Let's Yoga: We did!

I've always wanted to try yoga. I've bought mats and cubes and even a DVD, and once I went so far as to sign up for a class I never attended. There's just never been time, and these days, I have even fewer moments to spare for something that seemed so esoteric. However, when Konami first announced their yoga trainer for the DS, I got excited. Maybe this time I would be able to put some effort into it; after all, DS training is fun and mostly effective, right?

Then I had a baby, and everything changed. I despaired at ever having time to do anything again. Between juggling work and the tiny boy, as well as other hobbies and family obligations (and, hey, gaming), finding ten minutes a day to sleep is a challenge, much less ten minutes to focus on any sort of workout. But with the long-overdue release of Let's Yoga in the U.S., I was determined to try.

These days, I'm constantly tense and stiff. My shoulders seem built from endlessly twisted knots, and I have trouble sleeping even when I find the time due to the tension in my leg muscles. Parenting is serious business, y'all. But with that in mind, I figured that if Let's Yoga could work for me, it could work for anybody, so over the next several days, I'll be working through the preliminary lessons of Let's Yoga. Can the title fulfill its promise of a healthier and relaxed lifestyle? We'll find out!
At first glance, Let's Yoga doesn't seem like much. The graphics are a little blocky and the interface is very plain (though somewhat customizable), and the audio comes off as pretty flat in places. The interface is pretty easy to navigate, however, and in a training title, that's more important than the other qualities. Here, so long as the audio instructions are understandable -- and they are -- and the interface is navigable, the basics are covered. Yoga training doesn't have to be flashy.

Setting up Let's Yoga is simple. You can choose between a few models who will work through the poses with you, and select their outfits from mix-and-match pieces. There are even unlockable items, though why such a title needs unlockables is beyond me. Unlike most games, simply succeeding here seems a reward unto itself! Once you've informed the game of your name and gender, and chosen your model, you're ready to get started with the basic course: the Master's Lesson. There's also the option to go through a basic guide to yoga, which explains some of the principles of the practice, and includes a few tips for success. It's highly recommended you take the time to navigate these few screens. We'll save looking at the other modes for a later day.

Of course, before you get into the actual yoga, you need a workout space. I started out in my office, but quickly realized that between the cluttered wraparound desk and the playpen, the tiny leftover floor space wouldn't be enough. I recommend an area large enough for you to lie flat on your back with arms and legs extended in all directions. Test this by moving your arms and legs around as though creating a snow angel (protip: do this when no one is around, or they might just wonder if you've lost your damn mind). You also need both a low and high place to keep your DS, in case you need to move it closer while working through various poses. I recommend a mid-sized shelf or a chair with arms for higher poses, so that you have somewhere to put your handheld so that you can see both screens. For lower poses, of course, you can put it on the floor. Once you're set up, you're ready to begin the first lesson.

First up is the Naga Class, which comes complete with a short introduction from the yogi, who tells you he doesn't appreciate bear jokes. We, however, appreciate the lulz. After that, though, it's serious business with the three basic principles:
  • move slowly
  • breathe deeply
  • work at your own pace
These are repeated, and at the end of the lesson, you're asked if you were able to manage them. But that's getting ahead of the game.

Lesson one begins with the model sitting cross-legged with her palms folded upright at chest level, with her head down. I got into a sitting position of my own and hit the big "pause" button that was dominating the screen. This opened up a new screen, with a fully rotatable view of the model -- which would be very useful later when I needed to see exactly how she was positioned. Hitting "back" returned me to the lesson proper.

The first lesson, which was eight minutes long, consisted of some very simple poses. Instructions are given via the game's audio, and if you can see the screen (sometimes difficult if you are following the directions), the model slowly demonstrates what to do. Let's Yoga uses a visual breath meter to remind you to exercise those lungs, but if you can't see the screen, there's sometimes an audio indicator (but not always). The title does move slowly from one step to the next, and gives you plenty of time to follow principle three: working at your own pace.

But just because it's the first lesson doesn't mean it's easy! The first exercise was simple: sit down, rest one foot atop the thigh of the other extended leg, and rotate your ankle in first one direction, then the other. Repeat with the other side. This is yoga? Easy as proverbial pie! But from there, things got impossibly harder. The very second exercise asks you to bend fully double from a standing position, with your face pressed against your legs. Working at my own pace here translated to "getting as close as I could." Which, let me tell you, was embarrassingly not-close, and goes a long way toward explaining why this is not a video diary.

Corpse pose: morbid name, awesome feeling

The first lesson wasn't a failure, however, even if I couldn't quite bend and flex as required. By the time I worked through the last pose -- Shavasana, or corpse pose -- I felt pretty good and not at all tired. Of course, it was only eight minutes long, but you'd be surprised what can be required in eight minutes. My knees will be happy to tell you all about it.

Naga Class 1: Full activity list
  • basic sitting position
  • ankle rotation
  • basic standing position
  • foot to fingers forward bend (Padangusthasana)
  • triangle pose (Trikonsana)
  • tree pose (Vrkshasana)
  • corpse pose (Shavasana)
These first simple poses aren't just a gateway to yoga. It seemed clear they were designed to demonstrate the abilities of your body, which are probably different for everyone. For example, I had no trouble with balance in the tree pose (standing, with one foot pressed against the opposite inner thigh), but as above, had difficulty bending double and stretching fully (though I found triangle pose easier than the forward bend). For others, it might be the opposite. I'm convinced that my flexibility will improve. Isn't that part of the point? If the game can deliver on its training premise, I should be able to bend more in no time. Over the next few days, we'll find out.

The DS has a lot more to offer besides just traditional games, and we love to test the efficacy of training titles! Keep up with our yogathon as it happens, or for more features like this, check out our week with My French Coach.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.