Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Put off by naff 'celebrity' workouts? Leonie Cooper, music lover and exercise-phobe, tries out two new fitness DVDs with a difference ...
Chaos, not your average yoga instructor.
Fitness videos, and latterly DVDs, have never been cool. "Lose Your Gargantuan Bum with the Genetically Blessed Cast of Hollyoaks" and suchlike make either terribly unkind or hilarious joke Christmas presents and that's about it. But not for long.
Touted as "the best workout this side of the mosh pit", two DVDs have just been released that wouldn't look out of place in an alternative record shop. They are Yoga for Indie Rockers and Pilates for Indie Rockers, presented by a certified yoga instructor with a difference. She goes by the name of Chaos, is based in California, and resembles a heavily tattooed and pierced Jean Harlow or, as the quote on the back of the DVDs says, "Jane Fonda on crack".
Despite their naff image, fitness videos have been popular since Fonda's first Workout was released a quarter of a century ago. It is said to have sold 17m - making it the biggest selling home video ever - and Fonda went on to make 23 more. The quality of celebrity instructors has since nose-dived, with the current line-up resembling a reality TV graveyard. Jade Goody's humiliating year kicked off with reports that her dropping two dress sizes was more likely down to a £4,500 liposuction procedure than the regime featured on her Shape Challenge DVD. Elsewhere you can hear the sound of the barrel being scraped by Carmen Electra, whose selection of titles, including the cringe-worthy Aerobic Striptease, seemingly aimed more at the lonely male market than anyone wanting to increase their fitness levels.
Chaos, meanwhile, has been teaching fitness classes to a rock'n'roll soundtrack - featuring artists such as Rage Against the Machine, Marilyn Manson and metal icon Rob Zombie - for six years. Having danced since the age of three, she began learning yoga when she decided to take it as a module at college, where she was studying anatomy. Her strident classes at The Joint Fitness, an alternative gym on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, feature the kind of yoga and Pilates demonstrated on the DVDs. She describes her unique brand of yoga as "a combination of all the years of yoga classes that I've taken, with some of my own variations on them." The classes attract a broad range of exercisers. "It's not just for punks and tattooed people. There are some really everyday office-job types who come down. I think it's a way for them to express themselves, and I like that." In typical LA fashion, Chaos also works as a bartender, a pre-school yoga teacher and dances in a troupe called the Pin Up Girls, for whom she designs and makes the costumes - a mix of "sparkles and skulls".
The yoga DVD sees Chaos, all eyeliner and red lipstick, wearing a leopardprint bra, ripped camouflage shirt and a Jack Daniels headband. Her body may be a temple, but she still likes to have fun: "I try to keep a balance; I think that's important in life. Though I work out, I still like to go out to bars and the punk clubs, but I eat well and take care of my fitness." She works through the exercises with three women who also look like they could have rolled up to class straight from a gig. Each represents either a beginner, intermediate or advanced student so viewers can choose who to follow. Their punk posturing makes a welcome change to Nell McAndrew's dreary bum wiggling.
Chaos's Indie Rocker series has me sufficiently intrigued to finally try a home workout. Despite the soundtrack, I find the yoga session calming and, dare I say it, fun. The beginners' workout challenges my novice self without feeling too much like hard work. The only problem is that most poses have you facing the floor, so you keep having to crane your neck to see what's on the screen, but perhaps this is a universal problem when exercising with a fitness DVD for the first time. However, aside from almost toppling over while attempting a backwards bend, I survive relatively unscathed.
The Pilates DVD, says Chaos, is "pretty traditional and basic". The only real innovation to the exercises is the incorporation of simple dance-based stretches at the beginning that she picked up from her ballet, tap and jazz training.
I had heard of Pilates, but that's about as far as my relationship with it went. Chaos serenely starts talking about "engaging" her abs, "strengthening her powerhouse" and demonstrates "fire breathing". I decide to draw the curtains in my front room. Essentially, the moves are a mix of core muscle control and spinal support techniques washed down with a variety of moves that see you lying on your back or stomach and swimming or cycling without water or a bike. Pilates is nothing if not difficult - muscles I didn't know I had start aching as I'm told to balance on my side with one straight arm holding up my entire body, before twisting and placing my other hand through the gap between my torso and the floor. The segments where you get to lie down are more than welcome, especially the relaxation and stretching session at the end.
There are three music channels with indie, pop and chart-friendly punk rock to choose from. Yoga also has an "electro" option while Pilates comes with a "heavy" category. Feminista punks Veruca Salt feature, as do pouting rockers The Icarus Line, speed- metallers The Dillinger Escape Plan and German techno rocker Alec Empire.
Pan Pipe Inspirations it ain't. "The music has got to be something that makes you really want to work out harder or pushes you," says Chaos, "so you can shut your mind off and let it take you away into your workout." Despite my music obsession though, I end up concentrating so hard on what I am doing that the songs blur into the background.
Yoga and Pilates purists regularly spit blood at what they see as novelty dilutions of their serious and spiritual exercise forms, but Chaos's theory is that by having imaginative music choices and likeable, less airbrushed-looking hosts, people who wouldn't normally consider exercising will start working out. "I know there are a lot of girls and guys out there who'll look at other fitness videos and think, 'I'm never gonna look like that,' or, 'I'm never gonna be like that,' or, 'that's just not my kind of thing'. Most videos can actually be discouraging, when fitness should be for everyone. Even rock'n'rollers."
Posted by Emily Carlson at 1:21 PM