Rox Does Yoga

Musings on Everything Yoga

Books: Happiness, by Mathieu Ricard March 15, 2012

As a book on meditation, Mathieu Ricard’s Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill is the best of both worlds, presenting both a spiritual and a scientific perspective. Ricard left a promising career in biology and genetics to become a Buddhist monk, so he uniquely understands both perspectives and is fascinated by the scientific study of the brain and how meditation affects, on a biological level, the way we think. Happiness is at once a guide to how meditation can improve our lives and help us to become happier and a thorough description of why it works, written in language accessible to any reader.

In the first few chapters, Ricard opens the book with discussion of happiness in general: is happiness the purpose of life? What does it mean to be happy, and how do we recognize happiness when we have it? Can we actively cultivate happiness in our lives? Concluding that happiness is possible and that cultivating it is worthwhile, Ricard then considers the problem of suffering. How can we be happy when we suffer; further, how can compassionate beings be truly happy when faced with the suffering of others? Ricard tackles this question, presenting stories of those who have suffered true hardship and examining the root causes of suffering. While we cannot control the events that happen to us, we can always control our responses to those events, and here is the real key to being happy under any circumstance. Over several chapters, Ricard discusses how we can use meditation in order to overcome ego, negative thoughts, and disturbing emotions, the obstacles within ourselves that prevent us from being happy no matter what occurs.

Ricard speaks from his own and his teachers’ experience that when we can lessen the influence of the ego and negative thoughts and emotions, we feel more freedom and happiness in our lives. He then goes on to discuss happiness from the perspective of sociology, psychology, and psychiatry, citing laboratory studies of experienced meditators whose brains have been shown to function differently than ordinary people’s brains. Meditation over long periods literally changes brain chemistry, leading to great benefits in quality of life. Ricard as both a scientist and a talented writer, in these chapters and throughout the book, is able to describe a variety of scientific studies and their results in terms a layman can understand and appreciate.

In the later chapters, Ricard examines positive attributes like altruism, humility, and optimism, and describes how cultivating these attitudes can help us to be happier. He cites evidence that those who are kind, humble, and optimistic tend to be happier than those who are not. By modifying our behavior to act more altruistically in daily life, or by being aware of pessimistic thought patterns as they arise, we can begin to make progress toward increasing happiness.

In the book’s final chapters, Ricard addresses several difficult issues: appreciating versus wasting time, ethics and the dichotomy of good and evil, and how to be happy in the presence of death. Ricard’s wisdom truly shines in these chapters; his advice is inspirational, practical and uplifting. The concluding chapter rounds out the book by describing the challenges and great rewards of following a spiritual path. Ricard promises that with regular practice and dedication, we can each not only live happier lives but become kinder, wiser, and more compassionate. Developing these qualities can lead us, as it led Ricard, to a life of great meaning, freedom, and joy.

 

books: The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche December 20, 2011

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness is an excellent and informative book and a good practical manual for meditation. A wide variety of meditation techniques are discussed, in language that makes them accessible to even the most un-Buddhist of readers. Mingyur (Rinpoche is an honorific given to respected teachers) is a kind and encouraging teacher; his writing style is very natural and conversational, helping you feel as if he’s right there beside you to help along the way.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part One: The Ground begins by describing Mingyur’s early life and training in meditation and his journey toward overcoming anxiety. He’s an engaging storyteller, and it’s comforting to hear that even a monk who grew up meditating from childhood can still struggle with his mind. This section also discusses the connection between the ancient Buddhist practices of meditation and modern advances in neuroscience, physics, and biology. Raised in isolated monasteries, Mingyur is fascinated with Western science and has worked with many scientists to learn about the brain’s workings and the structure of the universe and compare them with the Buddhist understanding of the mind and reality. While interesting, this area was not as strong as other sections – these discussions could have benefited from a scientist coauthor to help refine and make specific Mingyur’s comparisons. However, Mingyur does make a good case for meditation as valuable and needed in the West, and his ideas here are well worth reading.

In Part Two: The Path and Part Three: The Fruit, Mingyur is at his best, carefully walking the reader through the basics of meditation. He provides a firm foundation for beginners, with examples from his own history as guidance. Beyond the basics, he details a variety of different meditation techniques that will appeal to new and experienced students alike. He asserts that it is the intention to meditate that is most important, not the actual time spent on it or whether your mind wanders off in the middle. Mingyur strives to make meditation available to everyone.

I began reading this book back in February 2011 and just finished it this month, but the long reading time is due to my own crazy schedule this year, not any failing of Mingyur’s. I’ve actually posted about this book on several other occasions because as I read I found his words so encouraging and insightful. I highly recommend this book to anyone hoping to begin or deepen a meditation practice.

 

Books: Karma-Yoga, by Swami Vivekananda December 8, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:15 pm
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Swami Vivekananda lived from 1863 to 1902 and is best known for his address at the Parliament of Religions in 1893, which helped to bring Hinduism to the modern world as a major religion. Vivekananda wrote a number of books, some of which are based on his lectures, and Karma-Yoga is one of these. Karma-Yoga has been reprinted many times over the past hundred years; the copy that I read,  borrowed from a college library, is a tiny little book, maybe 4″ x 5″, and only 143 pages. Because the book was published so long ago, you can read the whole thing online, so feel free to check it out! If you’re interested in the topic, this book is well worth the time.

In this book, Vivekananda expands on the concept of Karma yoga as set out in the Bhagavad Gita. Vivekananda covers a variety of topics related to karma, including work, action, character, motivation, morality, duty, and non-attachment. While Vivekananda’s explication of Karma yoga really moved me and helped me to understand how the path of Karma yoga can work in my life, I’ll try to keep this post focused on what Vivekananda writes, and I’ll follow up with another post on my personal response to the text.

Vivekananda begins by providing an introduction to the concept of Karma and work. For Vivekananda, a person’s character reflects that person’s will, which is shown through their work. He states,

Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man. Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness, but he alone is the really great man whose character is great always, the same wherever he be (5).

Karma, or work/action, is the means by which we each build our character. Our actions, our work, build us into who we become: doing good works reinforces good character, and constantly doing evil work builds a bad character. Therefore it’s possible for someone to change his character through his actions.

Vivekananda also discusses the motive for work: one shouldn’t work for money or fame or even the results of our work, but simply for the work’s sake. Removing selfish motives from our work builds self-control and character. He describes how the ideal person can find balance between a quiet, solitary spiritual practice and life in the world. Such a person can be in the middle of the densest city traffic and his mind will be as if he’s in a cave by himself; whether in a city or a cave, he’s intensely working at all times.

Vivekananda describes how the concept of morality and duty varies greatly depending on the country or culture: what’s considered right and moral in one country can be thought wrong and evil in another. Vivekananda argues that for this reason there can’t be a universal morality or sense of duty, but that each person must act according to what is deemed right and good in his or her own culture. Vivekananda recommends that we try to view each person’s actions through their own eyes rather than judging that person by our own standards of duty, especially when meeting people from another culture. If we view them by our standards, we may think they are acting wrongly or strangely, but if we try to understand their actions in the context of that person’s culture, we may see that the person’s actions are right and good to him. Every person should work to accomplish his own ideal, according to his own skills and abilities; if you take up someone else’s ideals, you can never hope to make progress. He then explains that one person’s duty isn’t higher or lower than another person’s; even working at hard physical labor can count towards spiritual progress if it’s approached with the right attitude.

Vivekananda also discusses the idea of non-attachment. Each person must constantly work, because it’s in our nature as human beings, but the only way to truly make our work count is to be unattached to the results of the work. Vivekananda compellingly describes how attachments affect the mind as well as how non-attachment relates to love, self-sacrifice, and charity, and how all of these come together: being able to love perfectly, without attachment, we are able to give freely of ourselves to others without worrying about how it will affect us. Vivekananda uses the powerful image of the grumbling worker: if you’re grumbling and complaining about your work, that means you’re attached to it; all your duties will seem distasteful and you’ll never be satisfied. However, if you’re able to do the work for the work’s sake, without attachment, you’ll find satisfaction and freedom.

Vivekananda states that no action can ever be completely good or completely bad: even the most kindly meant action can have negative consequences, and even the foulest evil act can result in some good. Because Karma results from every action, there’s no way to attain perfection simply by doing good works, because each good work will also have some negative effect. This is where non-attachment comes in: you continue to work and strive to do good, but free yourself from attachment to the results of the action. You set yourself aside, removing all selfish wish for praise or reward, and do your duty because it’s right to do your duty.

At the end of the book, Swami Vivekananda sums up his views on Karma yoga:

Karma-Yoga, therefore, is a system of ethics and religion intended to attain freedom through unselfishness and by good works. The Karma-Yogi need not believe in any doctrine whatever. He may not believe even in God…. He has got his own special aim of realising selflessness; and he has to work it out himself. Every moment of his life must be realisation, because he has to solve by mere work, without the help of doctrine or theory, the very same problem to which the Jnani applies his reason and inspiration and the Bhakta his love (131-2).

 

Books: The Upanishads, translated by Eknath Easwaran December 1, 2011

Filed under: books,upanishads,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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The Upanishads, translated by Eknath EaswaranThe Upanishads are a group of ancient wisdom texts. Each individual upanishad is named for the sage who delivered its teaching, long ago; each one describes in flashes of insight how to explore your own consciousness, how to come closer to the Divine. Some of the upanishads take the form of a story: a student (or a wife, or even a king) implores a great sage (or even Death itself) to share holy secrets. Most of the upanishads rely on classic natural images – birds, trees, water – that make the metaphors timeless and appealing even thousands of years after they were written.

It’s impossible to write an unbiased book review of a cherished spiritual text  – how could I possibly critique the writing style or the structure of a book like this? So this review will be a little more personal. I loved The Upanishads. They called out to me in a way other spiritual books, including the Bible, just haven’t. I expect to keep The Upanishads by my bed, read them again and again, consult different translations, flip through seeking guidance. It can be a difficult book, and I don’t ever expect to understand it fully, but I loved it.

While the text itself is beyond critique, the translation and the version I can comment on. I really like Eknath Easwaran’s translations (I also read his version of the Bhagavad Gita). Easwaran is well-versed in Sanskrit and in Hindu spirituality, and before becoming a spiritual teacher was an English professor, so he has all the tools to create both a beautiful and accurate rendition. Easwaran also writes the introduction, which I found helpful for putting The Upanishads in their historical context and setting the stage for the sort of text I was about to read (since when I started I really had no idea what I was getting into). This volume also includes a brief 2-3 page introduction before each upanishad, written by Michael Nagler. These I also found informative, and it was helpful to look as I read for the points that Nagler had called out as being important, but I think I would have preferred to read the upanishad first and then read Nagler’s summary of it. Nagler also writes a lengthy afterword, which I did not find very useful. The end matter includes a glossary and a section of notes, which I didn’t realize were there as I was reading the upanishads, and I think I’m glad I didn’t know they were there – I’m the sort of person who will flip back and forth consulting the notes, and I’m glad I was able simply to experience the upanishads on this first read rather than analyzing them academically. There will be plenty of time to look at the notes and read other translations. The glossary might have been helpful a few times, though, and I imagine it would be very useful to someone who hasn’t spent the past ten months up to her ears in yoga philosophy.

Overall, I would say that if you’re new to Hindu spirituality, I wouldn’t recommend starting with The Upanishads – the Bhagavad Gita is a much more accessible book for most people. For me, though, The Upanishads was more inviting, more enthralling than the Gita, and more accessible too. The first time I read the Gita I walked away thinking that it was nice and all but nothing great, and I needed the lectures and discussion of my yoga teacher training course to put the Gita’s systems in context and help me understand what I was reading. With The Upanishads, I felt like I could really hear the sages speaking directly to me: faraway, murky, blurred voices, sure, but I could hear it. I look forward to listening again and again.

 

Books: Yoga Anatomy, by Leslie Kaminoff November 22, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:36 pm
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Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy is a fantastic reference and guide to the way the body moves during yoga. The drawings are incredibly detailed and really help to increase understanding of how each pose works. The introductory sections on breathing and the spine are clearly written and really helpful for comprehending how breathing functions and how the spine develops and moves. The remainder of the book is organized by categories of postures: standing, sitting, kneeling, supine, prone, and arm support poses. Each pose gets detailed coverage with at least one drawing, often two or more showing the pose from different angles. For each pose, the text describes relevant joint actions and structures and muscles that are working, lengthening, or stretching, and provides any notes on or significant obstacles to practicing the pose as well as notes on breathing. Common variations on certain key poses are described in detail as well.

I started out trying to read this book from start to finish, which was fine in the early chapters on breath and spine, but less fine when I got into the specific postures. Eventually I began to use the book more as it was intended, as an on-the-spot reference guide. The biggest problem I’ve had with the book is that of vocabulary: I’m just not familiar enough with the names of bodily structures to be able to follow along with some of the text. For example, the text will often go into detail describing how a muscle is stretching, but the drawing won’t have those structures labeled. I have a very vague sense that the obturator externus is somewhere in my leg, but telling me that it’s lengthening in a seated wide-leg forward fold doesn’t help me identify it. I wouldn’t expect the drawing for each pose to have every single active muscle labeled, since that could easily become overwhelming, but I could have really benefited from a chart somewhere with all muscles labeled that I could flip to for quick reference. I also had trouble keeping straight exactly what sort of action is occurring with words like “flexion” and “extension”, particularly because one part of the body can be flexed while another is extended, and if you add to this my anatomic vocabulary confusion, I have no idea what’s going on. Sometimes I would have to perform the pose while I read so I could literally feel what the author was talking about, and that did help. In general, though, the descriptions really lost something for me, which is a shame because the book is very thorough and detailed and I could have really gotten a lot out of it if there had been more help included for less scientific minds. Overall, this is an excellent reference, but I’m going to be looking for another anatomy book to accompany it on my reference shelf.

 

Books: Sexy Yoga: 40 Poses for Mind-Blowing Sex & Greater Intimacy, by Ellen Barrett October 6, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:31 pm
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Sexy Yoga, by Ellen BarrettIn this book, Ellen Barrett uses yoga to help couples access the poses of the Kama Sutra. Both yoga and the Kama Sutra originated in ancient India, and Barrett relates each to the other to show how, with yoga practice, the difficult sexual poses of the Kama Sutra can be achievable (and pleasurable!). The book contains over 100 black and white photographs, illustrating both the yoga asanas and the Kama Sutra poses.

Barrett begins the book with an introduction describing the origins of both yoga and the Kama Sutra and how they relate. She covers yoga breathing, the chakras, and auras. The second section, “Glowing Solo”, is a guide to the yoga poses Barrett feels will be most helpful in opening the body for enhanced sexual pleasure. For each pose, Barrett provides instructions on how to get into the pose, how long to stay there, the benefits of the pose, ways to modify it, a meditation to consider while practicing the pose, and a photograph of what the pose looks like.

In the third section, “Divine Duets”, Barrett provides a guide to yoga asanas for couples – using yoga poses to mimic their counterparts from the Kama Sutra to give couples a workout and a good stretch before heading to the bedroom in section 4, “Sacred Sex”. In this last section, the models in the photographs take off their clothes to demonstrate the Kama Sutra poses hands-on.

Sexy Yoga would be a great book to keep in the bedroom for quick reference or inspiration at bedtime. However, with its large photographs, Sexy Yoga is not a book you can read on the train. Even throughout the introduction, photographs of bare nipples and buttocks abound – great for a bedroom guide but not for reading in a public place. Overall it’s not the sort of book that people will use by reading it cover to cover; readers will likely want to flip through looking at the photos to get ideas, only reading more deeply when something catches the eye.

Where Better Sex Through Yoga is in essence a yoga book with sex in it, Sexy Yoga is ultimately a Kama Sutra sex manual with some yoga in it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The combination of yoga and the Kama Sutra does make sense: for example, a man doing camel pose and a woman doing cow tilt combine to create the Kama Sutra’s congress of the cow. By practicing yoga asanas, one can build the strength and flexibility to be better able to utilize the Kama Sutra pose and get more enjoyment out of it in the bedroom. However, readers should note that this book is by no means a complete guide to yoga, as Barrett really only gives coverage of 20 solo yoga asanas, and recommends that the asanas be practiced in the order she presents them. Better Sex Through Yoga gives a wider variety both of poses and of routines/sequences. However, the poses discussed in Sexy Yoga are covered thoroughly and well, including modifications for those with physical limitations. This feature makes the book more accessible than BSTY, which generally assumes its reader to be physically fit. Barrett’s sections on pose benefits are more in-depth than those in BSTY, and the meditations for each pose are a nice touch. Barrett does give attention to the spiritual and emotional aspects of yoga, and acknowledges the Kama Sutra as a sacred text.

One downside of Sexy Yoga is the fact that the author seems to scrimp on some of the yogic content, leading to inaccuracies. For example, Barrett describes hatha yoga as having three parts: asana, pranayama, and pratyahara, which she mistranslates as “meditation”. It wouldn’t have taken too much more effort to list the eight parts of classical hatha yoga correctly and then say that she’d focus on three of them. Also, Barrett conflates several pranayama techniques together into one, which she calls ujjayi breathing. I just don’t see a need for presenting this material inaccurately. In BSTY, the authors leave a lot out, but the material they do present is given accurately and correctly. Still, while Barrett’s omissions may annoy experienced yoga practitioners, they won’t hurt a beginner.

On the whole, Barrett’s Sexy Yoga is a fun and frisky guide for couples who want to bring some Kama Sutra adventure and yoga strength and flexibility to the bedroom.

 

Books: Better Sex Through Yoga, by Jacquie Noelle Greaux with Jennifer Langheld September 26, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Better Sex Through Yoga, by Jacquie Noelle GreauxIn Better Sex Through Yoga, Jacquie Noelle Greaux and Jennifer Langheld discuss in detail how yoga can make your sex life better by boosting your sex drive and enhancing physical pleasure. For those who already practice yoga, this concept is a no-brainer: yoga makes you physically stronger and more flexible, it improves your stamina and muscle control, gives you more energy, and helps you develop a thorough knowledge of how your own body works, all of which can lead to improved physical performance in the bedroom. Further, yoga practice often leads to increased self-confidence and a more open and compassionate heart, and yoga is proven to relieve stress, so practicing yoga can help with the emotional and spiritual side of sex as well.

In the first few chapters, Greaux and Langheld discuss all of these benefits, going into detail about why both yoga and sex are good for you and how practicing one can benefit the other. In chapter 3, they embark on a yoga primer for those who’ve never practiced it before, including coverage of yoga breathing and the chakras.

The bulk of the book is in chapter 4, which offers a detailed breakdown of each pose Greaux and Langheld use in the Better Sex Through Yoga program. There’s a brief description of each pose, detailed instructions on how to perform the pose, notes on which chakras benefit, which areas of the body are worked, and which sexual positions work the same muscles, followed by a “hot tip” for improving your posture in the pose and/or your sexual use of the pose. In addition to yoga poses, Greaux and Langheld also pull from pilates and dance moves to provide a full body workout. Duo-assisted poses are offered, as well as poses you can do at your desk at work. There are photographs of each and every pose, often demonstrating step by step how to accomplish the pose.

In chapters 5 and 6, the individual poses are pulled together into a series of routines. There are three core routines and eight quickie routines, which offers the reader some flexibility in her yoga practice depending on how much time she has available. The routines vary widely, and there are routines specially designed for being stuck in a chair at the office, calming down after a stressful day, or stretching out quickly before joining a partner in the bedroom. Chapter 7 ties it all together by giving a list of sexual positions, with an illustration and a description for each telling how your yoga practice will deepen your sexual satisfaction.

I have some conflicted feelings about this book, so I’ll get the negative stuff out of the way first. Greaux and Langheld obviously have a target audience in mind: straight women (lesbians could certainly use this book to improve their sex lives too, but they’re clearly not the target audience), women who probably work in offices, and who are already in fairly good physical shape and are already physically active. I think this book would be difficult to use for someone who was overweight or someone limited in their flexibility. That’s not to say that yoga wouldn’t help those people, or that those people can’t have hot sex, just that the book seems geared toward women who resemble Greaux herself, as Greaux models all the poses (there’s a male model as well, credited in the back of the book as the “Living Male Work of Art” – he’s good at yoga poses but I’d almost rather see him on a naughty birthday card). You can see Greaux on the book’s cover, doing a split. Photographs of less flexible people might have been more helpful for those who are true yoga beginners.

The routines are definitely intended to be vinyasa style: each routine includes a lot of poses, with instructions that you should work up to practicing for 30-45 minutes. They expect you to move fast through these routines, and that’s not necessarily what beginners can or should do, unless they’re already very used to exercise. From my perspective as a yoga teacher, I didn’t appreciate how the routines would bounce you up and down: you do some standing poses, then some seated poses, then you stand up again, then you get back down to the floor. That sort of thing is more difficult for beginners or those with limited mobility, and it’s also contrary to my understanding of the purpose of practicing yoga (but then again, practicing yoga to prepare the mind and body for meditation is different from practicing yoga to prepare the body for hot sex, so really there is a different purpose here). Finally, the writing style is really sensationalist – I think they must have had a rule in place to make sure they used the word “sexy” at least twice per page. That’s the sort of thing that drives me nuts.

But, all that aside, the content here is really very good. The section on poses is great because it’s quite thorough and it does tell you exactly what part of the body you’re working in each pose and how that helps you in bed. The authors don’t shy away from detail. In some cases the authors have altered the traditional pose, but it’s clear to me (as a yoga teacher, anyway) why they’ve done it and what the sexual benefit of doing the pose a different way would be. They’ve incorporated moves from pilates and dance, but the ones I’ve tried so far are easy and clearly have some bedroom benefits. The routines get you up and down and up and down, but they’re otherwise well structured to be full body workouts. Finally, the “sexy secretary” sections, which modify poses so they can be done from a desk chair, are brilliant. I’ll be photocopying these and surreptitiously doing them at the office.

The sexysexy language, while troubling, is the maple syrup on the vegetables: the real message here is the idea that yoga isn’t just good for your sex life, it’s good for you as a person. The authors don’t leave out the emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits of doing yoga. In fact, when they list the reasons why yoga improves your sex life, the very first thing on the list is compassion, the ability to love and be loved. The language used sounds shallow, but the core message is not, and I really think the authors want to reach a wide range of readers and improve their lives. I liked the book a lot and would recommend it to anyone with a working knowledge of yoga who can take the sexysexy talk with a grain of salt and move on to the practical stuff.

 

Books: Bhagavad Gita September 9, 2011

Filed under: bhagavad gita,books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:06 pm
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The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath EaswaranThe Bhagavad Gita is one of India’s best known scriptures. It tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior on the eve of battle who has lost heart and become uncertain as to his duty. Arjuna turns to his spiritual guide, Krishna, for answers to all the key questions of life, questions about wisdom and service and spirituality. The battle that Arjuna is about to fight is the perfect metaphor for life and the interior battle we all fight to live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. The Gita, in essence, is a manual for how to live.

For my yoga teacher training, we were asked to read a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. On the back cover, Easwaran’s version is described as “reliable” and “readable”, and this is definitely true. Easwaran opens the book with an introduction to the Gita, setting the scene, and then each chapter of the Gita opens with a brief introduction that explicates the content of that chapter. This makes the story easy to follow, and really helps in understanding the context of Arjuna’s and Krishna’s conversation. The endmatter of the book includes a section of notes (typically, helpful insights on issues of translation), as well as a glossary of Sanskrit terms and an index. Easwaran’s version really focuses on making the Gita accessible for the reader, so this version is a great place to start if you’re reading the Gita for the first time.

I had read the Bhagavad Gita previously, in Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Mitchell is known as a translator of ancient poetry – he’s done the epic of Gilgamesh and the Tao Te Ching, among others. The great thing about Mitchell’s work is that he finds a way to take this ancient poetry written in another language and capture not just the meaning but the beauty of the language. Easwaran’s translation of the Gita is verse, but Mitchell’s translation is poetry. The last time I read it, I was looking mostly at the poetry; I decided to read it again, and this time, it was really enjoyable to read the book in a different context, looking more at the content, the instructions for how to live. Definitely got more out of it this time.

When we were assigned to read the Bhagavad Gita for class, I chose to read both versions back to back. I didn’t try to do a line-by-line comparison (that would defeat the purpose of reading it at all, really). Instead, I re-read the Mitchell translation, and then read the Easwaran translation, in the hope that reading both versions would deepen my understanding. I think it did, but I also felt a little burnt out by the time I got to the end of the Easwaran version. I definitely want to reread both versions again, but next time I’ll space them out more.

 

Books: The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras, by Nischala Joy Devi September 7, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 4:13 pm
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The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga SutrasNischala Joy Devi’s interpretation of the yoga sutras offers a different take from most traditional translations. Devi set out to write a book that explicates the yoga sutras from a heart-centered, more “feminine” perspective. She realized that most of the existing translations of the sutras were written by men, and she noticed many of her female students commenting that the sutras didn’t seem to relate to them. Devi set out to complete a more accessible text for women. She sought for her book to embrace both thoughts and feelings (rather than separating thoughts from feelings, which is often done in Western culture). She generally uses the terms “consciousness” and “heart” where the customary translation would read “mind” and “thoughts”.

Overall, I think Devi’s technique was effective.The first time I read the sutras was in this translation, and it was difficult for me; I’m not sure how I would have fared with a more traditional translation. At least with Devi’s version I felt as if the book was intended for ME.  For the most part, Devi uses real life examples that made sense in relation to how to practice the sutras in a real woman’s busy life.

On this reread, I was also simultaneously reading Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of the sutras; Satchidananda was Devi’s spiritual teacher, so it was very interesting to see where the two of them interpret the sutras differently and where they have a similar approach. In many instances, Satchidananda and Devi say much the same thing, but Devi couches her language in ways that feel more familiar and welcoming for a modern woman. Part of me wants to call this “the sutras – lite”, but it’s not light at all, it’s just a different take that… well, doesn’t feel quite so difficult, even though it’s the same material.

One thing I would have really liked in this book is a glossary; Devi naturally uses a lot of Sanskrit terms. The first time I read the book, it took me several months to complete it, and reading it over such a long period of time, I definitely got my dharmas and dharanas and dhyanas crossed. There is an index, which is helpful, but rather than looking up where the word first appeared and then going there to refresh myself about the definition, it might have been more effective just to have a glossary. (Satchidananda’s translation does include a glossary.)

Overall, I recommend this book for women who are looking to deepen the spiritual side of their yoga practice or meditation. I also recommend it for men who, like me, don’t connect so much with the mind/thoughts rhetoric in spiritual books.

 

Books: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, trans. and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda September 2, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:23 pm
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The Yoga Sutras of PatanjaliThe Yoga Sutras, the key text in the study of yoga, is an ancient text dating back at least 2000 years. The sutras were compiled by the sage Patanjali (pah-TAN-ja-lee). Patanjali didn’t invent the concept of yoga, but he made a system of it by bringing together all the existing teachings and traditions and giving them a structure for students to follow. The word “sutra” means “thread” – the text is a collection of almost 200 brief “threads” of wisdom. Patanjali used as few words as possible in each sutra with the idea that students would be learning from an established teacher, who would expound upon each sutra in turn. Sri Swami Satchidananda takes on that role in this translation of the sutras and the accompanying commentary.

The sutras are traditionally grouped into four books: Book One, Contemplation; Book Two, Practice; Book Three, Accomplishments; and Book Four, Absoluteness. For most students, just reading Books One and Two is sufficient – the last two books contain the more esoteric teachings. For my teacher training we actually started by jumping right in with Book Two, the practical teachings, and this certainly isn’t a bad idea. For Patanjali, the physical practice of yoga is simply a means of calming the mind, and the vast majority of the sutras are about the mind; it can be a little easier for the modern student to begin with the practical sutras in Book Two before working on the contemplative sutras in Book One.

This version of the sutras follows a helpful format: for each sutra, the original Sanskrit is given, along with the Sanskrit transliteration, the literal translation, and finally a translation set in readable English prose. This structure could appeal both to the serious Sanskrit student as well as to the beginning student (who can just skip right to the English). After each sutra follows commentary from Swami Satchidananda. At first I found the commentary to be rather dry, but after journeying through the whole book I came to enjoy his tone and appreciate his stories. Satchidananda’s translations of the sutras are very straightforward, and his commentary really elucidates each sutra and gets to the heart of what Patanjali is saying.

Overall, this is a good translation of the Yoga Sutras for beginning students, and for those who have studied the sutras before, Satchidananda’s commentary is a worthwhile reason to choose this edition for a re-read.

 

 
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