The Poverty of DVD Yoga. ~ Colin Hall

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A DVD is a product, not a mode of instruction. Yoga is an initiatory tradition that requires a direct connection between guru (teacher) and shisya (student). The heavily mediated teacher-student relationship encouraged by Yoga DVDs is alienating for students, depleting for teachers, and is not useful in the cultivation of free-thinking and independent yoga practitioners.

There is a double-edged sword of DVD production that effectively undercuts the ability of a teacher to deliver effective yoga instruction. If a DVD yoga teacher gives plenty of instruction, modifications, and explanations of why students should do the things they are being asked to do, then the DVD will be become boring and repetitive after the student has watched it couple times. If the DVD yoga teacher forgoes the actual instruction and delivers a stripped down, platitudinous script devoid of any actual insight or explanatory power, then the DVD will become a best-selling contribution to the dumbing-down of yoga in North America.

Effective yoga instruction is characterized by three components:

Photo: Khatawat

1.      Intimacy: Yoga is more than a technique. It is a way of being. And that way of being can only be learned by being in proximity to it. You don’t learn yoga so much as you absorb it.

2.     Interactivity: Yoga requires feedback. As students of yoga, we cannot see ourselves clearly. Mirrors provide only a reflection. Only a teacher can see us as we are help us align with our true nature.

3.     Individuality: Yoga is adaptable in order to meet the needs of different people in different contexts.  Muscle-bound manual laborers in the Yukon perform postures differently, have different needs, and require different instructions than lithe ex-dancers in New York City.

Yoga DVDs fail in all three components. They are heavily mediated with an imitated intimacy that comes in the form of banal compliments to non-existent students (i.e. “That looks great!” or “keep up the good work!”). DVD-making yoga teachers often attempt at interactivity through the clever use of DVD menus, but this produces a fast-food inspired reproduction of interactivity in which the illusion of choice attempts to mask the soul-less nature of the medium.

Yoga DVDs fail miserably at adapting yoga to meet the needs of real students.  More often than not these products offer the same tired sequences and cliché instructions with creative branding. Calling your DVD “Yoga for Energy,” “Yoga for Flexibility”, “Yoga for Claustrophobia”, or “Yoga Meltdown” (in the case of Jillian Michaels) does demonstrably change the fact that the product itself is nearly identical to every other yoga DVD on the market.  Same crap, different beach backdrop.

Yoga is taught and learned in relationships. Teacher-student, student-student, and teacher-teacher relationships are literally the vehicle through which yoga is transmitted from one generation to the next.

Photo: Zach Taylor

Because yoga is not simply a technique but also a way of being, one must be close proximity to that way of being in order to learn yoga. Yoga is absorbed from our environment as much as it is learned.  Like spending time with people who gossip constantly, eventually we will begin to gossip. Spend time with people who live in yoga, eventually we will begin to live in yoga. If we take the relationships out of yoga, we are left with a dead tradition. We are left with hollow technical ability masquerading as the stillness and clarity of yoga.

I am not opposed to products. I am making use of my computer as a write this essay. I am wearing clothes and will drive home from work today in a car. But we do not confuse a word processor with writing. We do not confuse clothing with warmth or vehicles with movement. And we should not confuse yoga products such as DVD with actual yoga instruction. The yoga DVD may play a role as a motivator if you have a hard time practicing at home, or as a source of inspiration if your teaching is getting a little dry and repetitive—but ultimately the yoga one encounters on DVDs is a yoga of poverty utterly bereft of the living experience of yoga necessary for actual yoga instruction.


Colin Hall runs a yoga studio in Regina, Saskatchewan with his wife Sarah Garden. He is the father of two beautiful little people, has a MA in religious studies focusing on the teacher-student relationship in hatha yoga traditions, and has always dreamed of being a stand-up comedian.

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anonymous Mar 5, 2011 2:19pm

[…] What picture just popped into your head? The phrase “Don’t allow yourself to be distracted” is, well, distracting. […]

anonymous Mar 5, 2011 9:31am

[…] Charlie Sheen walks into your yoga class, rolls out a mat, and takes a seat. Over eight years of teaching, I’ve seen yoga help all kinds of crazy, including my own. Depressives who admit there’s a […]

anonymous Mar 5, 2011 7:15am

I laughed when I read "Dark, menacing visions of a post-apocalyptic yoga where students connect to their favorite cyber "teacher" in the isolated comfort of their home yoga studio."

Ever heard of YogaGlo? Online, economical, streaming yoga classes from very talented, and in some cases very well known yoga teachers. I'm amused by the thought that my sincere, solitary, heartfelt, beautiful and regular yoga practice to streaming internet videos and podcasts is seen by anyone as dark, menacing, and post-apocalyptic.

I go to class (Anusara) 3 times a week, and highly value having the live teaching experience. But to be able to do yoga at home by "taking a class" from Elsie'sYoga Kula podcast, or a YogaGlo streaming video from teachers like Noah Maze, is wonderful. My private, solitary yoga practice at home has been transformed by the ability to use pre-recorded level 2 classes. Even though there's lots of yoga where I live (Portland, OR), I cannot take a level 2 class every day — only 1 level 2 class is offered per week near me, and I couldn't afford it anyway. But I do a level 2 class 4-5 times a week, with recorded teaching from amazing individuals. Pre-recorded yoga classes (mostly Elsie Escobar's) have been the tool, the key that has unlocked my love of yoga from going to class a couple times a week to a daily practice.

Much of your argument about DVDs would sound just silly if you substituted "books" for "DVDs".

Really, what you did was assume that there is one best, preferred, and only way to Really Practice yoga. In that paradigm, DVD teaching is clearly ineffective. But in so many other contexts as many above commenters have observed, the use of pre-recorded yoga classes is beneficial for many people with different levels of experience with yoga and different levels of interest in yoga.

    anonymous Mar 5, 2011 8:03am

    really well said, thank you 😉

anonymous Mar 4, 2011 2:25pm

Every time I think Elephant Journal writers have run out of ways to criticise those who practice yoga a little differently from themselves, someone comes up with a new thing to be rude about!

anonymous Mar 3, 2011 7:52am

Not everybody wants to "live" yoga.. but lots may want to do a downward dog every now and again. And paying for yoga classes is a big financial commitment for most. So let's be realistic, most of those outside the yoga bubble are not diehards and don't want to go beyond practicing asanas. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, to each his own. Should people who don't necessarily want to change their whole world and philosophy be denied the physical benefits of yoga asana? I sure don't think so. And you can find that in a DVD.

Bob Weisenberg Mar 2, 2011 12:13pm

Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

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anonymous Mar 2, 2011 9:14am

[…] getting intensely into yoga after being in India and seeing yoga first hand, both the yoga of asana as well as chanting and kirtan, and when I came back, I was wanting to practice more of the yoga […]

anonymous Mar 2, 2011 1:56am

If the purpose of the piece was to provoke comment it was well written. If it was to accurately assess the value of DVD instruction in teaching yoga it was a waste of time. See what I did there? 🙂

Some things it completely ignores. DVD is a better medium than lecture for passing on anatomical or even philosophical theory. You can rewind and replay and use an index with a DVD (or book). I've heard some outrageous nonsense regarding the anatomy of poses from some very highly respected yoga teachers. I can go back to my copy of Coulter or my Grilley DVD, use the index to pick the relevant topic, and confirm it really is nonsense very quickly. Stopping a class of 60 people, many of them devout fans who flew in just for the workshop, and saying "actually, I don't think that is correct, could we go over it again?"…. good luck with that. Same goes for postures and sequences. Better to rewind and repeat the bit I don't get than ask the teacher and the whole class to do that.

All yoga classes are a compromise at best. At least with a DVD you can skip, modify, or repeat without dealing with a room full of people with different priorities.

anonymous Mar 1, 2011 11:28pm

As a beginner still with yoga, I feel I hurt myself more with DVDs. I think DVDs are more useful once you have practiced for a couple of years and know the pitfalls and problems that can occur.

anonymous Mar 1, 2011 9:02pm

I would love to be able to go to yoga classes, have an instructor, a guru. Ain't gonna happen, at least not right now. As a newly divorced, back to school mom of five, I don't buy a coffee out, let alone yoga classes. Yoga Today classes on the computer, a quick Namaste (I don't care if it's cheesy, it's twenty minutes to help ground me and remember to connect with my breath)…they help. I can't wait for the day until I get to go to live classes, but until then, I am grateful for whatever I can get. It is better than nothing, which is my alternative.

anonymous Mar 1, 2011 12:59pm

I sure appreciate the feedback folks – thanks and keep it coming. I wrote the article shortly after going to a Chapters bookstore only to discover that about 1/2 of the yoga section had been hijacked by Jillian Michaels yoga workout videos. I asked a salesperson why they took away so many of the books to make room for DVDs and he told me that they just stock what sells. So I wrote this hoping to encourage people to take classes and read books.

Many of the comments on the Facebook page imply that if you can't afford classes at a studio, then you have no option but to practice from DVDs. I find this a touch disturbing. Learn from a teacher, then practice on your own. Read a book, then practice some of things in the book. Dark, menacing visions of a post-apocalyptic yoga where students connect to their favorite cyber "teacher" in the isolated comfort of their home yoga studio. 2012: The Yoga Odyssey.

anonymous Mar 1, 2011 12:25pm

Bob, I agree that DVD or videos of any kind can be helpful to a person's practice. I've been to crowded classes where I was probably better off with a DVD.

However, all of my real yoga "breakthroughs" (remember your first side crow?) came with the one-on-one help of an instructor. So I if you have a great teacher or guru, such personal attention is always better.

But there are circumstances (like living in the middle of nowhere, which I did for a while) where DVDs are a great practice tool to have.

Thanks for the thought provoking article!

anonymous Mar 1, 2011 10:04am

I agree that home practice by DVD lacks a certain energy and connection but this is the best I can do. I have a full time job and an hour commute per day, an 8 year old and another child on the way and my husband is away for work on a weekly basis so it is extremely difficult for me to pick up a regular class. I enjoy yoga because it makes me feel good and I feel good practicing in my living room just as much as in a class. It works for me.

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 8:16pm

I don’t think it’s fair to tar all DVDs with the same brush – they can be an extremely useful resource, if used in the right way. I have been practicing for some time, and studying DVDs of experienced, masterful practitioners like David Swenson, R. Sharath, Michael Gannon, and Lino Miele have been invaluable aids in furthering my practise – allowing me to refine my execution of asanas, and learning advanced methods of connecting the asanas that a lot of teachers don’t teach.

“…not useful in the cultivation of free-thinking and independent yoga practitioners” – I strongly disagree. Free-thinking, independent yoga students have a wealth of useful resources to develop their practice. Of course there is no substitute for classes with a great teacher, but DVDs can be fantastic supplementary aids to learn from the masters.

Bob Weisenberg Feb 28, 2011 7:16pm

Facebook discussion continued:

Bettina Beresh And remember what Marshall McLuhan always said (didn't think you'd get away without hearing that, did you), "The medium is the message."

Video is a cool medium, according to McLuhan. Which means life can go on around it. We're not playing …
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5 hours ago · Like · 2 people

Andrew Jay Bowe McLuhan and the innervation of the body! ♥
5 hours ago · Like

Bettina Beresh That said, I don't learn yoga well from a DVD.
I have to stop it all the time, and tweak it; and make it my own.
A primarily home practitioner of yoga, I do need inspiration from classes.
Recently, I had been able to get inspiration from a wor…
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5 hours ago · Like · 1 person

Susan Huff Totally agree, I forget what to do when I get on the mat, bought 3 loved what I learn, but NAH – like the vibe of a class and a REAL teacher
4 hours ago · Like · 1 person

Colin Hall a good book is better than a bad teacher, and a bad (live) teacher is better than a good DVD. if you can't afford yoga classes, pick up a good book.
4 hours ago · Like · 2 people

Sharon W. Furlong I have no car and there are no yoga classes in my town so I have to practice at home with podcasts or my yoga deck or videos.
3 hours ago · Like

Pilates Yoga Biz Yoga DVD's, Podcast, iPad apps…they all have their place along with "live" yoga classes. Some of the DVD's may not be "true yoga" and merely a stretch class, however, it's still getting people to move and on some level connect with their bodies. Surely this isn't such a bad thing?
3 hours ago · Like · 1 person

Fabienne Bernard ‎"A bad (live) teacher is better than a good DVD?" As a yoga teacher I have to disagree. I see countless yoga students getting hurt at classes that are too fast paced and inappropriate, with no instruction to speak of, while the people I kn…
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3 hours ago · Like

Dario Jovović A yoga lesson on DVD is just another kind of some trendy aerobic. Yes, it's good to refirm your buttocks, nothing else. We need a full contact, vibrations, real human voice… otherwise it's just another banal good to sell.
2 hours ago · Like

Colin Hall ‎@Fabienne: how many students (that we teachers never see) do you think get injured from DVDs? Bad teachers are actual human being capable of real human interaction – that alone makes them better than a DVD
@Pilates: I never said DVDs were…
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21 minutes ago · Like

Bob Weisenberg Feb 28, 2011 7:16pm

The Facebook discussion:

Andrew Jay Bowe The tactile environment of film is tactile, encourages a critical participant, and has been crucial in interactive media history. The longstanding notion of a superior Human to Human Interface is at best dogmatic in the digital age.
6 hours ago · Like · 2 people Surely you would agree that a real live human is more dimensional than a dvd, no? A dvd can only make one suggestion… You misunderstand it, or need some clarification, and the dvd is impotent! ~Benjamin Riggs
6 hours ago · Like

Pam Thayer I love my old videos of Rodney Yee, Suzanne Deeson, and even Lilias and they help sustain my home practice.
6 hours ago · Like · 3 people

Andrew Jay Bowe Excuse me for the tautology in the first sentence; that was a typo.
6 hours ago · Like Well, most Yoga DVDs are just workout videos. It's like "near" beer. The label says "yoga", but it ain't yoga.

However, if a DVD helps. It helps.
6 hours ago · Like · 1 person

Vady Nephilim Certainly better than nothing for people with social anxiety or other problems or lack of access, who cannot go to a class. How about we work on improving them and making them as useful as possible?
6 hours ago · Like · 4 people

Denise Kubiak I enjoyed the article and always prefer a live class over a dvd.
6 hours ago · Like

Jen Matson i sure miss the SMELL of yoga people in a yoga class, i tell ya that. 😉 dvd's can be economical and convenient, esp for single parents who can't afford to drop $10-20 on a single class. and u don't have any yoga dorks or yoga farters (oth…
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6 hours ago · Like · 4 people

Iris Sela Horowitz Not everyone can afford classes. DVDs are critical if we want to make the benefits of yoga accessible to everyone.
6 hours ago · Like · 3 people Well, most Yoga DVDs are just workout videos. It's like "near" beer. The label says "yoga", but it ain't yoga.

However, if a DVD helps. It helps. ~~~Joe Yeoman
5 hours ago · Like

Tracy Hovde Johnson A DVD may be a first step that leads someone to a teacher or class. That's a good thing. And there are some good ones out there. I happen to love Shiva Rea's DVDs and use them on occasion when I can't get to class & am uninspired to do my own practice. While a personal student/teacher relationship is the best possible situation, I'll take a virtual teacher over no practice any day.
5 hours ago · Like

Bob Weisenberg Feb 28, 2011 7:08pm

Hi, Colin. Thanks for this extremely engaging and well-written article, but I could not disagree with you more. I have a dramatic counter-example under my own roof. My wife happily does a pre-dawn Yoga routine to a Jason Crandall DVD every morning. Works great for her and I'm sure for hundreds of thousands of other Yoga enthusiasts.

The abuses and misuses you cite are all true, but why stain all DVD's and all DVD enthusiasts with those abuses? That's like saying we shouldn't teach Yoga in Yoga studios anymore because there are some bad teachers out there and some lousy Yoga studios.

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Bob W.
Yoga Editor

    anonymous Feb 28, 2011 11:02pm

    Thanks Bob – sounds like your wife uses that DVD for some motivation in the morning, like I mentioned at the end of the article. I don't think there is anything "wrong" with that – I just felt the need to point out that yoga instruction is a based on a personal relationship that simply cannot exist with DVD instruction. The article actually arose for me when I popped into Chapters the other day only to discover that they had replaced 4 shelves of yoga books (over 3/4 of whole yoga section) with yoga DVDs.

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 3:38pm

I get what he's saying, and this article is concise, organized and thought out. However, who is the audience? People who do practice with yoga dvds or people who do not?
If it is towards people who use them, it seems as if he is writing with a condescending tone, trying to make the audience feel embarrassed for ever trying a yoga dvd. For some who can not afford yoga class packages, a dvd for $12.95 is all they're working with. If it gets them to stretch and actually take some time out of their day for a deep breath, I'm for it.
If it is towards people who wouldn't dare use a yoga dvd…then his point is already made and he's just pretentiously preaching to the choir. For example, I teach yoga, I consider myself to be a pretty smart gal, but "platitudinous?" I had to look that up. It seems like he's just rallying the troops to present a "holier than thou" argument.
However, I did laugh at the line about random compliments to non-existent students. I have experienced that and wondered, "I could be eating fried chicken in my kitchen while this plays and you're telling me I look great!"

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 1:37pm

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

I can understand Mr. Hall's perspective, and it no doubt originates from a continual stream of students who have "educated" themselves at home and are probably misaligned and misinformed.

I have been practicing for over 5 years, primarily at home. The benefit of the teacher-student relationship is one I return to from time to time to ensure that the poses are being done correctly. However, yoga has become a deeply personal practice for me. Home practice allows me the opportunity to focus and internalize the asanas. In addition, the studio sessions can be intimidating for someone like me who is comfortably situated in Beginners II or Intermediate I. I do enjoy the studio and have been on a couple of yoga retreats. (I like going where I do not know anyone because it keeps it personal.)

There are about a dozen DVDs in my collection, and I plan to purchase more. I lean toward the Gaiam DVDs that incorporate the spiritual. I am a BIG fan of Seane Corn's Vinyasa videos.

For some of us, it is not an all-or-none issue. I see the studio as a touchstone to keep me aligned and attuned, but my home practice is my "reset button."

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 1:11pm

some yoga dvd's flat out SUCK. but the acessibility and comparatively low cost are great. i was injured and had yoga suggested as therapy. i first was turned onto a fee online video program which started me. i found some books and found dvd's ( less than 10$). i am low income. seeking teachers or classes for such a low cost was not happening, nor did my unusual schedule allow. i found some marvelous dvd's-marvelous as they had wonderful teachers who could reach out thru the medium and make it real and personal.i learned and grew in practice with them and the good teachers teach in a way to allow creative freedom to go beyond and develop one's own workout and practice.

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 1:06pm

I understand where you're coming from with this post but I think you do a disservice to many people who use Yoga DVDs either in supplement to in-person instruction or in place of. It's simply not always an either/or. For many, yoga instruction is just out of our budget; for others, there aren't enough quality (or any) options in the area. If it weren't for my Yoga DVDs I would not have been able to do the yoga that I hold so near and dear to me for the last few years. I've done yoga, in classes, on and off for many years. But as a mother of two, who works at home, I just don't have time or money to go to a studio right now. I've been gifted classes here or there and I always love them. They are more personal, I love the community feeling, and I appreciate the guided instruction. But in the absence of that, if you can get some good books, peruse the internet for the millions of folks who are crafting in depth and fulfilling at-home yoga practices, and become part of great online yoga community, you can create a beautiful yoga practice.

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 1:03pm

While I agree that, especially for beginners, actual interaction with a teacher is necessary to learn proper alignment and to stay safe in one's practice. However, I don't think yoga really depends on the teacher:student dynamic. It can be that way, quite successfully, but it is not essential. Lastly, to play off the author's own words, yoga is expensive. DVDs are not. Should we deny individuals the ability to practice because they can't afford a $10-15 class 3-4 times a week? If DVDs enable people to access yoga and at least give it a shot, then bring 'em on! As Pattabhi Jois once said, 99% practice and 1% theory. When people show up on the mat and practice, the rest of it takes care of itself.

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 12:46pm

I really enjoyed that; Thank you.

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 12:40pm

Ahhh. Nothing truer can be said. Yoga can't be learned without a feedback system between living beings…

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 12:18pm

The only time I recommend a yoga dvd is to someone who is already taking yoga classes. I've find them useful as a supplement to my home practice, adding structure where my mind may tend to wander. The one thing I would never advocate is getting a dvd from a fitness celebrity who's main focus is not yoga, but includes it in the title solely for marketing purposes.

anonymous Feb 28, 2011 11:16pm

fair enough…thanks for the input. I am a passionate person and enjoy the heat of allowing my own "intense rejection" to play itself out in words. It is not, however, compassion and understanding that one misses by not having a living yoga teacher. What is missed is the yoga, a living phenomenon that makes itself known (in variable degrees of strength and clarity) through the clumsy organisms of our teachers.

anonymous Mar 2, 2011 6:52pm

"is there a disconnect here? or am i merely "utterly bereft" also? "

"Bereft" as an adj doesn't admit degrees anyway, so the statement is utterly goofy.