When you’re stressed out to begin with, trying to choose among the many relaxation books, CDs, and DVDs on the market can be a daunting task. Yoga and meditation are time-tested methods of reducing stress and relaxing the mind, and practicing with the help of DVDs is an easy way to bring some relaxation time into your busy schedule. But which DVDs will work for you?
I’ve been practicing yoga and meditation for over two years, and I use the Gaiam line of DVDs exclusively. Here are the Gaiam DVDs I’ve come to rely on most often for relaxation. All are appropriate for beginners. Please note: The following product reviews are not intended as medical advice. Check with your physician before beginning a yoga practice.
A.M. and P.M. Yoga for Beginners
Are you concerned about fitting yoga into your schedule? I was, and I found that this DVD was the ideal way to get started. It offers 2 easy 20-minute programs, one designed to wake you up and one designed to help with relaxation at the end of the day.
The “A.M.” practice is led by famed instructor Rodney Yee. It’s hard to imagine a gentler way to ease into yoga: most of the 20 minutes are spent on your back or on your stomach! It begins with a brief meditation, then moves into a series of simple stretches and poses. I find it more relaxing than energizing. If you have trouble talking yourself into anything resembling exercise, this may be the yoga practice for you.
The “P.M.” practice is led by instructor Patricia Walden, whose soft voice is for me the essence of relaxation. The “P.M.” portion is definitely beginner-friendly, but much more challenging than Yee’s practice. It begins with meditation, leads you through a flow of active yoga poses, and ends with-ah!-relaxation pose. It’s great for loosening the back, neck, and shoulder muscles that tend to tense up when you sit at a desk all day; and it also stretches the hamstrings and calf muscles. If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably feel that you’ve done a surprisingly thorough workout in a short amount of time.
I’m not a morning person; I only do yoga in the late evening, a few hours before bedtime. I alternated between the “A.M.” and “P.M.” practices and found that both helped me get ready for sleep. Two years later, I still use these practices if I want nighttime relaxation without getting too involved in challenging activity.
Stress Relief Yoga for Beginners
This is another DVD that’s great when you want a brief but truly relaxing yoga practice. Don’t be put off by the cover description, which lists the total running time as just over an hour. The actual practice is about 20 minutes long; the rest of the content includes an interview with instructor Suzanne Deason and a section on using props. A highly regarded yoga teacher, Deason confidently leads the viewer through a flow of basic poses and stretches that nearly anyone can follow. Like A.M. and P.M. Yoga, Stress Relief Yoga continues to offer relaxation benefits even after you’ve moved on from the beginner stage. This isn’t a “workout”-it’s not meant to be. As the title implies, it’s a simple means of relaxation, one you’ll reach for again and again.
My only quibble-and it’s obviously not a dealbreaker, since I still use this DVD at least once a week-is with Deason’s voice: to my ears, her tone sounds a little too much like that of an aerobics instructor’s. If you’ve never used a DVD for yoga practice, this may seem like nitpicking. However, the personal style of a particular instructor will probably matter to you a great deal, especially if relaxation is your primary goal. The “fit” is important, and only you can decide which instructors will seem as though they’re speaking directly to you.
Meditation for Beginners
If you’re open to the idea of yoga for relaxation purposes but skeptical about meditation, this may be the DVD for you, as long as you have a full hour to devote to your practice. Instructor Maritza combines easy yoga poses with meditation techniques which help you drop to a place of deep relaxation. The yoga program is all about loosening up, not building strength or flexibility. The “body scan” involves lying down while the instructor asks you to focus on different areas of the body and become aware of sensations. During seated meditation, Maritza teaches you a simple breathing technique-counting between breaths-which allows you to become even more aware of your body and calm the mind.
I’ve always had difficulty controlling my racing thoughts when using any kind of relaxation technique. Meditation for Beginners taught me that trying to control anxiety only heightens it. Instead, the idea behind meditation is to stay seated and simply allow those anxious thoughts to rise without trying to push them back down. Meanwhile, counting between breaths forces me to pay attention to what’s happening in my body; if I’m focused on breathing, I have less attention to give my overactive mind. Maritza has one of those wonderfully soothing voices which lets me feel I’m being guided through the meditation rather than directed; and her narration naturally blends with the quiet beauty of the background music. I never thought I’d be “one of those people” who meditate; but like any other activity, meditation is something you can learn how to do with the right kind of instruction.
Relaxation and Breathing for Meditation
You might think there would be too much overlap between this DVD and Meditation for Beginners; I find that they complement each other nicely. What doesn’t help in terms of relaxation is getting bored with the same voice (even if it’s one you really like) leading you through the same programs again and again. These two DVDs cover a lot of the same territory, but they’re different enough to keep you interested and focused.
Relaxation and Breathing for Meditation is led by Rodney Yee, who brings a strong sense of vitality to his instruction. He’s in incredible shape, but unlike many instructors who view yoga as just another form of exercise, Yee emphasizes the psychological and spiritual benefits of yoga and meditation. Like Maritza, Yee guides rather than directs in this DVD. He’s designed two 30-minute sections: “Conscious Relaxation,” which is similar to the very gentle “A.M.” yoga practice described above; and “Conscious Breathing,” a meditation which concentrates solely on the breath. There’s also a separate, 8-minute guided meditation. The DVD menu allows you to easily pick and choose among the different yoga and meditation sections. When I have enough time, completing all of the sections leaves me utterly relaxed at the end of a challenging day. If I don’t have time to complete everything, a half-hour devoted to either “Conscious Relaxation” or “Conscious Breathing” is certainly a half-hour well spent.
So go ahead: relaxÃ¢Â?Â¦breatheÃ¢Â?Â¦let go. Let Gaiam’s talented and inspiring instructors lead you to a place of peace.