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»-IT'KI THE SUBTLE BODY: THE STORY OF YOGA IN AMERICA, by Stefanle Syman. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; us.macmillan.com Yoga doesn't have just one family tree. It's always been a riotous jungle, even within its Indian homeland. As a narrative path through the American portion of that jungle, Stefanie Syman's The Subtle Body traces yoga's transformation from a feared foreign practice to one widely accepted as part of a modern, healthful lifestyle.
Syman takes an episodic-approach to the history of American yoga, examining key figures, scenes, and cultural moments. She covers milestones such as Henry David Thoreau's yogic aspirations; the arrival ofSwami Vivekananda; Pierre Bernard and his Nyack, New York, yoga social club; Indra Devi's influence in Hollywood; and the charismatic Indian gurus of the '60s and '70s. She lands on what she deems a new fervor and dedication to yoga that began in the late 1980s and is exemplified by the demanding forms of hatha taught by Bikram Choudhury and K. Pattabhi Jois.
Syman notes that people tend to project onto yoga their own preoccupations, fears, and dreams. In her words, "Yoga is like a Ror schach test: Students and teachers see in it the content of their own mind, their fantasies and desires." The same might be said of yoga history Especially in the last third of her book, which zips through the past five decades, Syman often presents U.S. yoga history as an opposition between "spiritualized" forms of yoga and the more physically and psychologically focused "secular" versions. (And which teachers she places in which camp may surprise some readers.) Though this opposition helps to organize her story, it also sometimes oversimplifies dynamics that arc complex and nuanced.
So perhaps, rather than "The Story of Yoga in America," Syman's book should be read as "A Story of Yoga in America"—a well-written, engaging, and deeply researched attempt to forge a narrative trail out of the intertwined, often obscure paths yoga has taken out of India and into the hearts and minds (and bodies) of Americans. TODD JONES
(33 RELAX INTO GREATNESS, by Rod Stryker. ParaYoga; parayoga.com If you suffer from insomnia, you probably spend a lot of time in the wee hours wondering what to do with yourself. Get up and get productive? Lie in bed and pray for sleep? Read a book? Try to meditate? When you're tired and wired and desperate for rest, Yoga Nidra is a good option. Yoga Nidra is designed to lead you to a place more relaxing, more restorative, and more rejuvenating than sleep itself. You can experience it for yourself with Relax into Greatness, the excellent audio program created by Rod Stryker, the founder of ParaYoga.
Yoga Nidra, Stryker says, relaxes not just the body and mind but also the subconscious—the storehouse of all our psycho-emotional tension, the stuff that keeps us up at night. "At the height of it, you hover in the effortlessness of deep sleep while retaining only a subtle trace of awareness," he says.
The set comprises a series of detailed guided meditations—a full-body scan, imaginary alternate-nostril breathing, a replaying of your day (backward), and an envisioning of the dark screen of your subconscious mind, among others. Throughout the program, Stryker accompanies his instruction with regular reminders that you should listen passively, without trying to do or achieve any particular thing. Instead, he encourages you to maintain the witness state Q
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© throughout as you allow yourself to peacefully drift away. It's pranayama (breathwork) meets pratyabara (sense withdrawal) meets dh a ran a (concentration) meets dhyana (meditation), with a little svadbyaya (self-study) thrown in for good measure. Altogether, it's truly a profound package that allows even beginning students to touch some of the deeper practices of yoga.
There are two programs on Relax into Greatness: a complete practice, which runs 45 minutes, and an abbreviated option, which clocks in at just under a half hour. Choose the longer one—the short one, though pleasant, feels hurried. You will want more time to spend with Stryker's soothing, sonorous voice, which is guaranteed to lull you into that lovely state of relaxed receptivity.
And if you drift off during the process, so much the better. "If you do fall asleep, don't worry," Stryker says. "Your subconscious hears the instructions, and you still benefit."That's a real win-win. HILLARI DOWDLE
G3 THE PRACTICE OF PRANAYAMA: AN IN-DEPTH GUIDE TO THE YOGA OF BREATH, by Richard Rosen. Shambhala Audio; shambhala.com
Regularly repeat a couple of the 155 tracks on The Practice of Pranayama, Richard Rosen's comprehensive seven-CD program, and you'll find that your breath will smooth and lengthen, your mind will become calm and clear, and, as Rosen describes it, you will gradually "fine-tune the dial of your consciousness."
"The final goal here is really the goal of yoga: to quiet the disturbances of consciousness," he says.
In this eight-hour program, Rosen — a longtime teacher, the co-founder with Rodney Yee of the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California, and a Toga Journal contributing editor—gives listeners a solid foundation for the practice of pranayama. In addition to the audio recordings, a 16-page booklet provides an overview of the practice as well as basic instruction on techniques such as alternate-nostril breathing and retaining the breath and dividing it into sections.
There is also comprehensive instruction on how to prepare the breath and body for pranayama through relaxation practices, diaphragm and basic breath exercises, inner observation, the use of props to align the body, and an awareness of your pace.
The foundational breathing techniques taught here include Kapalabhati (Skull Shining), Nadi Shodhana (alternate-nostril), and Bhramari (Bee). Rosen further trains inner awareness through the breathing practices Ujjayi, Viloma, Surya Bhedana, Chandra Bhedana, Sitali, and Kumbhaka (Victorious, Interval, Sun-Piercing, Moon, Cooling, and Retention, respectively) and through traditional breathing meditations. Each method is introduced and then practiced individually and in combination with other techniques and meditations, with a focus on learning from inner observation.
Finally, there arc 12 full practice sessions, ranging in length from 15 to 30 minutes each. These include extended Savasanas (Corpse Poses), increasingly more complex pranayama routines, and guided meditations.
Rosen begins the program with an invocation to the deity Shiva, the patron saint ofhatha yoga, and throughout offers homage to ancient yoga texts. His style is accessible and welcoming, and he uses humor, metaphor, and visualization to build both your comfort level and your confidence. And his nearly 30 years of practice shines through, with effortless references to anatomy, energy centers, Sanskrit terminology, modern-day research, yoga philosophy, and ancient yoga texts.
Throughout The Practice of Pranayama, Rosen subtly fosters the essential actions that nourish a lifelong practice: observation, reflection, acceptance, and refinement (without force) of your own experience. Even longtime practitioners are likely to discover fresh insights by following these artfully guided pranayama practices and meditations and by listening to Rosen's explanations. Still, there are generous moments of silence that allow awareness to unfold and blossom. KATE V0GT
I-T'MM MYTHS OF THE ASANAS: THE STORIES AT THE HEART OF THE YOGA TRADITION, by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij. Mandala Publishing; mandalapublishing.com Even in our global-media age, Indians grow up immersed in a treasure trove of evocative and symbolic stories—epics and myths whose characters and symbols inform our modern practice. For an Indian yogi, the very names of some asanas tap into this wealth, pointing toward the virtues the pose is meant to embody and instill.
But most Westerners need cultural CliffsNotes explanations to connect with these riches—and that's where authors Alanna Kaivalya, ajivamukti Yoga teacher and musician, and Arjuna van der Kooij, a student of cultural anthropology and a longtime yogi, can help. By answering questions such as, Who was the warrior behind Virabha-drasana I, II, and III? and, Why does Hanuman have three poses in his honor? they aim to show how the myths behind the practice can help bring us closer to our own essential nature.
Each chapter uses ayoga pose as a point of departure, followed by concise versions of India's classic stories, with an emphasis on the symbolic meanings. There's plenty here to enrich your asana practice—and to inform the rest of your life as well. The book's elegantly simple line drawings support the philosophical life lessons contained in each chapter.
For those just starting in yoga, the book is an entertaining and engaging introduction to the values and ethics that undcr-gird the yoga tradition. Even seasoned yogis may find new and philosophically resonant talcs in these pages. T.J.
I-?'M!< HEART YOGA: THE SACRED MARRIAGE OF YOGA AND MYSTICISM, by Andrew Harvey and Karuna Erickson. North Atlantic Books; northatlanticbooks.com Heart Toga is a timely book. It can help us stay centered in joyful peace as we are f\ ^ Z>
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