Great yoga reads

I have come across so many great articles and books that have helped inform my budding yoga practice. Here are some of my recent favourites.

Yoga and the individual

1 The difference between practicing yoga postures and having a yoga practice

This post from The Yoga Lunchbox NZ looks at what are the conditions that help set apart the practising of yoga for self-realisation, and that of doing it for something else (strength, flexibility, sponsorships, awesome pants).  This is no clickbait so I give away the solution: it is 1) a container (daily practice) and 2) a teacher.

Why are these two elements of container and teacher crucial to create a yoga practice?

Because real work of yoga arises not in the physical achievement of the postures, but in the understand of the Self through observation of our relationship to the postures.

So, get practising and look for a guru!

Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga

I read this book while struggling with some difficult stuff personally, and it touched me a lot. This is a memoir about the journey of the author to yoga, and what her practice mean to her. What really speaks to me is that she talks about struggling with postures and philosophy, and not only in the terms of overcoming them- some struggles are bound to stay. The book also balances asanas with meaning focuses on everything that is beyond the asanas, and how the pursue of yoga can help you become a better person.

Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It

Although not strictly a yoga book, I find this one really relevant for personal development for everyone dealing with others. That includes most yogis! Being more empathetic is also one of the values you may want to develop through your yoga practice.

 This is a book about the power of empathy to change ourselves as people, but also our societies. It tells you about fascinating psychology/sociology research, great stories, and even has a list of 6 things that you can do to grow that side of your personality.

If you’re short on time, the author gave a talk at a Google campus which you can watch below.

Yoga and the community

Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga

OK so this is a book about Bikram- actually one of the books that unleashed the shitstorm that has been going on for a while now. It is also an absorbing deep dive into the world of Bikram, from the stories of individuals to the wider community around him,  the whole cult of personality and the culture of competitive asana championship. It looks at all the abuse and conflict that people close to their guru have experienced, but also how the practice itself seems to work for so many. Counter-intuitively, reading this actually MADE me go to a class to see what it is about! More predictably, it made me feel very uncomfortable about giving money to anything connected to that guy. But I did actually quite like the sessions, and luckily my local “Bikram” studio has left the franchise and re-branded themselves a few weeks after my first visit. Hooray!

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Definitely not Bikraming here, but doing yoga with my mom and brother in a field in rural Hungary. I know you are eager to know the details of my outfit. Bottom: Bro’s thrifted sweatpants cca 2002 Top: my favourite sweatshirt supporting the fantastic Skateistan 

5 Justice

This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I have read in a while. So much of the talk and thinking around yoga concentrates on self-actualisation and individual progress. Much less attention is paid to the ways in which  this eternally positive discourse about yoga is inserted in the wider community and how it can contribute to or even hinder social progress. I would love to hear what yoga teachers think about this! The text has several hyperlinks, all worth clicking.

And then I became a yoga teacher, and somehow, all those feisty, political issues became quietly taboo. Modern yoga culture has a tendency to respond to politico-structural issues with fuzzy, pink-tinged, life coach answers; which in the case of structural inequality actually increases rather than decreases oppression. So when yoga studios are struggling to survive urban gentrification and they run more and more teacher trainings, leading to more and more yoga teachers struggling to find students, the answers given are all about personal change – from marketing oneself better to setting a clearer intention. Even though the teachers with the most at stake are those already most marginalised. It’s easy to preach non-attachment when your income is already secure.

What are your favourite yoga books/articles?

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Back on track – 5 things Friday

After 3 weeks off sick (yikes), I am finally back at my normal rhythm and trying to catch up on blogging.

One of the silver linings of being confined to a couch for a couple of weeks is that it offers a lot of time for watching costume dramas, I mean catching up on reading. Here are 5 awesome books that I read in the past month.

Non-fiction

  1. Ocean of Life – Callum Roberts

This is one of the most depressing and yet fascinating books I have read recently. To be short, humanity has ruined most of our oceans, and the destruction is likely to be irreversible. It will also have far-reaching effects on the way our world, diets, societies and environment functions in the future.

While ruining  the experience of eating sushi forever, the book also manages to be incredibly informative and interesting,  as it tells you a lot about science-y stuff interspersed with anthropological-cultural anecdotes.

Reading this book made me very enthusiastic about awesome initiatives like The Ocean Cleanup, but also panicky about whether anything we can do is too little too late and we are headed for inevitable doom in acidified, jellyfish-filled waters.

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So pretty, so sturdy, will replace so many other species.(credit)

2. Cooked – Michael Pollan

I loved The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which focused on the origins and impact of what and how we (well, them Americans) eat. Cooked is also brilliant, a bit more light exploration of how we prepare food, and what it tells us about homo sapiens as a species, but also human societies. He follows three ways of preparing food: barbecue/roasting; cooking with water; and fermenting.

Besides offering inspirational cooking tips (I shall never again rush frying onions!), Pollan doesn’t shy away from exploring the power dynamics intrinsic in cooking. He takes an intelligent and sensitive approach to issues of gender and race, and does not shy away from discussing these and his own limitations in reflecting on them. So unexpectedly precious in a Western, middle-aged male food writer!

3. Tiny beautiful things – Cheryl Strayed

Agony aunt columns are some of my favourite things on the internet. I spend more hours than I care to admit reading Dear Prudence, Carolyn Hax and Dan Savage, hoping one day to be able to give similarly empathetic, sensitive and punchy advice to people who ask for it.

My enthusiasm for this book may have been enhanced by the fact that I read it while tripping on fever and medications. However, I have re-visited some parts since to recommend to others, and ordered two copies for friends, and it still holds as a kick-ass advice book. Cheryl Strayed is an awesome lady! I particularly admire her way of making herself as vulnerable to her readers as the writers of the letters. She also gives awesome suggestions based in compassion, mindfulness and hope.

Just to give you an example:

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Fiction

4. A Little Life – Hanya Yanahigara

This book is one that I read because I am trying to read more from authors that are not white men. It was also a gut punching, absorbing drama about how some traumas cannot be made right, no matter the love that one receives. Although not always super credible (full of very very rich and successful people), the story just draws you in and you find yourself in despair over the sorrows of the characters. Melodramatic, but so, so good.

5. A Place of Greater Safety – Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, about the age of Henry VIII, had rocked my world. Mantel is a ridiculously good historical fiction writer, and you actually sense how much precise research has gone into the books. I have to admit, I use her books also to brush up my knowledge of history, which is quite fragmented and faded. A Place of Greater Safety is about the French Revolution and it has taught me a ton about the Revolution that I had forgotten since high school.

Here are some marginally appropriate comics from the brilliant brilliant Kate Beaton. (more here)

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