Essential Matwork/Intermediate Matwork/Advanced Matwork with Moira Stott

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456 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4K 1P4; (800) 910-0001; 45-58 min.; $34.95 each

The exercises in this three-video set are based on the work of Joseph Pilates, the German somatic pioneer who died in 1967 at the age of 87. Stott calls her work "core conditioning," and claims it will, among other things, tone, stretch, and strengthen muscles, improve endurance, mobility, agility, and posture, and reduce joint and lower back pain and tension.

The "Essential" session has about two dozen exercises, the "Intermediate" about 30, and the "Advanced" about three dozen. In general the exercises are mostly performed lying, either supine or prone, or sitting, and usually involve five to 10 repetitions of simple, well-defined movements, many of them variations on a sit-up (with several very yoga-like positions, such as Cobra and Plow). As the name of the system implies, the exercises focus on the "core" of the body, the muscles of the inner legs, pelvis, and abdomen, and the front spine.

I found the exercises interesting and enjoyed them a lot. The first tape is pretty accessible and a good introduction to this work as a whole. It has two models, one for stronger and more flexible students and one for the rest of us, showing easier alternatives. The other two tapes build on the first, adding more challenging and quickly paced exercises, especially the advanced—even the trained model looked relieved that the hour was up. Stott gives clear instructions and appropriate cautions (except for a shoulderstand-like exercise called the "Jack Knife") and has an excellent understanding of proper alignment. I was disappointed, however, that she didn't say much about the theory behind the exercises and their benefits. The work would be useful to a range of people, from yoga students to dancers to athletes. Even if you just like rolling around on the floor and testing your physical limits, I highly recommend these tapes.

Contributing Editor Richard Rosen is deputy director of the Yoga Research and Education Center in Sebastopol, California, and teaches public classes in Berkeley and Oakland, CA.