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by Alice Bracegirdle
Review by Beth T. Cholette, Ph.D. on Mar 12th 2013
The Bellyfit system is a holistic fitness approach designed for women (their tagline is "moving women"). The Elements DVD set features instructor and choreographer Alice Bracegirdle. Each DVD in this set—Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Spirit—offers a combination of cardio dance (drawing on many different traditions, from bellydance to Bollywood), core work, and yoga-based stretching. Bracegirdle incorporates many Eastern elements into the routines, including meditations and mudras (hand gestures). As noted on the Bellyfit web site, the workouts are designed to be accessible to all levels and abilities: Bracegirdle has one of her two background exercisers performing modifications, and she encourages viewers to go at their own pace. However, in her "Safety Tips" (found on each disc), Bracegirdle states that these workouts are not intended for anyone with "serious" neck, back, hip, or knee problems. (She also suggests that the workouts not be done on carpet, but I had little issues with the Berber carpet in my own workout room.)
Each of the five DVDs follows the same basic format. Bracegirdle starts with about four minutes of centering, meditation, belly breathing, and lotus lifts (a.k.a. Kegels) and then moves into an extended warm-up (8 minutes). Following this, she teaches two separate cardio sequences of approximately six minutes each. Bracegirdle instructs the moves in an add-on style, starting with simple, familiar leg movements such as heel digs, grapevines, chasse, high knee lifts, and hamstring curls; she then adds some complexity with arm movements and mudras. In each cardio segment, the exercises are practiced in sequence, and after practicing the first and second cardio routines separately, Bracegirdle combines them together, running through the entire routine several times ("take it from the top"). This is followed by a "cardio recovery," which is the warm-up exercises performed in reverse order—what a great idea to use moves that the viewer has already learned! The standing work concludes with a brief isolation segment and an "earth shower" meditation.
For the last 20 minutes or so of each workout, Bracegirdle tells viewers to remove their shoes: she and her crew come to their mats (the only prop used) for core work and final stretch. With the exception of the Earth DVD (which was re-released with this set), Bracegirdle instructs all of these routines live, using voiceover for the opening meditations only. She does mirror cue, but she has her own names for the moves (e.g., "Honor the Sun," "Shoot the Buzzard," etc.), which I found a little confusing to follow at times. Finally, these DVDs are not chaptered on the Main Menu, although they do have rough chapter breaks at each section (i.e., the start of the cardio, the start of the core work, and the start of the stretch).
I have provided some more specific information on each of the individual DVDs below.
EARTH (62 minutes)
This routine starts with a focus on earth energy. The warm-up includes step-touch, torso twists, heel digs, and shimmies, while the cardio segments incorporate grapevine, hip pumps, bhangra bounce, plié hops, jungle walk (high knees), v-circles, squats with lotus mudra, hip shimmy, and step back. The isolation segment focuses on the root chakra and includes pelvic tilts, evolving into hip circles. The core work on the floor begins with cat/cow and features some Pilates-like movements such as half-rollbacks, a variation on the Pilates hundreds, and single leg stretches. The extended final stretch includes yoga postures such as reclined twist, bridge, double pigeon, seated twist, seated forward bend, and butterfly. Bracegirdle concludes this session with a final meditation and mudra.
WATER (64.5 minutes)
The opening meditation here focuses on the color orange. After gathering chi, the warm-up incorporates exercises such as hips moving in a Figure 8, chest circles, and heels to the front. For the cardio, Bracegirdle performs pliés with shakti rising, hip circles, hamstring curls, reverse lunge with twist, snake arms, squat with balance, chasse with twist, oblique crunch, and shimmy with shoulder roll. The isolation segment centers on the rib cage and concludes with an earth shower meditation. The core work begins with several plank moves and again incorporates some Pilates-type work (e.g., can-can, hip lifts, scissors). The stretch begins seated for butterfly, hamstring and quad stretches, mermaid, gentle seated twist, and cow seat, all performed on one side before being repeated on the other. Bracegirdle concludes with a short (2.5 minute) relaxation and a shakti mantra with final mudra.
FIRE (61.5 minutes)
Fire starts with a visualization of the color yellow and a focus on the solar plexus. The warm-up and the segments which follow are the most cardio-intensive of all the Elements. The opening contains hips with elbow thrusts, side lunge, chest thrust, and side-to-side step with push. For the cardio, Bracegirdle begins with "own your fire" lunges and moves into high knees, chasse, hip sways, walk the fire, triple step with knee, plié with archer, step forward, bob and weave with push and punch, and jenga with block and twisting prayer. Following the cardio recovery, the isolations center on the chest. For the core work, Bracegirdle starts with cat/cow and elbow plank work. Additional core moves include a partial roll back, chest rotations performed on the knees, and a variation on the Pilates hundred. The stretch also incorporates yoga postures: Bracegirdle starts with some easy backbends on the floor (sphinx, updog, and bow), moves through downward dog to warrior two, and concludes with a supine twist and reclined butterfly. Bracegirdle finishes with relaxation (about 2 minutes) and final neck stretches and mudras in a seated position.
AIR (63 minutes)
For this opening sequence, Bracegirdle suggests a meditation on the color green and a focus on the heart chakra. The warm-up moves start with a triple hip followed by a hip sit, side lunge with alternating shoulder raise, plié with snake arms, and step tap with arm swings. The cardio segments include push the sky, high knees, heel touch with Figure 8 arms, fast/slow hip shimmy, heart to sky, bhangra, clear the air (grapevine), pull up roots plié, celebrate plié, and kickbacks (hamstring curls). For the isolations, Bracegirdle focuses on the shoulders, performing shoulder shimmies and shoulder rolls. The core section was more yoga-focused: Bracegirdle starts with triceps "dips" (actually push-ups) and then performs several yoga postures (downward dog, standing forward bend, dancers pose, standing side stretch) before doing just a few core moves (c-sit with shoulder shimmies/shoulder roll and balance in butterfly). The yoga stretch continues with seated forward bend, eagle arms, reclined Figure 4 stretch, reclined twist, reclined butterfly, and a short (1.5 minute) relaxation. To finish, Bracegirdle comes to seated and performs two different mudras, one for negative emotions and one for love.
SPIRIT (60 minutes)
The opening meditation centers on the colors blue, violet, and pure white as well as the upper chakras, including the throat, third eye, and crown. The warm-up sequence includes hip sways, hip circles, single-single-double side step with chest pop, temple dancer, and undulations. The first cardio series begins with a squat and then moves into a step tap with a reach to the sky. Additional moves include goddess pliés, plié twists (releasing anger), Shiva inner thigh lifts, temple dancer chasse, and hip shimmy. The second cardio series features knee raise honoring earth and sky plus a heel dig with a push from the heart, dancing goddess, bhangra heel drop, three hips and a bow, seven hips and a turn, and Kundalini rising. The isolation segment is a practice of heart undulations. The core section starts with several standing balance moves, including warrior 3 pose, Shiva, and standing glute stretch; this is followed by temple dancer stretch for the IT band. Floor postures include full prostration, seated sage twist, side lying quad stretch, and a brief (1.5 minute) relaxation. Bracegirdle concludes with three different mudras, one for higher consciousness, one for trust, and the Bellyfit mudra for embodiment.
Overall, Bellyfit Elements provides a fun cardio experience that is likely to be accessible to most women who are already relatively healthy. The meditations and mudras add a calming, soothing aspect to the practice, providing additional stress-relieving benefits.
© 2013 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.