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Yogi’s Bookshelf



— February 10, 2020

Yogi’s Bookshelf

By Lisa James
  • These authors want to help you go deeper into your practice—and your life.

A Synthesis of Science and Spirit

For roughly 300 years, Western thought was profoundly affected by the idea of dualism—the notion, often linked to the rise of science, that the mind and the body are two separate entities.

However, recent decades have seen this process come full circle, as scientific techniques of greater power and precision have allowed researchers to delve into how the body and the mind interweave with each other. This coming back together of what is now called the “body-mind” is the subject of Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness (Harmony, due out in May).

Psychologist Rick Hanson, who has taught in meditation centers worldwide, notes that we all have inherited two tendencies—often thought of as wolves—from our hunter-gatherer ancestors: A loving one in which compassion and trust predominate, and a fear-based one marked by distrust and vengeance. The idea is to learn how to accept and control our fear and anger while feeding, as he puts it, “the wolf of love.”

Hanson’s background in both ancient meditative practices and cutting-edge neuroscience allows him to guide the reader into walking this fine line.

For example, one practice involves taking note of people, both strangers and those you know, and being aware of that which is “painful, stressful, disappointing, irritating, or hurtful for them—in other words, their suffering.” The idea is to understand suffering “in an openhearted way, not about being either overwhelmed by it or trying to fix it.”It’s been a circuitous route, but we are finally back to from whence we came—as selves searching for wholeness. Neurodharma is a thought-provoking guide to this journey.

Battling Burnout

We’ve been told we can have it all; for many of us, the problem lies in trying to do it all—and becoming stressed-out messes in the process.

That was Kelsey Patel’s problem as a 20-something, when her fast-paced life led her to hit a wall of pain and anxiety. Now older and wiser, Patel shares what she’s learned in Burning Bright: Rituals, Reiki & Self-Care to Heal Burnout, Anxiety & Stress (Harmony, due out in April).

The book is divided into three parts: where you are now, where you want to go and how to get there.

Where you are now, according to Patel, lies in your imprints—the unspoken ideas that get drilled into your head early, such as “working hard makes me worthy.” Where you want to go is what Patel calls “the burning bright triad of wholeness”—restoring a healthy body, strengthening your mind by finding purpose and feeding your spirit by connecting with yourself, others and a higher power. How you get there involves a number of techniques, including journaling, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping) and the energy healing system known as Reiki (Patel is a practitioner).

In the face of an ever-more-challenging world, we can feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed. If that sounds like you, Burning Bright might provide a way out.

Breathing Your Way to a Better You

A crucial aspect of both yoga and meditation is learning how to focus on one’s breath. But breathwork is crucial for anyone who wants to get more out of life, and that’s the focus of Breathing for Warriors: Master Your Breath to Unlock More Strength, Greater Endurance, Sharper Precision, Faster Recovery, and an Unshakable Inner Game (St. Martin’s Essentials, due out in March).

Clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who has taught breathing techniques to everyone from elite athletes to expectant moms, has teamed up with writer Brian Sabin to produce what has to be the single most extensive treatment of what appears to be the simple act of breathing. Appearances can be deceptive, however; Breathing for Warriors provides specific pointers for everything from when to breathe during a deadlift to breathing for endurance while wearing a weighted vest.

Learning how to mechanically optimize respiration can help you unlock higher levels of performance. Breathing for Warriors provides a useful key.

Learning to Meditate in a Month

Meditation is more than just a hot health trend; this ancient practice has deep roots in both Eastern and Western spirituality. The problem lies in adapting meditation to a world in which most people don’t have the leisure to learn at a guru’s knee.

A decade ago, Real Happiness: A 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation, by long-time teacher Sharon Salzberg, become a New York Times Bestseller. Now Workman has released a revised and updated tenth anniversary edition of Salzberg’s classic. New material has been added with the goal of making meditation “more widely known, more easily accessible, and more clearly understood.”

Salzberg’s program is divided into four one-week segments. One covers concentration, the baseline of meditation; two others discuss how mindfulness affects the body and the emotions. The fourth delves into the Buddhist notion of “lovingkindness,” or learning how to spread the good feels around. Ten of the meditations include QR codes so you can download them to your phone or other device.

If you’ve wondered how to start meditating but aren’t sure where to begin, Real Happiness makes an excellent primer.

Joy Hack

So you’ve finally started a steady mediation practice. And while you’re happy to actually not think about anything for a solid 20 minutes a day, you were kind of expecting…more.

Susan Shumsky understands where you’re at. “My goal in this book is to help you succeed in mediating quickly and effortlessly so you can enjoy the benefits of a stress-free, joyous, fulfilling life,” she writes at the beginning of Third Eye Meditations: Awaken Your Mind, Spirit, and Intuition (Weiser).

And so Shumsky, who’s been in the human potential field for decades, provides meditations designed to fill roles in self-development, such as Open the Doorway to Forgiveness and Gratitude; everyday life, such as Open the Doorway to Meaningful Abundance; global concerns, such as Open the Doorway to Ecological Balance; and spiritual connection, such as Open the Doorway to Intuition and Wisdom. Each meditation, designed to be recorded in your own voice, is based on visualization and affirmation.

Meditation is a simple tool that can take a lifetime to master. Third Eye Meditations offers a shortcut.

Eating as Delicious Philosophy

If you’ve done yoga for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the term ahimsa–the idea of doing no harm. This explains why many yogis/yoginis adopt a plant-based diet.

In The Yoga Plate: Bring Your Practice into the Kitchen with 108 Simple & Nourishing Vegan Recipes (Sounds True), yoga instructor Tamil Dodge and his wife, photographer and cooking expert Victoria, say that their aim is to “take ancient traditions and use them in modern applications.” That approach informs recipes such as The Monk Bowl, which the Dodges extoll for its ability to boost energy levels, and Tamal’s Sweet Potato and Apple Tamales, which provide a playful twist on this Mexican classic.

Looking to expand your idea of yoga to encompass your eating habits? The Yoga Plate is a good place to start.

Learning to Love Your Body

How often have you looked in a full-length mirror and felt shame at what you saw?

How someone sees his or her body can “sway how we see ourselves in the world,” write Robert Butera, PhD, and Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, in Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship with Your Body (Llewellyn), which explores how to honor the body through words—especially the ones we hear inside our own heads.

Butera’s four-step method—listen, learn, love and live—uses yoga and self-reflection exercises to help transform negative self-talk into a narrative of acceptance and affirmation. For example, in a section on the moral language that surrounds food, the authors suggest using statements such as “I respect my hunger and fullness” and “Food is a divine gift.”

In a world where image is everything, regarding your body with dignity and esteem can be difficult. Body Mindful Yoga can help you meet that challenge.

Healthy Yogic Habits

If you’re having trouble finding your healthy lifestyle groove, Cate Stillman may be able to help.

In Body Thrive: Uplevel Your Body and Your Life with 10 Habits from Ayurveda and Yoga (Sounds True), Stillman draws on yoga and Ayurveda, India’s traditional healing system, to offer habits—eating supper early and light, doing regular self-massage, sitting in silence and seven others—that may give you the push you need to prioritize your well-being.



Transformative Yoga

Mood disorders, relationship troubles, trauma: Psychology has been modern life’s answer to such issues.

However, psychotherapist Mariana Caplan believes that fusing standard therapy with yoga creates more powerful benefits, as she relates in Yoga & Psyche: Integrating the Paths of Yoga and Psychology for Healing, Transformation, and Joy (Sounds True).

This fusion is like shifting focus with a zoom lens. Caplan writes that while yoga “addresses our unity as human beings,” timeless aspects of our nature that lie beyond culture and personality, psychology “takes into account our differences and diversity.” Dealing with both our inner worlds and outer circumstances, she argues, leads to greater possibilities for long-term healing.

Much of Yoga & Psyche is aimed at professionals. But the average person will find plenty of useful information, such as the practices in Chapter 8 on topics like learning to sense emotions within one’s body or pushing past painful memories.

Overcoming mental and physical health challenges is one big part of life; dealing with challenges in the workplace is another.

And yoga’s underlying principles can be helpful here, too, says the author of Beyond the Mat: Achieve Focus, Presence, and Enlightened Leadership through the Principles and Practice of Yoga (Da Capo). Physician, executive and long-time yogini Julie Rosenberg says these principles can help you “communicate more clearly and confidently, tap into your intuition…[and] creatively and resourcefully solve problems.”

Each chapter of Beyond the Mat looks at different aspects of “developing a yoga mindset,” as Rosenberg puts it.

For example, in a chapter called “Becoming Present to the Challenge,” Rosenberg busts the multitasking myth, saying that each moment in life, each task, requires proper focus. She then offers advice, such as learning how to monitor your body language, that supports the concept at hand. A list of questions for self-reflection at the end of each chapter helps drive her points home.

Beauty on the Mat

Maybe you’ve seen the toned, lithe people in yoga magazines and retreat websites and thought, “I could never be that thin/flexible/yoga-ish looking if I tried. Yoga might not be for me.”

Just. Stop. Now.

“I wrote this book for every person who has called themselves ugly,” says yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley in Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body (Workman). As her nearly 300,000 Instagram followers (mynameisjessamyn) could tell you, Stanley—”the epitome of a big, black and beautiful African queen”—is nobody’s idea of a typical yogini. She’s fine with that, and she believes that you shouldn’t let your appearance stop you from taking to the mat as well.

In Every Body Yoga, Stanley shows yoga newbies the ropes, which include picking a style and buying gear, in no-nonsense prose; one chapter is titled “What the F–k is the EightLimbed Path?”

Most of the book presents asana, or poses, both basic moves and pose sequences designed to address needs such as finding better balance or greater spiritual energy. One sequence, I Need to Release Fear, comes from a chapter in which Stanley writes, “Bad self-esteem and body shame know no size. What makes the difference is how we choose to handle our self-esteem issues.”

Every Body Yoga advocates approaching your practice, no matter what you look like, from a place of strength and joy.

Yoga as a Life Template

For some people, yoga is another fitness alternative like weight lifting or running. For Doron Hanoch, discovering yoga was part of an answer to “the search for a reason to live and an understanding of who I was.”

What Hanoch found was a way to take yoga, with its emphasis on flow and flexibility, beyond the mat and make it an approach to living.

“The goal of the flexitarian is to be happy and content,” he writes in The Yoga Lifestyle: Using the Flexitarian Method to Ease Stress, Find Balance & Create a Healthy Life (Llewellyn). “There cannot be any one diet, any one yoga style or one sequence that will suit us all the time.”

The heart of Ayurveda, India’s traditional medicine, is the vata/ pitta/kapha dosha system, in which each person is seen in terms of these three basic body/mind constitutions that must be kept in equilibrium for optimal well-being. Hanoch helps the reader determine his or her own VPK classification and what potential problems that represents.

For example, if someone is mostly a slow, deliberate kapha, they’re prone to become a total couch potato subject to not only weight gain and fatigue but also, as Hanoch puts it, “trouble getting motivated and be[ing] resistant to change even when you know it is the right thing for you.” That person can then craft a kapha-balancing lifestyle based on the four main elements of Hanoch’s system—the poses of physical yoga, yogic breathwork, nutrition and diet, and mind training—each of which is discussed in extensive detail.

“I have been asking questions about existence since I was a kid,” Hanoch says. If that describes you too, The Yoga Lifestyle may help you find some answers of your own.

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