The Total Fitness Workout: Introductory and Level 1 with Cathie Murakami

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Synergy Systems, 555 Second St., #1, Encinitas, CA 92024; 760-632-5677; 2-tape set: Introductory, 50 min., Level 1, 35 min.; individual tape $24.95, set $44.95

This two-tape set is advertised as a mind-body workout based on the pioneering work of Joseph Pilates and developments in exercise physiology. The introductory session opens with a 10-minute overview of the system, including its benefits (improving posture, muscle tone, flexibility, and body awareness); its focus (the abdominal and lower back muscles, shoulder blades, inner and back thighs, gluteals, and a "neutral spine"); and its six guiding principles, which can be summarized as breathing, concentration, centeredness, control, precision, and fluidity of movement.

Each session includes about 15 simple exercises, mostly performed while either reclining (supine, prone, and on the side) or sitting. Several of them closely resemble familiar yoga postures, such as Bridge, Locust, and Boat.

In preparing to do Murakami's programs, you should expect a lot of pelvic curls and sit-up-like movements, spine rolling, leg swinging, and simple backbends. Murakami, director of Synergy Systems Fitness in Southern California, is an excellent instructor. She has a good understanding of physical alignment and movement fundamentals, provides very detailed instructions, and is careful to caution us about unhealthy movements. Pilates work, much like Feldenkrais, seems like a perfect complement to yoga asanas.

The exercises are slow and repetitious, and allow you to thoroughly investigate and integrate a particular movement or body area or part. If you enjoy working deliberately and attentively, then I highly recommend these videos.