Review of Elena Brower's AM & PM Yoga for Beginners

When it comes to yoga DVDs, I go through phases. For a while, I was looking for something that would give me an experience similar to class, a long, intense practice that would leave me utterly mellowed out and exhausted. I was frustrated with all the 60-minute DVDs, wondering where I could find a "proper" 90-minute practice that would be like the real thing.

Now it's harder. If I do yoga at all, it's on stolen time. I steal some time from my work, because I know the yoga will refresh me and help me to concentrate better and with less caffeine. Or I steal some time from my sleep, because my back is already hurting and I want to wake up feeling better, not worse.

Elena Brower does pigeon pose

I recently dipped into my collection, and found just the right thing for the place where I am these days: Elena Brower's AM & PM Yoga for Beginners. It's incredibly straightforward: no sitting through long shots of foliage, no lengthy introductions. You get a menu, and you choose one of the workouts, or both. AM. Or PM.

The morning practice is about 36-minutes long. It's slow-paced, geared more towards waking up your body and opening it into the positions than towards working up a sweat. You have a modified sun salutation, a lot of downward dog and back-soothing cat-cow combinations, a warrior series. Some twists and balances, and a little abdominal work. Elena offers modifications to increase the challenge in some of the poses. And it does the trick, leaving me rejuvenated, but not so tired I can't work anymore.

The evening practice is 28-minutes long. I like the AM program, but I love the PM program. It has a lot of breathing, and deep, wonderful stretches. While many of the poses look quite basic, it's the quality of the instruction that stands out. There will be a little variation, like a twist added to the pigeon pose (as in the image). Or she will guide you to do an asana with precise muscular awareness. I always thought that staff pose is easy, but now I see that doing it right takes a lot of attention. This is the kind of teaching that affects how I do other video yoga programs too. Last night, for example, I was working with a yoga app, and found myself remembering the instructions from Elena's DVD.

What struck me most about AM & PM Yoga for Beginners was the way Elena works with breath, and this is where I think it gets interesting for dancers too. Instead of directing you to breathe into the stomach, she will have you breathe into the back, even curving the upper back in a little and straightening on the exhalation. All of the breathwork I have ever been taught in yoga, in class or on video, has been into the stomach, then chest. This is wonderfully relaxing, but it has meant that when I'm in dance class, and have to keep my abdominals engaged, I don't know how to breathe anymore. I know that I'm supposed to breathe both into my chest and into my back, but my back muscles are tight and won't budge. One of the reasons I'll return to AM & PM Yoga for Beginners is this breathwork, which is also, in fact, practice in relaxing the muscles of the back to let more air into the lungs. It may just be the trick to breathing and dancing at the same time!

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