I’ve been reading and thinking about a book that surprised me by its fresh perspective on yoga practice and yoga teaching. The book is Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD (Boston: North Atlantic Books, 2012). The book should be required reading for anyone who plans to teach yoga, even if they are not going to specialize in yoga therapy or deal specifically with populations that undergone high levels of trauma (war veterans, sexual abuse victims, battered wives, etc.).
The credentials behind the book are impressive as well. It has two forwards, one by Peter A. Levine, PhD, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and a leading advocate for a somatic approach to healing trauma, and a second one by Stephen Cope, the head of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living and an author of yoga-inspired books. The introduction is by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center and one of the intellectual thinkers behind this approach to treating trauma through yoga. The lasting physical and psychological consequences of trauma is a growing field of investigation, theory and application. Certainly, the mangled bodies of veterans from two decades of American wars abroad and related stress have forced greater attention on this issue. But trauma is also present in child and sexual abuse, which are both widely prevalent in our society. Trauma can also be the result of neglect, of lack of human affection at the most formative stages of life.
Buddhafest, the film and Dharma celebration, will return on June 16-19. The venue is the Spectrum Theater at Artisphere, 1611 N. Kent Street, at the corner of Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro station. Last year it was held at American University campus. Nice campus setting then, but now it will be much more accessible and concentrated in one locale.
I was playing around with a sequence of photos taken at Thrive Yoga a while ago, and I blended them into a video sequence. It’s got the usual hackney cliches of transitions between stills, pans and zooms. But it was fun.
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).