Yesterday, I reviewed Trudie Styler’s Warrior Yoga and said that it was not appropriate for beginners. It occurred me that I knew exactly where to refer novices interested in good beginner videos, and it’s at Gaia Yoga. About a year ago, I was asked to use the service for a month and comment. I wrote one entry and then my knee injury blew up my practice and diverted my energies. My trial pass ran out, and I forgot all about it.
But thinking about what makes a good beginner-focused video, I remembered the weekly videos of Rodney Yee and Coleen Saidman and realized that the online service offered nine hours of video, plus audiocasts, handouts and other assistance so it fits practically all the needs of a novice. Saidman and Yee demo all the poses, showing modifications and adjustments, progressing from simple to more complex. They fully describe all the “invisible” details that you need to know but will not see in a video. They keep up a steady banter, letting their joy in yoga shine through, while moving through sequences and stopping to emphasize details. You never got a sense that they’re talking down to you. The filming was confined to a studio so the videos are not as spectacular as the garden vistas in Styler’s DVD, but they are still quality productions.
Although Gaiam Yoga Club is charging $5 a week, which works out to about the price of a video per month or $65 for the full 12 week cycle, it really fills a gap in the instructional area. There is a free trial period and discounts. The videos can’t be downloaded, but you can save all the other material for later reference. Saidman and Yee also have a Gaiam DVD, The Practical Power of Yoga, which was broadcast on PBS last year as part of bonus gift in a pledge campaign. I didn’t see it so I don’t know if it’s similar to their Gaiam Yoga Club videos. I assume so.
Yee may not be the most highly esteemed yoga master instructor because he’s been at the forefront of commercializing yoga in books, videos, conferences, and workshops, as well as some flawed personal conduct that has offended the sensibilities of some, but is common, though not acceptable behavior outside the yoga scene. Yee and Saidman make an exceptional team in explaining yoga’s innards to novices.
Back in late June, I mentioned that I had been offered a chance to join Gaia Yoga. After a slow start due to a hectic schedule, I have started to follow the program on a daily basis and have now finished up my third week. Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman are the teachers in this intensive yoga immersion program. The core is in three formats:
- Videos of demos: these are Flash videos with very high production values, both in terms of visuals and audio. I’ve seen a good number of yoga DVDs. These are up there with the best ones for beginners. Each week’s material is divided up into 10-12 segments that can be viewed independently. Yee and Seidman take turns demoing the poses and vinyasas. They provide a huge volume of insight and tips into the poses. It reminded me of all the good hands-on workshops that I’ve taken in the past two years (Beryl Bender Berch, Jordan Bloom, Alan Finger, Desiréee Rumbaugh) because all the good teachers pound away at reinforcing the fundamentals and the details of the poses, even with experienced practitioners. You can come back to these videos repeatedly to review the instructions, see the adjustments that Yee and Seidman make to each other, and catch something new that you had missed the first or second time around.
- Audio podcasts: you can listen to these daily practices, either in your browser, in an audio application or downloaded and save as a podcast to be played in your MP3 player. These sessions, narrated by Yee or Seidman, are 20-35 minutes long and follow up on the points made in the video sessions. The audio is useful because it makes me focus on my body, rather than peeking up at a computer monitor or TV screen.
- Visual sequences of each daily practice: these are photos of Yee and Seidman in the poses of the sequences, which gives visual queues to those who may not know the Sanskrit names of all the poses yet or may be unsure about all the components of the pose.
What sets this system apart from DVDs, podcats, or books is that it’s linked to a time schedule. The videos are the foundations for the weekly focus (standing poses, backbends, twists, etc.). Then the audio recordings become available at 24 hour intervals. Four podcasts are for daily practices, and then a fifth one has just pranayama and meditation. Finally, the seventh day is a rest day. It’s not possible to rush through the work program because you have to wait to become eligible, but you can always go back to review. This is necessary because the program imparts a lot of information that has to be linked to the mind and the body, and it can’t be done if the yogi is skipping ahead.
There are other features to the program, like community forums, blogs, and personal pages, that I will cover in future entries.
As I’ve mentioned before, a rep from Gaiam Yoga Club invited me to test their program free of charge for 13 weeks or about three months. The way I’m going, I won’t finish the whole “12-week” program because I have skipped a week or a night of checking into the web portal to take the next lesson so I’ve fallen behind. The Gaiam Yoga Club cost about $65 a quarter (MLS: this online service has undergone a lot of changes since I originally used it. It is not clear that the original Yee-Saldman videos are still available, but Gaia has expanded its cast of teachers and styles).
I’ve been given access to the Gaiam Yoga Club with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman. I guess, in return, I’m supposed to give feedback about my experience and perhaps write about it here.
The program of videos, podcasts and print media runs for 12 weeks, and is meant for the beginner who is practicing at home. My first impression is that it’s a really polished product, with high production values on the handful of videos that I’ve seen so far. There’s a lot of material to be absorbed, even when you’re not starting from scratch. Normally, this online service costs $5 a week, billed quarterly (every 13 weeks). So I am being offered the equivalent of $60 to participate, assuming that the invitation was for the whole program. I just wanted to get that out front from the beginning.
What surprised me the most is that given the high profiles of Yee and Saidman on the yoga scene, the backing of a major retailer in the lifestyle business, like Gaiam, and the strong investment already made in the product, I’m surprised that I had not heard about this service before. It was launched in May, but I have not seen much promotion for it, and I do get a fair share of yoga-related e-mails for products, retreats, and other matters. For instance, I was trying to find a graphic, a banner ad or something like that to illustrate this blog posting, and I google the web for the one displayed here. There was no spot on their website that offered graphics or a media kit.
New York Times Between Poses, a Barrage of Pickup Lines: the YouTube video mentioned in this article is funny, though it’s not ready for prime time. I just can’t recognize a facsimile of a real yoga class in the video but that may just be an issue of production values. But the pretext of the video is a real issue and I’ve seen the phenomenon in a few of my classes.
Flow Yoga, my downtown studio, gets mentioned in the article because it has a Thursday night social get-together, and even has plans for speed dating.
This story actually opens an ethical issue of human relations on the yoga mat, especially when teacher-student interplay moves outside the yoga studio and especially when sexual chemistry is thrown into the mix.
New York Times: The Yoga Therapist Will See You Now underscores the recent growth of yoga therapy, but also carries a warning:
But experts inside and outside the industry say yoga therapy should be approached with caution. In general, a person can practice as a yoga therapist after 200 hours of yoga teacher training, which might include basic training in anatomy, breathing, meditation and giving adjustments.
At the end of the article, there is a paragraph about NY-based designer Donna Karan “sponsoring a 10-day Well-Being Forum in Manhattan to bring together doctors, yoga therapists and yoga teachers…” That may explain why the article got commissioned in the first place. The event is organized by UrbanZen with Rodney Yee, former model Christy Turlington and a host of big names serving on the board. Karan is pushing integrative medicine that combines alternative health with conventional medicine following the death of her husband from lung cancer.
Rodney Yee used to have a blog at Yahoo Health. I checked it out a couple of times a while back, and then forgot about it. Yee has moved up in the online world. His new on-line home is at Lime.com’s Yoga section [MLS: Lime.com has apparently gone bust and disappeared from the web, and Yee moved on to Gaiam Yoga Club]. He has a TV show, as part of Lime’s ambitious project to bring healthy living to the big time, and has been doing short video blogs [no longer available].
Of course, Yee has been in the news a lot recently because of his marriage to NYC yoga studio owner, Colleen Saidman, which got covered in the NY Times (sorry, but the story has already been archived). But you can get a bitchier version of it at New York Magazine. Souljerky has another take on the mess. Yee divorced his wife of 24 years. A few years ago, he had an affair with a student, which became an example of how to betray the student-teacher relationship.
I bought Yee’s most recent book, Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga, because it’s beautifully illustrated and laid out. And I still take classes at Thrive Yoga.
In my own home yoga studio, Thrive Yoga, we’ve gone through a stretch that calls into question of incarnating the yogic ideal : the two owners of Thrive Yoga have parted ways. Kim Groark was the more advanced teacher while Susan Bowen had the good business mind. Over the past two years, they lost their shared vision of what they wanted to make of the studio. I don’t know any of the details, just that at the end the tension hung like incense in the air of the studio. Susan bought out Kim’s share of the business, and Kim “decided to leave Thrive Yoga to pursue a different path,” as the announcement stated. More experienced yoga entrepreneurs have told me that studio partnerships rarely work out. Yoga teachers who strike out on their own, setting up their own shops, want to have full control over their business and practice so there’s going to be an innate contradiction in a joint venture.
I felt disconcerted by the whole shift: I had gone to Kim’s classes more frequently because I was drawn to her flair for teaching (influences of Kundalini, Shiva Rea) and the classes fit my schedule in the evenings. I was also concerned about the long-term viability of the studio because I get classes (2-5 times a week) at no charge, in exchange for hosting, maintaining and updating the website. I would find it had to pay for a year unlimited pass, which is what I would need for the same privilege. The split took me out of my comfort zone on the mat.
I wanted to make some things clear about the blog and website. The reason that I’m writing it is not because I have any special knowledge about yoga, pranayama, meditation or life, except for what I have experienced within my body’s skin. I am writing about it because yoga (understood in the broadest sense) is the most important thing happening in my life. I am writing about it with all the contradictions and incomplete vision of a novice.
Erich Schiffmann wrote in Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness:
Yoga is a sophisticated system or achieving radiant physical health, superb mental clarity and therefore peace of mind, as well as spiritual nsight, knowledge and understanding.
When I started fooling around with yoga late last year, I played a trick on myself. I told myself that yoga should be easy and I didn’t have to “try hard.” Instead of following my DVD routine, I switched to doing a much less physically demanding audio CD routine. When I stopped trying hard and began listening to my body, rather than keeping pace with Rodney Yee, I began to have glimpses of what Schiffmann is writing about. I had a similar experience with meditation — I stopped “trying hard” and relaxed into a deeply refreshing restfulness of mind. I said, “Wow — I’ve got to get me some more of this.”
In this whole process, I’ve never really had a “moment of conversion.” It’s been a gradual change in which I’ve learned not to “try too hard” and take myself too seriously. If I did, I wouldn’t be out on a mat in a studio exposing my pearly white legs and my extra gut that cuts off my breath in halasana. I just tell myself that Buddha had a few extra pounds himself, if you judge from some of the statues. I know that I could get a lot more out of my classes if I did not try to keep pace with the others. That’s one of the reasons why I like Sam Dworkis’s advice: The Operative Word of Yoga Must Be: Toward :
Because the word yoga can be loosely defined as union and balance and because the human body can never be perfectly balanced, then an appropriate yoga practice can only move a person toward balance of body, mind, breath, and spirit.
Of course, the coda to this tangent is that if you don’t challenge yourself — what Schiffmann calls “finding your edge” — you’re not going grow in your practice. It just seems that knowing my own psychological makeup, my most risky behavior when I overexert myself and don’t listen closely enough to my body.