised myself with a decently aligned, stable version.
*Vitality - In this class, Power yoga meets backbends. If Detox is 50-50 between Bryan and Shiva influences, this is 20-80. There are two pinnacle poses here - bow pose done three times for 5, 10 and 15 breaths each, and wheel (or bridge) done 3 times again for 5,10,15 breaths. You also do three breath of fire sessions in chair during this workout, but they are not too long (about 30-40 breaths long, and yes, I counted).
* Mountain Pose - This was a dud for me. I appreciate gentle yoga but I did not understand the point of this session. You stand in Mountain Pose and move hour hands around. You do a couple of nice poses like a standing twist and malasana that feel good, but only after a lot of stuff that bored me. This balances the chakras as per the introduction. I must have chakras that stubbornly want no balancing. It is good to have this in the rotation. It is featured once every week. I can use it as a catch up day because on any given week, there tends to be a busy day when I end up missing a workout.
The Shiva influences in Travis workouts are my favourite bits from her style.
* loosening up the spine and back muscles from rhythmic, large-range rotational movements
* working in sustained horse stance or plié for a few minutes
* plank (or down dog) core work (raise one leg bring it to core, bring it to opposite side....)
* graceful flows back and forth around down dog and plank with some cobra or child's pose or table thrown in
* interesting arm and back bend variations in traditional standing poses.
Shiva can get too undulating or free form for me at times, but Travis keeps things straightforward.
The Bryan Kest influences are the variation from slow and fast movement through poses and the emphasis on more accessible poses that don't require advanced skills, but are still challenging.
I like that he uses shoulder stand, plough and wheel (always with bridge as an option) frequently. I miss them in many of my otherwise favourite yoga workouts.
He also knows his sequencing. The prepping poses, and counter poses mean you never end a session feeling stress in some body part. I must correct that. My back was very uncomfortable after yin, but after a while had passed, my back felt fabulous like it had been massaged.
The production quality is outstanding. Music is like a movie background score.
Travis has a great personality. I love his sense of humor. He makes me laugh out loud at least once per class. I don't mind his voice at all that was mentioned in some early VF threads. As I do more of his yoga, I am beginning to like it more.