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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 »

One of the drawbacks about being a yogi blogger is that I get regular exposure to some of the most tasteless and depressing aspects of yoga in Western culture (and y’all know what I’m talking about, because I can’t stop myself from commenting on it). Crass commercialism, hypersexualization, narcissism, branding… it’s enough to sometimes make me wonder why I bother with this practice.

Which is why I’m so grateful for Yoga for a World Out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action (Shambala Publications, 2009). The latest book by Michael Stone, a Toronto-based yoga teacher, psychotherapist and author, puts to rest my unease about current developments of yoga and assures me that it’s a practice that is not only worthwhile, but essential for modern life.

“The aim of yoga is not perfect mastery over technique or the ability to memorize scriptures,” writes Michael. “But rather the activity of bringing one’s insights into the world through action… yoga occurs when our inner work manifests in the world around us.” The book subtly provides a system for how we can do this in our everyday lives.

Michael explores how yoga can be relevant to culture, ecology and politics, and he does this through the lense of the five yamas, or “external restraints.” The yamas are the first limb on the ashtanga (eight-limbed) path of yoga, as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. These five restraints are generally known as guidelines for how we relate to the external world, and Michael clearly defines the yamas as  “the clarification of one’s relationship to the human and non-human world.” Read the rest of this entry »

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