Real-life research reveals best Yoga apps and on-line classes

I’ve been practicing Yoga for more than nine years. More and more I carry off the mat the lessons learned there, especially now, as I immerse myself in research for my second novel, “Yoga for Smokers.” Some writers don’t like research. I’m joyously diving deep into the tarot, the tapping, the totems, the crystals, the herbs and especially Yoga as my uncommon guru and her rag-tag band of seekers come to life.

There are many kinds of Yoga. I used to endlessly debate what kind I should do. Thanks to the practical magic of YouTube, tablet apps and good ol’ broadcast TV the right kind of Yoga to do on any particular day comes to me, be it noisy Kundalini, Hatha flow or still, stretchy Yin. My level is intermediate but I always enjoy beginner-rated practices that allow me to reset both my ego and my alignment. Advanced classes offer growth opportunities to those willing to stop, watch and remember that yoga is not about competition.

One of the most wonderful benefits of Yoga for me is approaching each practice with a playful mind, honoring how I’m feeling mentally and physically that day. My body is paying for the disrespect I showed it on the gymnastics mat and in the unpadded, no-spotter days of cheerleading stunts. In my second century of life it’s all about being grateful for my body and using it thoughtfully and ergonomically, knowing when to push to the edge while avoiding new injuries or awakening old hurts. Proper alignment of bones, ligaments and muscles is important at any age or skill level.

While I like sweat-inducing power flows as well as restorative classes, the elements of any yoga class for me must link mind, body and spirit. The practices I choose must also directly connect breath and movement. I want instruction that reminds me to breathe, for this is the very foundation of Yoga. I also prefer a practice that sets an intention – of peace, or grace or maybe a focus on healing a specific person or situation – that helps set the tone for what Yogi Seane Corn calls “body prayer” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWfzDVT5Tmo) and is something positive to flavor the rest of my day or evening. Pace is also important. I want enough time to fully explore poses, or asanas, and to flow safely without feeling rushed. And just as in a live class, the personality and qualifications of the instructor are important.

The best Yoga apps and video classes provide ongoing verbal cues. Classes that are read-only interrupt the flow. Never twist your head or crane your neck trying to read the screen or see what the teacher is doing. Use the pause button to review and realign.

Checking user reviews and ratings will steer you in the right direction. Also check to see if the app is offered in your language of choice. Some advertise in English but are in another language or no language at all.

To avoid disappointment and find classes that resonate with you, try the free app before you upgrade to paid sessions.

Free Apps

Simply Yoga
This bland-yet-rudimentary practice in a beige-carpeted apartment suffers from a robotic voice-over, although the background ocean soundtrack is conducive to syncing breath to movement. Free 20- and 40-minute practices are the same; the longer version just tacks on more sun salutations. If you can summon your own enthusiasm this app is OK, coming in handy for no-wifi zones when you need to decompress.

Yoga With Les
Les is cool and fun and so is his 30-minute intermediate vinyasa practice. It’s a creative break that offers some advanced moves in a fresh and forgiving routine that allows you to sweat as much as you want while remembering that falling can be fun and child’s pose is your best friend. I’ll buy more classes in the future. The routine is still entertaining and engaging after using it several times; a big plus when you don’t have time to hunt for fresh classes.

Yoga+Travel
Allison English, a good and gentle teacher in the Forrest school of Yoga discipline, provides clear, calm and easy-to-follow instructions that help you unravel tension specifically in the hips, upper back, shoulders and neck. The still photos feel stilted at first, but thanks to her flowing voice you soon sink into the rhythm of this all-levels practice aimed at inviting the body to relax through breath and movement. This is a go-to app for any busy traveler. Other classes are available for a fee which I haven’t invested in because English also has a terrific home-yoga series on YouTube.

Pete G Yoga
Pete G’s Post Training Yoga Class offers a replenishing 21-minute beachside stretch (since much of the time you won’t be looking at the screen it is always a pleasure to hear the waves). You can buy beginner and intermediate level but quite frankly since Pete chose to give me the least he has to offer he’s not first on my list when it comes to investing in a for-fee app. Very specific, calm alignment instructions along with a bit of gentle humor, “Exploring your ecstatic, joyful baby, keeping away from your belligerent, tantrumy baby.”

Yoga 101, 201 and 301
Downloaded separately, these are three of the best free Yoga apps, offering a full spectrum of quality classes that relax and invigorate.

Yoga Face
Silly, easy and the practitioners of this wrinkle-smoothing face workout swear that Forehead Pushups work. I’m inclined to believe them, given that some eye doctors recommend orb exercises to correct vision issues and keep baggy eyelids at bay. Several exercises are offered for free, including Worry Line Reducer and Crow Be Gone, enticing you to invest in Neck Smoother, Jaw Firmer and other toning moves.

Download Don’ts
Beware Yoga for Back Pain Relief; its disjointed flow isn’t safe, enjoyable or worthy of your time. Narrated by a creepy Wii-esque Android Yogini, the lunacy begins by ordering practitioners into full Camel Pose for the very first move. You should never do this extreme back bend without warming up.

Don’t bother to install the iYoga+ app unless you’re planning to buy the 99-cent classes, which I’m not since there’s no preview and I’m not one to buy a pig in a poke, even if it’s a bargain-priced pig. I’ve heard good things about this app but without a demo it remains in the “nay” column.

xFit Yoga is a series of soulless, boring diagrams, kind of like those gym mats that feature static diagrams of stomach crunches and leg lifts. It imparts none of the beauty, soul or flow of Yoga. A beginner following along might very well wonder what all the hoopla is about.

YogaTunes was deleted from my table as soon as I finish gathering details for this report. It’s basically two free, pleasant, bland, generic instrumentals. The remainder of the musical selections you can use to compose your own Yoga and meditation tunes are locked until you buy the full app. This program might be fun for a fledgling composer to play with, choosing and customizing different songs that evoke different moods. Not my thing; give me Snatum Kaur anytime. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1XCS0g6J4A

The 5 Tibetans This weird app is a real dog, which made me sad because I’m fascinated by the Five Tibetan Rites, a series of time-honored strengthening and balancing moves said to provide life-enhancement and eternal youth. I jumped on this freebie as soon as I saw it, happy to carry an easy-access reference around with me to save wear-and-tear on the old Rites book I found at a Key West nautical sale (of all places). The five moves are very energetic and require a lot of discipline, so I need someone to make me stick with them. This provides no motivation, just a quick shot of each move with vague instructions such as “after some repetitions.” Also, while I’m no expert I don’t believe the third rite is done correctly. The screen goes from horizontal to introduce the move then to vertical to practice it – so not Zen.

Sun Salute: A waste of space of no intrinsic value whatsoever. You can get more dynamic, accurate and fun-to-use-and-follow full, partial and instructional tutorials for Suryama A, B and variations on YouTube or Vimeo. Here’s a tutorial from Yoga Journal, another wonderful source for locating effective ways to carry on with a portable, flexible practice you can do wherever you go:
http://www.yogajournal.com/video/269

Got a free Yoga app that works for you? What’s the best paid Yoga app you’ve invested in? Please share so we may all be enlightened!
NAMASTE!

Next time: The Best Yoga Classes free online

Freelance writer and editor Cyndi Perkins has been practicing Yoga for nearly a decade, tracing her appreciation for its physical, mental and spiritual gifts back to childhood, when her mother was a Hatha Yoga instructor. Opinions expressed by the author are solely that: individual opinion not necessarily reflecting that of any other site or individual. Fellow Pinterest fans should feel free to follow Cyndi’s “Living Yoga” board on Pinterest.

Getting your heart over your head and some blood to the brain sparks the creative flow.

Getting your heart over your head and some blood to the brain sparks the creative flow.

Leading free yoga practices every Saturday at my local marina  allows me to imagine a merry cast of characters for my novel in progress because usually it's just Siddhartha (aka Buddha), me and the apple tree meditating for humankind.

Leading free yoga practices every Saturday at my local marina allows me to imagine a merry cast of characters for my novel in progress because usually it’s just Siddhartha (aka Buddha), me and the apple tree meditating for humankind.

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