Gaiam; VHS; 32 minutes.
The pilates method is based on the idea that all the body's movements are initiated from the "powerhouse," a band of muscles around the midbody including the abdomen, lower back, pelvic floor, and buttocks. Consequently, in order to cultivate and sustain healthy movement and posture--and to trim and firm the belly and buttocks--we need to focus a regular stretching and strengthening program on the powerhouse. This 30-minute program is divided into three sections: a short introduction to lower body alignment, the powerhouse, and proper breathing; the mat exercises, which comprise the bulk of the video; and a short concluding application of the mat work to a standing position.
There are more than 20 exercises in this session, lasting more than 25 minutes total. They're performed either supine, side-lying, or prone (there's also one all-fours exercise) and involve, as you might expect from the importance placed on the powerhouse, lots of leg stretches, kicks, scissors, and circles; hip stretches; and abdominal contractions. These are for the most part basic Pilates exercises that will be accessible to most students, with none of the exquisite begging-for-mercy torments that are often found on more advanced Pilates videos. In fact, there are two models, one of whom demonstrates fairly easy versions of most of the exercises.
Hessel is a competent teacher who provides specific physical instructions (she's also an excellent model) and emphasizes breath awareness and good alignment. She also provides sensible cautions for the more delicate areas of the body, like the neck. I'm still a little wary of some typical Pilates instructions, like the indiscriminate squeezing of the buttock muscles and the pelvic floor, which tends to harden the groins and compress the lower back if overdone. And I don't understand why the psoas isn't mentioned as a key powerhouse muscle, since it integrates the spine, pelvis, and legs. Still, this is a well-done presentation that can be used either as a stand-alone exercise program for the lower body or as a complement to a yoga practice.
Richard Rosen, who teaches in Oakland and Berkeley, California, has been writing for Yoga Journal since the 1970s.