Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Previews

It's been quite a while since I've reviewed a book.  I find my yogic reading really slows down in the summer time.  I think that's because I'm so active with hiking, biking, gardening, and just soaking in the warm golden sun.  Winter is when I really like to curl up and study. 

Today Linda-sama just posted a great review of a book which explores the connection between Buddhism and Yoga over on Linda's Yoga Journey, which got me thinking about my growing "to read" pile for this winter.   So today, instead of a traditional book "review", I'd like to do a book "preview" of several books that  I intend to read when the wind and snow are swirling outside and darkness has wrapped around everything like a thick cold blanket.  MMmm, I can smell the hot chai already....

(Synopsis from Barnes &

The first yoga text to outline a step-by-step sequence for developing a complete practice according to viniyoga—yoga adapted to the needs of the individual.
• A contemporary classic by a world-renowned teacher.
• This new edition adds thirty-two poems by Krishnamacharya that capture the essence of his teachings.

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who lived to be over 100 years old, was one of the greatest yogis of the modern era. Elements of Krishnamacharya's teaching have become well known around the world through the work of B. K. S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, who all studied with Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar lived and studied with his father all his life and now teaches the full spectrum of Krishnamacharya's yoga. Desikachar has based his method on Krishnamacharya's fundamental concept of viniyoga, which maintains that practices must be continually adapted to the individual's changing needs to achieve the maximum therapeutic value.

In The Heart of Yoga Desikachar offers a distillation of his father's system as well as his own practical approach, which he describes as "a program for the spine at every level—physical, mental, and spiritual." This is the first yoga text to outline a step-by-step sequence for developing a complete practice according to the age-old principles of yoga. Desikachar discusses all the elements of yoga—poses and counterposes, conscious breathing, meditation, and philosophy—and shows how the yoga student may develop a practice tailored to his or her current state of health, age, occupation, and lifestyle.

This is a revised edition of The Heartof Yoga.

A structural engineer by training, T. K. V. Desikachar lived and studied with his father until Krishnamacharya's death in 1989. He has devoted his life to yoga instruction for people of all backgrounds and all levels of ability and currently teaches at the school founded in his father's memory in Madras, as well as in Europe, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Dhammapada as translated by Eknath Eswaran

(Synopsis from Barnes &
Dhammapada means “the path of dharma,” the path of truth, harmony, and righteousness. Eknath Easwaran’s translation of this essential Buddhist text, based on the oldest version, consists of 423 short verses gathered by the Buddha’s direct disciples after his death and organized by theme: anger, thought, joy, pleasure, and others. The Buddha’s timeless teachings take the form of vivid metaphors from everyday life and are well served by Easwaran’s lucid translation. An authoritative introduction and chapter notes offer helpful context for modern readers
(Synopsis from Barnes &
Buddhism and yoga share a common history that goes back centuries. But because yoga and Buddhism came to North America from Asia as two separate traditions, their commonalities in the West often seem invisible. Most people choose to study either yoga or Buddhism and generally don’t combine the practices. Michael Stone brings together a collection of intriguing voices to show how Buddhism and yoga really do share the same values and spiritual goals. The contributors’ themes are rich and varied, yet they all focus on the common threads among the traditions that offer guidance toward spiritual freedom and genuine realization.

Topics include the Zen view of enlightenment through the body; cultivating life-force energy; concepts of emptiness; foundations of mindfulness; Tibetan yoga; and experiencing emotions through the body. Contributors include: Frank Jude Boccio, Ajahn Amaro, Chip Hartranft, Sarah Powers, Christopher Key Chapple, Eido Shimano Roshi, Mu Soeng, and Jill Satterfield.

Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali by Chip Hartranft  (I think this is the copy I own)

(Synopsis from Barnes &
In just 196 short aphorisms, this classic work of Indian philosophy spells out succinctly how the mind works, and how it is possible to use the mind to attain liberation. Compiled in the second or third century CE, the Yoga-Sutra is a road map of human consciousness—and a particularly helpful guide to the mind states one encounters in meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practices. It expresses the truths of the human condition with great eloquence: how we know what we know, why we suffer, and how we can discover the way out of suffering. Chip Hartranft's fresh translation and extensive, lucid commentary bring the text beautifully to life. He also provides useful auxiliary materials, including an afterword on the legacy of the Yoga-Sutra and its relevance for us today.

There are other books too, such as The Upannishads trans. by Eknath Esawaran, re-reading the Yama's and Niyamas by Deborah Adele, but I tend to get overly ambitious.  Yogic/Buddhist texts are not always the most gripping reads and I find myself dozing off.  Sorry, it's true!  I do.

So, to toss the question out into blogland, what's on your reading list?  Any recommendations? 


Bob Weisenberg said...

My personal preference, skip the Dhammapada in favor of the Upanishads. See my probably excessively negative comments on the Dhammapada in my comment to this blog on Elephant.

For Yoga Sutra, I prefer Alistair Shearer's version and commentary. Hartranft's is good, but very thick for my taste.

Did you know that the Heart of Yoga contains a complete translation and commentary of the Yoga Sutra, too. This one is also excellent and the most contemporary of the three.

I would personally put Mitchell's Bhagavad Gita before any of these.

My other all time favorite: Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, provided a little psychoanalysis doesn't turn you off.

Oh, and The Subtle Body is a must.

Enjoy your reading!

Bob Weisenberg

Kristin said...

Bob - thanks for your input.

I've read Eswaran's version of the Gita a couple times now and followed your most excellent on-line discussion. Need a change of pace for a couple of books.

Interesting view on the Dhammapada. Now I'll have to read both Dhammapada and the Upanishads and see what I think!

I didn't know Heart of Yoga contains the Yoga Sutras, so rather a bonus.

Thanks again.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Right, Kristin. Lots of people love the Dhammapada. People who love the Dhammapada are often the ones who consider the Upanishads and the Gita to be hallucinogenic.

It's all about personal preference! Vive la difference.

Bob W. said...

Thanks for your great list Kristin. The Heart of Yoga is on mine as well, but may be a bit. I just finished Brooke Boone’s Holy Yoga as part of training with that program. In queue are Matthew Sanford’s Waking and Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith. Currently I’m reading Eyes Wide Open Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path by Mariana Caplan. I finished Iyengar’s Light on Life a month or so ago, I read that one slowly to savor and soak, so I’m sure Iyengar will be on my list soon again. Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main looks interesting.

Thanks again for your list, and also to the previous commenter. Glad for the recommendation on the Gita version.

Kristin said...

Bob - I forgot to add that I found The Subtle Body as an e-book! Hooray! It's been added to my to-read list as well.

Though I was disappointed to see the cover changed from when you blogged about it and what I found on the B&N site. The cover noted on your site was much much better. Not that I'm judging books by their covers.... :)

Clare - thanks for your reviews. I have Iyengar's Light on Life but I keep bouncing off of it for some reason. I think I'm just not ready to read it yet.

Bob Weisenberg said...


"Waking" is a must read, yes!

Could I also recommend, since it's now free online, the book I co-edited Yoga in America: In the Words of Some of its Most Ardent Teachers?

Lydia said...

I'm only 8 months into my yoga journey but have done a ton of reading. Have to figure out what this experience is all about! Out of the dozen or so books that I've read, two of my favorites, so far, are You Are That by Gangaji and Pathways to Joy The Master Vivekananda on The Four Yoga Paths to God.