Here's why I thought it was the best to start with back in April 2009, in my second 'Developing a Home practice post
"I was now thinking about Ashtanga rather than Yoga and wanted a video and a mat. I remember feeling a bit sheepish going to an exercise shop and looking at the yoga section. I bought a box that had a purple mat and some blocks and wanted to say at the counter that it wasn't for me but a present for a friend. But I loved that first mat (still have it). I remember reading Elsie's blog (that I miss, by the way) where she talks about 'old blue', that's how I felt about my purple mat. As soon as I got home I rolled it out and threw down a few Sury A's.
I can't remember how came across the Mark Darby DVD http://www.amazon.com/Ashtanga-Yoga-Primary-Mark-Darby/dp/B0006I036C but I still think I was really lucky to choose it and that it's THE best beginners ashtanga DVD. I lent it to a friend and still haven't got it back. I think it starts with a little Demo of Mark doing his own practice, a mixture of 1st, 2nd and Advanced I think, very very cool. Could I ever do that, loved the jump back and the handstand/arm balances even then.
The video has Mark Darby doing the standard Ashtanga Primary but his student Nicole Bordeleau practicing alongside, but doing some simplified variations and explaining them in her French Canadian accent (in fact there's a French language option to the whole DVD). Presenting it this way the practice didn't seem dumbed down for beginners but rather just making allowances for an individuals flexibility. Here was a simplified Jump back or rather step back allowing you to link the poses. I began to get the hang of the Ujjayi breath. I remember it being described somewhere as constricting the throat and trying to sound like Darth Vader. I was sceptical about the Bandhas (no change there then UPDATE : I came around).
If I'd started by going to Shala to learn Ashtanga I guess I would have been given one pose at a time and not allowed to progress past the current pose until it was... acceptable. I didn't hear about any of that until much later, and was, (still am) very surprised by it. I was only constrained by time. The video was an hour and a half, I would just do Standing and finishing on a work day but follow the whole video through on my day off and on Sundays. So within a month I was practicing all of primary, though using variations throughout.
It was a good job I bought the video when I did, Nicola would give lots of advice for practicing safely, if I'd just carried on with the book I'd probably have injured myself. After an hour and a half practicing with the video I was completely wasted. I would sweat a kilo and every muscle in my body would ache/tingle.....it felt fantastic".
This first Youtube video shows how Mark and Nicole are working together but it's the French track rather than the English, unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an English clip on YouTube...actually I quite like it in French
The only other clip I can find on YouTube is of what's described on the DVD as Mark's own practice.
So do i still think it's the best beginners Ashtanga video?
Yeah, I think I do and here's why.
For one thing those new to Yoga that I've learnt it too kept it for ages, the last guy sounded quite upset when i asked him to let me have it back but relieved when I said I'd let him have it straight back as soon as I've put it on my iPad. He's following along with the Sun salutation section most mornings and possibly looking to the short form.
That was actually one of the things that surprised me when I got it home last night, that the DVD included a 40 minute Short form section and another on just the Sun salutations, I'd forgotten about those. Put's it up there with the Short forms in David Swenson's book and DVD. here though you have the Short forms AND full primary all on one DVD. there's also a short section on the fundamentals of Ashtanga method and some practice tips, more fundamentals.
Another comparison with David Swenson's book is that Nicola is offering all these variations and easier options for those new to the practice. This means you can work through a whole primary series following Darby much of the time but switching your attention to Nicola's easier options where necessary. And of course those will change, in the beginning you might be following Nicola's instructions for most of the DVD but as you get more and more postures down you'll shift your attention to Darby but back to Nicola for the most stubborn of asanas.
There's no stopping the DVD to find tutorials and easy options they are there on the screen side by side with the regular practice, quite inspired actually.
Perhaps that's a reason I ended up approaching Ashtanga as I have, right from the beginning I was practicing with David Swenson's book and Mark Darby's DVD with all their options and variations.
I practiced with the DVD this morning, some of the things that jumped out of me that come to mind now are Darby say if once then a dozen times
'Breathe fully, deep Ujjayi breathing'
Lots on pressing the heels into the mat to open the hips
And something i really liked...you know how your always trying to turn your leg back in in the seated Asymmetric postures, the Janu's for example, Darby has you aim the little toes towards your ears and push the big toe away from you to rotate the leg inwards and straighten it.
Lots on sitting bones, sinking them into the earth, pointing them to the sky, lifting out of the hips, taking the heart forward to bend forward.
Oh and Savasana, just like Nancy Gilgoff at the confluence and on Richard Freeman's Intermediate DVD Mark has you lay in a more formal, stiff corpse pose (savasana), interesting.
There's much more of course, I'll be practicing with it off and on over the next couple of weeks and will add a few more things to this post that jump out at me.
SEE ALSO My recent post on Mark Darby fundamentals