Tag Archives: book

Reclaiming your body – yoga’s healing power for trauma

Photo: cover art of book on yoga and trauma
This book should be required reading for all yoga teachers.

I’ve been reading and thinking about a book that surprised me by its fresh perspective on yoga practice and yoga teaching. The book is Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD (Boston: North Atlantic Books, 2012). The book should be required reading for anyone who plans to teach yoga, even if they are not going to specialize in yoga therapy or deal specifically with populations that undergone high levels of trauma (war veterans, sexual abuse victims, battered wives, etc.). 

The credentials behind the book are impressive as well. It has two forwards, one by Peter A. Levine, PhD, author of  Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and a leading advocate for a somatic approach to healing trauma, and a second one by Stephen Cope, the head of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living and an author of yoga-inspired books. The introduction is by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center  and one of the intellectual thinkers behind this approach to treating trauma through yoga. The lasting physical and psychological consequences of trauma is a growing field of investigation, theory and application. Certainly, the mangled bodies of veterans from two decades of American wars abroad and related stress have forced greater attention on this issue.  But trauma is also present in child and sexual abuse, which are both widely prevalent in our society. Trauma can also be the result of neglect, of lack of human affection at the most formative stages of life.

Continue reading Reclaiming your body – yoga’s healing power for trauma

Book learning

Last night I was trying to catch up on my required reading for yoga teacher training, and some thing in Mark Stephens’s Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques:

But yoga is not a practice of attainment: it is an unending process of self discovery and self-transformation.

So the first intention is to become a self-discoverer and self-transformer, and then to become a facilitator and guide as a teacher. Although the Stephens book is supposed to be about yoga teaching, it actually is an insightful reference about a whole spectrum of yoga-related matters, including the underlying philosophy, history and practice.

Keep it simple, Eve

I keep having to remind myself that for most people, yoga can appear really intimidating, complicated and alien. After six years, I love to plunge into the history, anatomy or psychology of yoga, but most beginners are worried that not nailing trikonasana as on the Yoga Journal cover will somehow impair their practice. That worry, bordering on fear, impairs their practice more than incorrect alignment.

So I appreciate a resource that tries to make yoga accessible. Today, I chanced across Five-Minute Yoga, belonging to Eve Johnson, a Vancouver-based Iyengar yoga instructor. Another reason for liking her blog is that yoga is her second career: she worked as a journalist  mostly for The Vancouver Sun and CBC radio, similar to my case. She has a set of no audio tapes of five-minute yoga sessions left aimed at beginners. You can even get it on a USB flash drive and take it anywhere.

Eve Johnson published a insightful review of Stefanie Syman’s book, The Subtle Body, in the Vancouver Sun [no longer available / MLS], which is how I came across her site.

Yoga in America

Graphic: Cover art of the book
Stefanie Syman wrote an ambitious book about 200 years of yoga in America

Writer Stefanie Syman has really bitten off a big chunk of history when she outlined her book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2010). Moreover, it deals with the cross-cultural meldings and misapprehensions of India and America along the fault lines that distinguish each country’s soulscape and other terrains.

That storyline arches from the Transcendentalists getting their cues about meditation third hand from English overlords of India (circa 1845), to the recent decades after the Woodstock generation lost faith in the its post-modern gurus like Muktananda (Siddha Yoga) and Prabhupada (Hare Krishnas).  Syman has succeeded in making it a fascinating, thought-provoking read.

There is too much material to limit my commentary to a single blog entry so I am going to stretch this out over several days. I bought the electronic version of the book from Amazon and am reading it on my netbook while riding the Metro to and from work. It saves me bulk in my shoulder bag. As an added bonus, I am linking to several sites that can expand perspective on Syman’s book.

Extra Credit

Publisher’s write-up
Interview in Elephant Journal
Interview in YogaDork with Stefanie’s list of recommended references on yoga
Feminist Review
Well and Good NYC review
Slate’s review: Why Americans Love Yoga

More to come soon. Enjoy.

The Brain and spirituality on the radio waves

National Public Radio Is This Your Brain On God? is a five-part (full week) look (or should I say “listen”) at how spiritual experience can be understood. Listen to the radio feeds, and also check out a couple of videos, as well as some illustrations of the geography of the brain.

The radio correspondent is Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who handles the religion beat at NPR. She has a new book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. There are some excerpts of the book available on the NPR site.

I’ve only caught part of today’s broadcast so I am going to have to hold back on any definitive opinions, but this is a subject that fascinates me so I will catch up tonight and follow the rest of the week.

A book to add to your must-read list

Jamail Yogis contacted me about a month ago asking me to read his book Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea. He wanted some comments and some coverage in my blog. I got a PDF advance copy of the publication, which became available Amazon and will be officially released on May 1. I started reading it and was impressed with the first 25 pages. But, as might be self-evident from the frequency of posting on this blog, I could not keep up with the reading. I had a couple of books and magazine already loaded into my shoulder bag for reading on the Metro, and other matters (2008 taxes, wife’s birthday, consulting work, and yoga) keep stealing my free time. This lack of follow-through should not be viewed as a judgment on Jaimal’s writing. All you have to do is look at his list of published articles to know that he can string words together proficiently.

As we all know, “anything can be yoga if you focus on your breathing,” so it should be no surprise that surfing can serve as the plot line for self-discovery. There are lots of books on the contemplative side of surfing. It still tough to condense this kind of daily reflection on a board and wave into a book without meandering all over the expanses of the ocean. But Jamail has the discipline to pull it off.

Jaimal will be promoting his book in the coming months, so you may be able to catch him at a bookstore near you — if you live on the West Coast. More info on the book.

I am flattered that Jamail thought of me to read his book, and thinking that my visitors might also benefit from reading the book. I have promised him that I will get around to reading it, but I don’t want to hold up the outreach so I am posting now to give a heads-up and let others now about the book.

The ageless dilemma of the human condition

This week’s multimedia selection is Audio Archives of Tara Brach’s Dharma talks at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) here in Washington, DC. Each week there is a 40-60 minute talk about practicing Buddhism in the modern world, and then Tara leads the group in a 20-25 minute meditation. I’ve listened to several of these talks, and they are outstanding, insightful pieces of devotional thought. I come from a Protestant church tradition, my father was a pastor and I have heard a few sermons in my day. But Tara is not preaching. She has an intimate tone of voice that draws you into the narrative. It’s almost as if she is talking to you over the breakfast table, even though she is addressing hundreds of people. Her cadence and timber prepare you for the formal meditation that follows.

Tara Brach is the founder and senior teacher at IMCW. She wrote Radical Acceptance — Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha (Bantam Dell, 2003). I read the book a few months ago, and had been meaning to put up some comments about it. The book is a dialogue between her practice as a psychotherapist and the wisdom that comes from Buddhist Dharma. Although her patients’ life stories provide many opportunities for insight into the human condition, she also draws on her own experiences. I found a lot of useful ways of looking at life’s dramas and tragedies. The “radical acceptance” that Brach is talking about is the act of freeing ourselves from the self-inflicted pain of feeling that there is something wrong with us (rather than use the “royal we,” I should probably speak in the first person). This is more simply said that done, which is why Brach needs a whole book to just scratch the surface. This issue is one of my own personal traumas — a deep sense of inadequacy, lack of self-worth and self-esteem, all of which poison my experience. I find myself being pulled back to re-read sections and chapters to review key points to her calm grasp of what it means to be human and how to get beyond the trap of human suffering to live life to its fullest potential.

So you can listen to audio files or read the book, either way you’ll appreciate the reassuring message of hope.

Need a reason to exercise? Read this book

Cover of the book SparkIf you ever need an intellectual motivation to get you off your butt and into an active program of exercise, read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey (Little Brown and Company, New York, 2008). I found it an informative read, which gave compelling arguments why you should engage in systematic physical exercise. He mined thousands of scientific research papers to underpin his work in objective findings. He synthesizes the information into 303 pages, but wrapped it in an engaging narrative around it so that you don’t fall asleep due to dry scientific writing. He also drew on his own case studies with patients and a few amazing experiments in applying physical exercise to learning environments.
Ratey’s subheading to the title is “Supercharge your mental circuits to beat stress, shapen your thinking, list your mood, boost your memory, and much more.” Sounds as if he’s peddling some kind of miracle drug, but it’s just plain, ol’ sweat, muscles and grunts.

“The prescription … varies from varies from person to person, but the research consistently shows that the more fit you are, the more resilient your brain becomes and the better it functions both cognitively and psychologically.” (p. 247)

To cut to the chase, his formula calls for 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise, usually running or equivalent intensity exercise, six times a week. On two days, he recommends five short sprints (30 seconds max) injected into a normal session (the max intervals seem to trigger the body’s optimization). Strength-training helps maintain or build muscle and bone mass, which can be affected by the aging process. Ratey also suggests that yoga, tai chi, martial arts or other similar activities be added to improve balance and flexibility, as well as body awareness and concentration. Obviously, it takes time, discipline and effort to work up to the condition of being able to sustain aerobic exercise for such long periods, but you will be rewarded.

Exercise has an impact on the brain’s neuroplasticity, creating new neurons as the building blocks. Ratey covered stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, addiction, hormonal change (menopause in women) and aging in separate chapters. Far and away the best thing you can do for your brain power, mental health and physical well-being is an active daily exercise regime.

Ratey gets down to the complex, inter-related chemical processes and components that create and balance the neurotransmitters that fire up the brain within the human body. Ratey’s conclusions are not new. There has been a steady drumbeat of stories in newspapers, magazines and on the web about how physical exercise can radically improve mental performance, ward off illnesses and aging and overcome mental disorders, like depression. He emphasized that it’s necessary to engage in physical exercise every day, both to make it a consistent habit and to make the body respond appropriately.

Ratey is a researcher and neuro-psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School who earned a reputation working on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). More information is available on his website and his blog, which links to news stories and features about his new book.

Stop what you’re doing and sample a unique vision

I just got through watching this video from the TED conference in Monterrey, California, February 28. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuro-anatomist, recently gave an chat about her life-altering experience of a brain stroke. This emotionally charged story is going to spread like wildfire because it captures a vital life story and marries it to both science and spiritual insight. I’m still reeling from my first viewing so just don’t mind me and set aside 18 minutes to be astounded.

Her website also contains a link to her self-published book, My Stroke of Insight through lulu.com. I got on to this because the New York Times featured it on the Well blog.

TED is heavy-weight conference that deals in thinkers of great ideas and doers of impressive deeds — and good story tellers. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It’s worth exploring.

Falling to pieces

While I was away in Colombia, my travel reading was Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness (Broadway Books, 1999) by Mark Epstein. I had read his book Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist perspective and was impressed with his approach to giving insight into life’s threads, knots and tangles. He is a New York City-based therapist and is one of the teachers at the New York Insight Meditation Center.

I managed to get through the whole book (181 pages) by the end of my meeting thanks to Epstein’s effortless writing style and the compelling content. He illustrates his central theme drawing on his own personal path of discovery and on his patients’ case histories. A saving grace of the book is that Epstein does not bite off too much by trying to be an authoritative text on Buddhism, meditation, patient-centered therapy or any other big concept. He is not selling a particular theory or political line. Instead, he argues that we need to relax into the flow of life, rather than lock into an attempt to control our experience or accumulate pieces of self-improvement until we have attained perfection.

Since I finished reading the book about four weeks ago, I’m trying to reconstruct what I found most rewarding in the book — without re-reading the book again. I am going to do some scratch writing off-line before posting it here.