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by Richard Freeman
Sounds True, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Nov 22nd 2005

Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga DVD

In this yoga DVD, Richard Freeman goes through a flow of standing and sitting positions that involve deep stretches.  The whole program lasts about 75 minutes.  Freeman is an assured guide to the positions, and unlike most other yoga DVDs, he demonstrates on his own, with only occasional background music.  It could be a useful resource for those who are already comfortable with yoga and have experience doing a number of positions.  It is not appropriate for complete novices.

On all the exercise and yoga DVDs I have seen, there is a standard warning at the beginning about being careful in practicing what the DVD shows.  This Introduction to Ashtanga also says that it will take a few weeks to master the poses shown, but this seems an optimistic estimate.  The poses and movements Freeman demonstrates will be challenging to people who are not already very flexible, and my guess is that it will take more than a few weeks to master the flow.  Indeed, many people will never be able to completely copy what Freeman is able to do, because he is both very flexible and very strong.  He sits cross-legged on the floor and lifts up his body on his two arms, his legs lifts high from the floor, and then swings back to extend his legs behind this.  Watching him to this, it seems like a straightforward movement until you sit down and try to do the same, and realize it is enormously difficult.  Never does Freeman provide any suggestions about ways to build up this movement, or what alternatives might be available to those who cannot do it.  Occasionally he suggests alternatives to the movements he demonstrates, such as using yoga blocks to prop oneself up when one cannot reach down to the floor, but he does not demonstrate them at all.  In explaining a number of positions, he leaves out vital information.  For example, in several triangle and warrior poses, which are done from a standing position with legs separated, he gives little guidance about how far to separate the legs, and whether to keep them as far apart as possible or to have them just slightly spread.  This makes a major difference, it would help very much to know what to do.  For many other positions, viewers will not be able to do as he does, and so they need to know what compromises to make.  For example, he demonstrates a relatively simple position where one raises one's arms above one's head placing hands together, and then, looking up, slowly crouches down towards a sitting position.  He makes this look easy, but most people of average or low flexibility will discover that it is impossible to keep one's arms straight doing this, and indeed, it is hard to keep one's balance as one moves down.  He gives no advice about whether one should focus on keeping one's arms straight or on crouching down, and if one finds it impossible to do both, one wants to know which one to prioritize. 

So in using this DVD, one has to be ready to experiment with different approaches and see what works.  Inevitably one will find some of the positions and movements impossible, at least at first, and one has to decide what to do instead.  Sometimes Freeman gives instructions that are a little confusing -- I was unsure how to lift the wings of my kidneys, for instance.  He also uses some somewhat technical terms in referring to body parts, and one might need to refer to a dictionary or medical encyclopedia to remind oneself where one's coccyx is, for example. 

The exercises are demanding and should certainly be performed carefully, because there is a real danger of straining one's muscles or injuring one's toes, for example, in the frequent moving from upward dog to downward dog or in moving one's feet forward from downward dog.  Freeman could have provided some useful advice in telling practitioners how to build up toe strength and flexibility to reduce the risk of injury. 

Yet for all its flaws, this DVD does provide a strong satisfying flow of positions, and Freeman does give consistent instruction about how to control one's breathing while following along.  It could help achieve greater strength and flexibility, and could help to achieve greater poise of mind that comes with consistent yoga practice. 

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Link: Sounds True Catalog

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.