Time for presents! What do you get the yogi on your holiday list?
What I have to suggest has nothing to do with LuluLemon or your local studio, but rather books. Books!
Three notable books come across the Yoga Nation desk this fall. Should you be fortunate enough to have yogis—plural— to shop for, there’s likely a match for everyone.
For your discriminating reader at any point in their yogic career, I suggest Benjamin Lorr’s engrossing memoir Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga.
Lorr went from no-good, overweight drunk to hooked on Bikram yoga. Yeah, that stinky hot yoga that people rave about. I mean hooked— he went deep, did the teacher training, entered the notorious competitions, experienced Bikram and his coterie up close and in the flesh.
While the book is a great story, it is truly remarkable how much time Lorr spends in describing and justifying pain. He cites research, talks to experts, but after all his hard work, I actually wanted him to do something simple, like distinguish between the intense discomfort of stretching something stiff and the sharp pain of injury, something everyone in yoga can relate to.
I confess that I worried about him—about the fate of his body and his sanity (and the state of yoga). At the same time, I was fascinated by his obsessive fascination and kept reading to the end.
Lorr goes to great lengths to disabuse you, reader, of your quaint notion that yoga is not meant to be competitive. It is, he says. In fact, it can be anything we want it to be. There isn’t a script (except in Bikram teacher-training where there is a very strict script).
And while he admires Bikram Choudhury for his knowledge and skill, he clearly has mixed feelings about Bikram as an undeniable megalomanic. (Example: Bikram requires that his teacher-trainees stay up til 3, 4, or 5am watching Bollywood movies just so he doesn’t have to be alone.)
Even if this is a wack story, it’s a highly enjoyable read. Lorr is a gifted writer. And he gives you lots to think about. Recommended.
Next up, and probably best suited to your newbie yogi, is Brian Leaf’s memoir, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. The book’s subtitle—My Humble Quest to Heal my Colitis, Calm my ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness—promises a strange brew, and even several chapters in, I was trying hard to peg the flavor of this cocktail.
Leaf tells of his beginnings in yoga (and eventual journeys and questings) in a self-deprecating, slapstick voice that would be well-suited for stand-up. (Yoga stand up? Why not?!). And so this book might appeal beginning yogis who will be able to relate to his foibles.
In the end, too much bud-duh-bah becomes distracting in book form. Leaf offers advice throughout and appendixes of hands-on stuff at the back.
Watch the book video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcYFYjnU9Cw
Next, for the yogi intellectual is 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice. A collection of essays edited by It’s All Yoga Baby’s editrix Roseanne Harvey and former Elephant Journal blogger Carol Horton, this self-published collection gives critical perspective on yoga culture today.
Essays range from how the yoga scene reinforces negative stereotypes of women’s bodies, how yoga needs to include activism, speak to non-violence, how it can heal addition etc. Warning: a lot of essays have two-part titles that include colons (the punctuation mark), e.g. “Yoga for War: The Politics of the Divine.”). You know what that means. Graduate school!
The first essay absolutely infuriated me with its mushed up logic, but otherwise these are conversations the yoga world needs to be having. At long last. Amen.
Finally, forget about William Broad’s The Science of Yoga from earlier this year unless you want to confuse your yogi. Broad may be a senior editor at the New York Times, but he’s no yoga expert. Gary Kraftsow of American Viniyoga Institute expertly tore him a new you-know-what at the Yoga Journal Conference in NYC, 2012. In front of an audience of, oh, a thousand or more. Problematic understanding of Tantra and yoga’s origins (Lorr is much better on this point) and interesting but shady research overall.
That’s it! Happy holidays!
(And drop a comment here or a tweet me @yoganation to let me know what you bought your yogi this year, book or no… )