Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

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.

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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.

 

Books: Passage Meditation, by Eknath Easwaran July 5, 2011

Filed under: books,meditation,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 3:29 pm
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Eknath Easwaran’s book Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life is a kind, thoughtful guide to meditation for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike. Mr. Easwaran takes the tone of a helpful friend and mentor; the book is an easy read that makes meditation seem doable.

Mr. Easwaran starts by discussing the many benefits of meditation, describing how he came to meditation in the first place as a busy young professor at a university in India. He then details his method for meditation: in essence, to find a passage from spiritual literature that appeals to you and touches you deeply, to memorize that passage, and then to repeat it, word by word, in your mind during your meditation practice. Remembering each word of the passage gives your mind something to focus on. In addition, Mr. Easwaran believes that we are what we think about, and if you spend time thinking about an inspiring passage, that passage will become part of your consciousness, enabling you to become a better person.

You could probably start practicing this simple passage meditation technique just based on my description above, but Mr. Easwaran’s book is so finely written and so pleasant to read that I recommend it strongly.  The rest of the book discusses the benefits of a personal mantra in daily life and of slowing down instead of racing through each day; Easwaran also talks about improving concentration and training the senses (pratyahara), and other just good ideas for spiritual practice, such as putting others first and finding companions to practice with.

Not since reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step have I been able to recommend a book of spiritual instruction so highly. I loved this book. It is appropriate for any spiritual seeker regardless of religious tradition, as Mr. Easwaran is conscientious about using inclusive language and making his meditation techniques accessible to all. Mr. Easwaran is well read in the religious scriptures of many traditions and recommends spiritual passages from writers as diverse as St. Teresa of Avila to the Buddha. I highly look forward to reading more of Mr. Easwaran’s work.