I was excited and a bit surprised when I received a review copy of the new Richard Simmons "Primary Series Blastoff!" DVD in the mail. I didn't even know that Richard Simmons offered Astanga yoga!
On the back cover, it mentions that Simmons studied yoga with Pattabhi Jois in the late 70s, even visiting Mysore several times. Simmons credits Jois with inspiring his unique approach to fitness, saying: "Aerobics is the western Vinyasa Krama!" The liner notes show a photograph of Simmons with Jois, both wearing athletic shoes and hot pink scrunchy socks.
I eagerly popped the DVD into my computer to practise with this morning, figuring Friday is the ideal day to do the Primary Series with Richard Simmons. This practice isn't long - it's a 34 minute 'short form', comprised of Richard Simmons' favourite postures from the Primary Series. The Simmons Shala is a brightly lit room with funky mirrors and a solid wood floor.
Shala students are all using the brand-new Manduka product, 'Invisible Mat Pro' and they're wearing exciting 80s fashions from the brightly-coloured Lululemon 'Retro-line'. The students in this shala come from a variety of levels of practice - everything from I'm-too-lazy-to-lift-my-arms to *fistpump!huzzah!*
I love how Richard Simmons offers alternatives to the more challenging postures in the Primary Series without using props (except for athletic shoes, of course). For example, in Virabhadrasana A, Simmons instructs students to keep their arms at waist level in order to conserve energy for the seated poses. He calls this pose variation, 'Sumo Warrior':
Check out Simmons' unique take on Parsvottanasana. Students are encouraged to wiggle their hips and sing along to the pounding 80s music in the background:
Between postures, Simmons offers his own unique take on vinyasas. The class moves back and forth on their mats, showcasing fancy footwork and doing elaborate arm movements like 'pull it in' and 'push it out' (it reminded me of Bollywood dance moves) as well as 'the harvest' (an aura-cleansing arm-sweep) and - my favourite! - 'cross your heart'.
During the 'cross your heart' vinyasa, Richard Simmons croons encouragingly, while gazing deeply into the camera, "Be good to you! I LOVE YOU!"
Damn, I've never heard my shala teacher say THAT!
In the closing credits, Simmons recognises his shala students by name with brief descriptions of how the practice of Astanga Vinyasa Yoga has changed their lives. Here's a smattering:
- 'Tammy P. in Cinncinati OH' released 30 pounds and became a raw macrobiotic organic vegan.
- 'Melody R. in Richmond, VA' developed man arms and no longer spits at her co-workers.
- 'Alan B. in Lawrence, KS' now has a six-pack and installed a Shiva Lingam in his back garden.
- 'Laura C. in Seattle WA' stopped leaving anonymous mean comments on other people's Astanga blogs and no longer surfs the web at work.
Other practitioners mentioned obsessively buying statues of Indian deities, developing an urge to sit in Padmasana at work, becoming bold enough to wear tiny-yoga-shorts to the grocery store, and taking up dog walking.
I was uplifted by these stories of tranformation. Clearly, Simmons is a powerful and inspirational teacher. I was quite taken with his teaching style. As Richard Simmons gazed into the camera, dewy-eyed and sincere, I knew he was looking at ME! Throughout the practice he told how well I was doing, Not just saying 'good', but using whole, complete sentences, like: "You're doing GREAT!"
I truly enjoyed this DVD. The upbeat 80s tunes paced my Ujjayi breathing. The unique moves helped me to connect with my Bandhas in a new way. The clothing of my onscreen 'shala mates' was so bright, I had no choice but to avert my eyes and find my Driste (or wear shades).
I would heartily recommend this DVD to yoga practitioners in need of inspiration and a bit of colour. Thanks, Richard Simmons, for making me feel good about my Primary Series practice again!
Up next: A review of Paul Anka's new kirtan album, "Hanuman Swings".
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