September 17, 2012

Will Video Kill the Yoga Star?: A Skeptic Meets Seane Corn on DVD.

With all due respect to elephant readers who live in caves and charnel grounds or permanently prostrated at the feet of their gurus, I’ve never been a yoga traditionalist.

Stoner yoga, naked yoga, leprechaun yoga, it’s all cool. And yet, I’ve never much liked the idea of “virtual” yoga classes, in which the teacher is on-line or on DVD. Did Patanjali teach by DVD? I don’t think so.

Then, there’s probably very little in my practice that the ancient sages would recognize, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Nonetheless, I love actual in-person yoga classes for the opportunity to practice within a supportive community (unlike many of my fellow yoga bloggers, I’ve never encountered teachers who make rude remarks about students’ body hair, students who steal each others’ spots with impunity, or much of anybody laughing at each other; and I live in a city that’s been called the rudest in America—who’d ‘a thunk it?).

And, as importantly, there’s a teacher who offer one-on-one guidance, such as pointing out that my alignment in trikonasana is so poor I’ll need a hip-replacement before I hit fifty, if my ill-conceived inversions don’t sever my spinal column first. My home practice, for its part, gives me the freedom to follow my own needs and instincts, to the sounds of my own playlists—Miles Davis and Sonic Youth rather than Sanskrit hip-hop or rain falling on flower petals. A virtual, electronic yoga class, on the other hand, would seem to mean practicing by myself without the freedom.

So, when offered a review copy of Seane Corn’s latest DVD, Detox Flow Yoga,  I demurred, at first…but then thought, “what better opportunity to try something new…for free?” Plus, I’ve been to a couple of workshops with Seane Corn, and found her a great teacher, who was far nicer, friendlier, and down-to-earth than a yoga celebrity’s supposed to be (at least according to some of my fellow yoga bloggers). Even got my picture taken with her.

Soon after, I received the DVD by FEDEX Express…in an envelope marked Extremely Urgent…and realized…“wow, Seane Corn really really REALLY wants me to practice some yoga with her DVD”…better get down to it.

Then I read the title: Detox Flow. Hmmmmm.. To detox, one has to be toxed in the first place, right? As a respected yoga blogger, with a 200 hr. YTT and a bunch of expensive retreats in heavily guarded third world paradises under my belt, I of course have no unhealthy habits I’d be willing to admit to in this forum (seriously—didja see the comments on that article where the author admitted to drinking a glass of wine after teaching her yoga class? No thanks…).

And so, for needed guidance on how to I might get some tox to de, I turned to counterculture hero and noted deceased Coloradan Hunter S. Thompson, who suggested: two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers…also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. Combine all that with a week’s worth of food from the local Chick-Fil-A, and I’m ready for some detox yoga!

Just kidding. Insides lined as usual with the various toxic residues of Ben & Jerry’s pints, Chipotle burritos, Chinese take-out, ludicrously overpriced craft beers, and that strange gaseous substance we breathe and call air here in Philadelphia, I rolled out the mat and put on the DVD.

First up: an ad for GAIAM. Okay, that’s kinda like at the beginning of class when the teacher talks about the upcoming Death Metal Kirtan or the Yoga and Crystal Meth workshop. Familiar turf, so far.

Then the DVD started stuttering and pixelating, kinda like when the teacher has a seizure…. Okay, maybe not. I washed the fresh-out-of-plastic-wrap DVD with dish-soap and tried again.

And so: here’s the lovely Seane Corn sitting on a hill in what looks like a lovely southern California arid wilderness environment. Very nice. Personally, I’ve always found the idea of outdoor yoga a lot more appealing than the actual practice—kinda like naked yoga, in that respect—going au natural amidst the wonders of nature sounds nice, but, generally speaking, I’d rather be in a  temperature controlled, bug-free room with a nice, roomy pair of shorts on. So, I thought, how nice to bring the beauty of the outdoors into my comfortable indoor practice space.

And Seane’s awesome—leading me through some great basic sequences with lots of good cues and a calm, gentle yet authoritative voice. This is why she gets to make yoga DVD’s and I don’t. And she gives a number of different options—two different “classes” and two different voice-overs for each: one teaching each pose in a way that’ll be accessible to beginners, and the other leading the more seasoned student through the same sequences with less instruction on form and more attention given to the breath.

Throughout, she draws connections between asana practice and diet, as well as between personal and planetary health (thus making me feel guilty not only for the Chinese take-out, but its incredibly wasteful packaging; I’ll try to do better, Seane, really…), emphasizing that detox yoga means more than sweating out a hangover.

One thing that kind of surprised me with the practicing-with-DVD experience was the realization that it could, in fact, be a far more interactive experience than I’d thought. I could stop the class when I wanted to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, could rewind if I wanted to hear instructions again, could hit pause and turn on the Coltrane if I wanted to do a headstand, could use just parts of the DVD’s sequences for particular areas I’m working on (I tend to go through sun salutations and vinyasas very rapidly, at home, which provides a nice rush, but it’s nice to have Seane setting a more reasonable pace).

And, it occurred to me, it can be a useful teaching tool, as well—instead of trying in vain to remember just what those cues my favorite teachers use for half-moon, I can hear Seane’s as many times as I want. And, of course, the DVD gives the option of practicing my own without having to decide what to do next—on those lazy occasions when freedom’s just another word for being too lazy to drag myself to class (such as those mornings when I’m most in need of detox).

If she doesn’t bring a lot of personality into her presentation—no jokes, no impromptu stories—I’d probably get sick of those pretty quickly with repeated use of the DVD, anyway. What’s here is practical and to the point, however I feel like using it. While it certainly won’t replace going to class or my free-flowing home practice, it’s nice to have yet another option, and this is a good one.

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