Perfect Truths About Yoga


Turbaned gurus, sing-song mantras and bodily contortions . . . the promise of true enlightenment and omphaloskepsis (contemplation of the naval) completes the cliche. But don’t knock yoga till you’ve tried it, and then only with respect.

Yoga means to bind together — variously joining sun and moon, left and right, male and female, and any number of yins and yangs — through ascetic techniques of meditation and exercise. The goal is physical and mental balance.

Indian Hatha’ yoga is best known to Westerners. Double-jointedness isn’t a prerequisite, but the classic lotus position, cross-legged on the floor, soles-up on the inner thigh, either comes naturally or doesn’t.

Then there are more magical/mystical varieties of yoga for which people quit jobs and polite society and retreat to the Himalayas. But not everyone follows a spiritual guide beyond the Beltway; they’d rather take up the discipline at a local ashram or the Y.

Committed practitioners claim yoga leads to intuitive awareness, spiritual harmony, perfect concentration. Others use it to lose weight or quit smoking. Some just like the lift they get from yoga asanas (positions) better than breaking into a sweat with pushups. In any case, it can’t hurt, if done in moderation and with proper guidance.

Beginners Yoga Video Offers Good Instruction


Trying to find well-produced fitness videos that are truly suitable for beginners can be a daunting challenge.

Most tapes these days aim at intermediate exercisers, the ones who know a grapevine from a box step and a lateral raise from a biceps curl. These tapes may offer a few easier moves here and there, but the instruction clearly is geared to people who already know what to do.

The few tapes that are marketed for beginners often are unspeakably repetitive, as if flabby muscles always mean a flabby brain. And too often, they provide no way to add extra challenge or difficulty to the routine, as if beginning exercisers are going to remain beginners forever.

It’s nice, then, to discover Yoga Zone: Flexibility and Tone, a beginners’ tape that offers the depth of instruction and easy pace that true beginners need.

The instructor here is Alan Finger, a genial-looking middle-aged man who wears a polo shirt, rolled-up cotton pants and a chin-length bob. His physique is not the standard chiseled form of exercise videos; he looks as if he might carry a few extra pounds around the middle.

But he has a lovely voice (with a hint of a brogue) and a calm manner, two essentials for a yoga tape, where relaxation is key.

And he has a true gift for instruction, combining the nuts-and-bolts details of positioning with what it feels like to stretch and balance.

When he describes how the muscles of the feet ought to rotate through to the little toe, you’ll know — and be able to feel — just what he’s talking about.

But each move contains so many of these instructions that it can be a little overwhelming to try to master all of them at once.

If you have tried yoga before, you’ll recognize some of them — the down-on-all-fours stretch called the cat, the inverted V that forms the down dog, and the corpse, which requires little more than lying flat on one’s back, completely relaxed.

In another nod to beginners, Finger also provides true modifications and tips for those who may not be as flexible as they’d like.

Finger shows how a folded blanket can be placed under the knees or for better support while performing seated postures. A folded towel also is used for several poses, although Finger doesn’t announce that in advance.

The 50-minute session ends with stretching and relaxation, set to gentle New Age music that might lull you to sleep.