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Carried By A Promise is the story of Swami Radhananda, the president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram, and her relationship with her teacher, Swami Sivananda Radha. Yasodhara Ashram is a thriving spiritual community in Southeastern British Columbia which was founded by Swami Radha, one of the first Western women to be initiated into sanyas.
The story follows Swami Radhananda’s life from her first meeting with Swami Radha in 1977 until her teacher’s death in 1995. While reading this humble and clear memoir, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own journey and my spiritual life. Like Swami Radhananda – or Mary-Ann MacDougall, as she was known at the time of her meeting – I am in my mid-30s. Even though I don’t have a husband and children, or a career for that matter, I relate to her dissatisfaction, her desire for more out of life, her questioning.
Also, full disclosure, I have studied yoga with Swami Radhananda and I lived at Yasodhara Ashram for two years. I have intimate experience with the teachings and practices that she talks about in the book. But I also feel that this book has much to offer anybody who is on the path of yoga, anyone who has the courage to practice, investigate themselves and apply what they’ve learned in their real lives.
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Whooo, August is over! And what a month it’s been! There was no summer vacation for yoga this month, as the conversation moved from controversy (John Friend in the NY Times! Yoga Journal’s nude yoga advertising!) to celebration (yoga festivals!) and back to controversy (Tara Stiles’ “Slim Calm Sexy Yoga” has been burning up the blogasphere ~ I’ve been following the convo, and agreeing with the criticism, but haven’t had the time or energy to jump in). And, to top it off, it’s all yoga, baby has had a record breaking traffic month (since I don’t kiss and tell, I’m not giving any numbers ~ but I can say that I’ve received double the pageviews of an average month and this makes me very happy).
To counter all this extroverted Mars summer energy, I think we all need to kick back with a good book (and maybe a Mojito). So as a special treat for my beloved, loyal, brilliant, inquisitive and articulate blog readers, I have one copy of Michael Stone‘s latest book, Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind to give away!
Since I haven’t actually read the book yet, here’s what it says on the back cover:
In this collection of provocative essays by prominent teachers of Yoga and Buddhism, the common ground of these two ancient traditions becomes clear. Michael Stone has brought together a group of intriguing voices to show how Buddhism and Yoga share the same roots, the same values, and the same spiritual goals. The themes addressed here are rich and varied, yet the essays all weave together the common threads between the traditions that offer guidance toward spiritual freedom and genuine realization.
Michael didn’t actually write this book himself, but he did pull together some writings from a star-studded list of teachers, including Ajahn Amaro Bhikkhu, Shosan Victoria Austin, (frequent it’s all yoga, baby commenter and awesome guy) Frank Jude Boccio, Christopher Key Chapple, Ari Goldfield and Rose Taylor, Chip Hartranft, Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Sarah Powers, Eido Shimano Roshi, Jill Satterfield, Mu Soeng, Michael Stone, and Robert Thurman.
Okay, so you’re probably wondering how you can get this book in your mailbox asap! All you have to do is answer the following (slightly dualistic) question in the comments section before Friday, Sept 3: Do you practice yoga for your body, your mind, or both? One lucky reader will be chosen at random (although the quality and thoughtfulness of your comment will play into the random draw).
And if you already have the book and are dying to talk about it with other smart, literate Buddhist types, head over to the Tricycle Book Club and join the conversation! Frank Jude Boccio is also hosting a discussion about the book and practice on his blog, Mindfulness Yoga.
The NPR radio show On Point featured a fascinating program about yoga in the West this morning. Author Stefanie Syman, whose book The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America was just released today, shared her research on the history of the practice in North America. Boston-based yoga teacher Barbara Benagh was also a guest.
The conversation was a brief history of yoga in America and its mainstreaming in Western culture. I found it interesting how Stefanie noted that the media around yoga tends to be humorous and derivative, often trivializing it. She didn’t offer an explanation as to why that happens, but I know that it’s something that I’ve noticed in my obsessive media scrutiny.
When asked if there was a great thing about this moment in yoga, both guests had a positive response. Stefanie believes that there are more teachers than ever, meaning that there is lots of choice and availability. Barbara took note of the everyday effects of the practice, which impact our physical health and ultimately, lead to more social responsibility.
What I found especially fascinating about the broadcast, which also took live phone calls, was the response from listeners. Everyone who called in had some kind of insight to share, and the final caller – who encouraged people to just do it, just find the spirit in yoga for yourself – was especially inspiring and a natural conclusion to the show. The page for the show on the On Point website received over 50 comments, with the first one coming in hours before the show aired (and it was suitably crazy, which garnered a response from other commentors). It’s good to know that people outside of the yoga blogosphere bubble have things to say about yoga, too…
In the yoga community, there has been a lot of discussion about the pay-what-you-can model for classes and studios. But why should only asana practices be available and accessible on a donation basis? timeless publishing, a yoga micropress based in the mountains of BC, is trying out an innovative experiment in sustainable publishing which will make the wisdom of yoga accessible to anyone who seeks it.
The press’ latest release, a reprint of their classic Time to be Holy, is available as a print-on-demand book and downloadable PDF. And for the next 21 days, it’s available on a pay-what-you-can basis (from June 16 until July 7). If you’re feeling generous, you can donate as much as you want, and if your budget is tight, you can chip in as little as $1.
timeless publishing is aware that yoga is a practice of choice and responsibility, whether you’re on the mat or consuming media. Their approach to printing the yogic teachings is as conscientious and compassionate as the yoga practices themselves. “Never before have our personal choices and business practices had such an enormous impact on our environmental and global connections,” they say on their website. “‘Sustainable publishing’ for us means that on one hand we are reducing our ecological footprint by becoming a carbon neutral publisher; and on the other hand, we’re creating a sustainable financial model in today’s print industry.”
Time to be Holy is a collection of writing from Swami Sivananda Radha, a spiritual leader who dedicated her life to interpreting the ancient wisdom of yoga for Western minds. The material is drawn from satsang (a devotional service inspired by the ancient yogic tradition; also interpreted as a community gathering for yogis on the spiritual path) talks that Swami Radha gave at Yasodhara Ashram, and the tone is conversational and wise. Organized into thematic chapters, the topics covered range from the spiritual search, to self-worth, to service and beyond. rather than being an instructional guide or yoga philosophy primer, the book invites reflection on how we can live our lives with authenticity and grace. It’s a practical and inspiring book that’s relevant to anyone on the yogic path.
In the winter, my tendency is to slow down and go inwards. The chilly Montréal air and long nights make me feel like spending a lot of time indoors ~ and correspondingly, my yoga practice has become slower and more restorative. I hold the postures, breathe, and allow whatever thoughts to arise.
The Inner Life of Asanas, a collection of columns by Swami Lalitananda originally published in ascent magazine*, is the perfect guide for this kind of internal process. The short essays in this book are based on the practice of Hidden Language Hatha Yoga, a reflective approach designed to illuminate the physical, psychological and mystical dimensions of key yoga asanas.
The book is made up of 26 postures, which have been organized into 5 thematic chapters: Awareness, Choice, Action, Devotion and Union. Each posture is structured with a short reflection/anecdote related to a greater theme, followed by a practice – a description of how to do the form of the pose (very basic and applicable to all systems of Hatha Yoga), keyword prompts and questions.
For example, the section on dhanurasana (bow pose) features an anecdote by Swami Lalitananda about service and putting ideals into action, relating the pose itself to the image of a bow. “I think about the bow and how it is created from a strong but flexible piece of wood, tempered and shaped to serve its purpose.”
She then gives us questions such as “What is your purpose? Can you find the place of balance where you exert effort and let go at the same time?” The practice itself is very loose and fluid, with no directions for timing or sequencing. The only expectation is that practitioners are working with a pen and paper, to capture their responses to the postures and the questions. Read the rest of this entry »