Easy Seat: How to Sit With Less Pain: Book Review


Given how ubiquitous hatha yoga is today, it might be surprising to learn that just a few decades ago it was frowned upon by many Buddhist practitioners. In his forward to Jean Erlbaum’s well-informed book Sit With Less Pain: Gentle Yoga for Meditators and Everyone Else, Buddhist teacher Frank Jude Boccio confesses that at one time he did postures secretively at Buddhist retreats, afraid to be chastised for stretching his body between long sits.

Today, it’s clear that asana has many benefits, among them preparing practitioners’ bodies for meditation. Yet we haven’t seen an onslaught of books like Erlbaum’s that can help us learn to sit in contemplative practice longer while also showing us how simple yoga movements can ease tightness from routine tasks like sitting at a desk all day.

Erlbaum’s presentation is straightforward and clear, with just enough detail for non-experts to understand how to do the simple poses she outlines. She helpfully categorizes the offerings into upper body, mid-body, and lower body. Chair-based postures are included for those whose lack of mobility limits them from getting up and down from the floor.

In the least, Erlbaum’s gentle stretches and well-designed sequences can help people with chronic pain, stiffness, or a limited range of motion. At most, hatha yogis who do her suggested poses mindfully over time will understand how to cultivate their asana practice to establish a lasting easy seat.


Sacred Sound: Book Review


Seeing that contemporary yogis and yoginis have had no single source to explain the meanings of popular mantras or kirtan chants, Alanna Kaivalya has stepped in with Sacred Sounds: Discovering the Myth and meaning of Mantra and Kirtan. The book, divided into two sections—one covering 11 mantras and one 10 kirtan chants--devotes a chapter to each, explaining its significance, its governing deity and associated myths (if any), as well as giving suggestions for practice. No doubt you’ve already heard many of these—such as Om Namah Shivaya and the beloved and ubiquitous Om—either chanted in class or as a part of your class soundtrack. If you’ve ever wondered what they really mean, this book will begin to light the way.

Kaivalya, who is a touring kirtan musician herself, encourages practitioners to try mantras or participate in the uplifting group call-and-response of kirtan as a part of their regular yoga practice. In fact, her intention is to make what may seem like more esoteric parts of yoga more approachable to everyone, spreading the higher vibrations they inherently embody. While it’s not traditional—or in some cases, safe—for mantras to be practiced, as Kaivalya says, “in any way you like,” the ones she presents here will do no harm. For certain, the explanations of the Sanskrit and the myths help provide deeper context to the sounds—whether you are chanting the, or listening in—making kirtan an accessible way to attune to the joyful divine. So go forth, yogis, and sing!


Pick Your Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga: Book Review


Grown out of a Master’s thesis in professional writing from USC, Pick Your Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga, is 500-ERYT instructor Meagan McCrary’s helpful guide to 17 styles of yoga as currently practiced in the US today. The book starts with three foundational chapter—“Yoga Explained,” “America’s Yoga History,” and “Philosophical Foundations”—before diving into the nuts and bolts of Ashtanga-vinysasa, Iyengar, Bikram, Jivamukti and three other widely practiced American yoga styles. Ten more schools—perhaps considered specialty styles—such as Viniyoga, Anusara Yoga, and Forrest Yoga are overviewed in one further chapter.

Methodical and thorough, this book will be especially helpful to the advanced beginner who has practiced enough to want to branch out, but does not yet know what her options are. The book sheds light on the founders of each yoga style, the early days of the practice, as well as what’s distinctive about a particular approach and how it’s typically sequenced. Boxed call-outs showcase interesting factoids and key bits of history of philosophy.

It’s not always clear what criteria McCrary used to prioritize styles—why confine the ubiquitous vinyasa style, for example, to a mere side-note of Ashtanga yoga, or privilege the somewhat passé Integral yoga in the same breath as Iyengar? But it is apparent that McCrary made a good-faith effort to research schools extensively. At root her even-handed presentation acknowledges that no matter how different American yoga styles are, they are joined by one purpose: to help people attain a degree of self-awareness that comes only from devoted practice.


Hip-Hop Yoga In South Jamaica, Queens

When I call Erica Ford she has almost has no time to talk. She and her team of volunteer peacekeepers in South Jamaica, Queens, were hustling to stop a retaliation killing after a 14-year-old girl was shot over the weekend while riding the Q6 city bus.

Montreal’s Underground Art Scene

Montreal is home to a famous summer jazz festival, excellent comedy, chewy bagels, and the late-night, high-cal snack food called poutine (french-fries, gravy and cheese curd). But what you may not know, is that it’s also home to a very vibrant underground art scene.

The Path to the Yoga Sutras: Book Review

Many serious yoga practitioners pore over Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and any reputable yoga teacher training will require this foundational text for its students. But just as many people find the mysterious aphorisms, Sanskrit, and multitude of commentaries intimidating. Nicolai Bachman, a Santa Fe-based Sanskritist and yoga teacher, has compiled The Path of the Yoga Sutras to address this issue.

Yoga Is: Film Review


A Film About the Transformational Power of Yoga, written and directed by Suzanne Bryant

Yoga Is is Suzanne Bryant’s paean to yoga, an homage to the practice that held her together while her mother was dying of breast cancer. In gratitude, the former journalist explores yoga’s mysterious power—to engender love, happiness, and transformation—through interviews with such yoga world celebrities as Sharon Gannon and David Life, Alan Finger, Baron Baptiste, Seane Corn, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, and Shiva Rea. She also travels to India (though we see her there mostly with American teachers). Skillfully produced, the film charts similar territory to Kate Churchill’s thornier 2008 film Enlighten Up! but with a much less critical eye. Still, this is a good documentary for newcomers unfamiliar with yoga’s higher purpose, showing without a doubt that yoga is more than a sweaty workout.


Yoga Woman: Film Review


“Women have made yoga an international phenomenon and a multi-billion dollar industry,” observes Yoga Woman, a documentary from sisters Kate and Saraswati Clere. While yoga benefits both genders, Western women now dominate the practice, and they’re bringing issues such as body image, fertility, and family/work balance to the forefront. The film attempts to spotlight women of every age, race, situation, and nationality (though it remains U.S.-centered), and includes moving footage of pioneer teachers Patricia Walden and Angela Farmer, Seane Corn’s crew of yoginis building a birthing center in Uganda, and Indra Devi, “First Lady of Yoga,” who pestered paterfamilias T. Krishnamacharya until he accepted her as his student. In the end, Yoga Woman is a testimony to yoga’s transcendent power to calm, heal, challenge, and transform both individuals and societies.


Neal Pollack: Interview and Book Review


Stoner yoga memoirist reflects on health, wealth, happiness – and a year on the charts

It’s almost a year since Neal Pollack published his hilarious yoga memoir, Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude. I was late to the game, but caught up with him when I was out in LA for work this May. Pollack is wry, unapologetic and completely smitten with yoga, which made for an entertaining hour at the Casbah Cafe in Silverlake. Under the bougainvillea, Pollack held forth on the fate of the book, his yoga life, Richard Freeman, semi-ironic namastes, and his new project, Jewball, a novel.

neal pollack author joelle hann.jpg

Yoga Nation: How did the book do?

Neal Pollack: It wasn’t a best seller except for a couple of random weeks in a couple of random cities, and it hasn’t sold massive quantities, but it’s found an audience. The people who like it seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for it. So as much as I would have liked to have been a massive best seller that hasn’t really happened and I don’t see that happening.

YN: There’s always Russia. [Stretch came out in Russia, June 2011.]

NP: There’s always Russia. But I’m not going to count on that. It’s done as well as you can really expect a comic yoga memoir by a stoner guy to do.

And I’m being asked to go to other cities to do workshops. I’m going to New Orleans and Portland.

YN: What kind of workshops?

NP: I don’t know yet. That’s the thing, see: I’m a certified yoga instructor, through Richard Freeman last summer, but I haven’t taught a lot and I don’t have a ton of confidence in my ability as an asana instructor.

I certainly can’t talk about pranayama for three hours. Nor would anyone want me to. So I have to figure out what to teach.

I could barely stay awake during my teacher training because I was so tired from all the exercise. The physical stuff doesn’t come easy to me. I have a lot of alignment problems.

I’ll just have to be as honest with people as possible, say, listen, I’m not a master. I can’t do an entire 3-hour workshop on floating, you know what I mean?

YN: Teach to your strength right?

NP: Well let’s put it this way: when I assist my teacher in class, I drop people sometimes.

YN: There is a tradition of that.

NP: I can never figure out where to stand. No matter how many times people tell me, I can’t remember. And I’m sober when I’m getting the instruction.

YN: How was it studying with Richard Freeman?

NP: I have so much respect for him I can barely even begin to discuss it. He’s such a well-rounded human, so intelligent, and such physical ability. He seems inapproachable at first, but if you spend a month with him you realize that he’s sweet and kind. He just exists on a different plane some times.

He understands the practice deeply on many different levels. He’s the only person who’s explained yoga in a way that makes full sense to me. His language is so elevated and poetic. And he also mocks yoga culture in a very subtle and intelligent way that I appreciate. It was like I went to yoga college.

I went there with a blown out hamstring. Everyone kept saying you’re learning all these important lessons right now, and I was like, what the fuck are you talking about? I just want to bend forward.

YN: Is your hamstring better?

NP: Richard and his wife Mary when they saw that I couldn’t walk and saw that I had to go to the emergency room one day because I was so injured they came up with a strengthening program for me. It involved a lot of squatting and campers pose, you know you look like a camper taking a dump.

So I did a lot of that while other people were throwing their legs behind their heads.

They showed me a great kindness in doing that. I knew I was kind of a problem child for them, but I was injured. I’m always injured. I’m injured right now.

YN: What do you have?

NP: I got an SI joint thing on my right side. It pops in and out. It’s kind of a constant nagging thing. I should really just go to acupuncture or something but money’s tight. I lost my health insurance in December so…you know. Gotta try to heal it through yoga.

YN: That sounds precarious.

NP: A lot of people have it a lot worse.

YN: Are you still practice at same studios as when you were writing Stretch?

NP: Yeah, not the same spaces but the same community. A lot of the people I was practicing with when I first moved to Los Angeles 5 1/2 years ago are still around and they are still my community.

I’ve tried fancier studios and fancier people and I always end up going back to where I started. People are nice and the teachers are good but Yoga Journal ain’t going to do a story on it—unless I write one!

I think that’s good because yoga should be practiced with friends in a trusted space where you feel like you’re cared for to some extent—but not over cared for. You don’t want to be smothered.

YN: So you still have a really regular practice.

NP: Oh, yeah. I practice 5 days a week, and then I try to meditate on the days I’m not doing asana.

YN: Why not do it every day?

NP: I figure if I do an asana practice then that’s my meditation, you know? I do it when I feel like it. I know that’s not really what you’re supposed to do but—who cares?!?! I want to keep the meditation channel of my mind open, but some days it gets past me.

I’m definitely committed to it because I know that if I stop doing it my body would break down and so would my mind. I remember what my life was like before I did it. Actually, my life was exactly the same before I did it but the way I perceived my life was much different.

YN: And that’s everything.

NP: And that’s everything because my life was actually exactly the same. Ups and downs, goods and bads, sickness and health, but everything was clouded by this film of crazy. Not eccentricity—and I’ve got bags of that in my personality—but the crazies are kinda much more under control.

YN: That’s what got you in trouble with McSweeney’s?

NP: What happened was my ego was driving the ship, and it caused me to say and do stupid things. I had certain expectations and when they wouldn’t get met Id’ lash out in various ways. I over relied on drugs. I still do drugs, but I put them in their proper place. I wasn’t skillful in the way I handled that success.

I was not happy with the way I was comporting myself in the world. I feel better about that now and I think yoga has a lot to do with it. Middle age might also have something to do with it, but I know a lot of middle-aged people who behave very badly.

YN: How would you characterize the LA yoga world? What’s the insider perspective?

NP: The city is so big you can’t really generalize. Yes, of course you have the trendy yoga studios on the west side that are a little over-reliant on the bhakti perhaps. Those are the ones that get a lot of attention in press and the big crowds.

YN: What’s the west side?

NP: Venice, Santa Monica. But there’s also a nice community of yoga intellectuals here. There’s Loyola Marymount. There are people who are studying the tradition in intelligent ways here. And I would characterize the scene here as not particularly toxic, pretty laid back.

I avoid the elements of it that are trendy and celebrity oriented and competitive. It’s like Paris in the 20s for yoga—there’s so much talent and so much hard work and great yoga history here. Indra Devi taught here in the 40s, I live 5-minute drive from the original Self-Realization Fellowship. If you’re looking for it, you can still find it.

YN: Is there anywhere else on your travels that you thought was a cool yoga place?

NP: Not really. Austin has some fun stuff going on but I have a soft spot for Austin. The yoga scene in New York although there’s a lot of good stuff going on is too rushed and too competitive for me. San Francisco suffers a bit from excessive bougie-ness.

But again every place I go I meet intelligent thoughtful people who are trying their best. And then sometimes I’ll run into a stupid trendy yoga class. But in some ways yoga self selects. And the people within yoga self select. I have no trouble finding those people.

I’ve made some dear, dear friends through yoga who—I know I can’t always count on them to show up on time, or to be available to hang out all the time—but I can always count on them as emotional or intellectual support. And I can’t say that for all friends from all walks of my life at all times.

YN: Reading the book it sounds like you had a lot of fun writing it.

NP: I was like a kid at a soda fountain. It was all new to me.

YN: That was probably the perfect perspective.

NP: I was gimlet-eyed. I had no preconceived notions about what I was going to encounter at all. And now I do. I try to retain some of that innocence every time I get on the mat, but it’s not always easy to do. But that’s what you’re trying to do—to see reality as it really is, every moment should seem like you’re a newborn opening his eyes for the first time. But for the purpose of the book I was having a blast. I was trying to write the book as much in real time as I could. And as authentically as I could.

jewball neal pollack author joelle hann.jpeg

YN: You finished writing Stretch a while ago, right? You now have another book coming out.

NP: I finished it in November 2009. And now I’m almost finished with a novel. And I’m publishing it myself through the Kindle store. [Read a sample chapter from Jewball here.]

YN: Cool. Why did you decide to do it that way?

NP: A novel about Jewish basketball players in the 1930s, that’s more of a hit or miss proposition. There are ways to market these things but it requires more of a subtle touch. I think I have that audience and know how to reach them myself. My last novel sold poorly and I don’t have a track record as someone who sells a lot of fiction. Even though I’m happy with all the books I’ve written and I’m very happy with the one I’m about to finish.

YN: Have you been writing fiction consistently?

NP: I’ve written maybe a dozen or 15 short stories since Never Mind the Pollacks came out in 2003, but I mostly got on the memoir train because that’s what was paying, honestly. But my dream was never to be a confessional memoirist since I don’t have a lot of trauma in my life. The dream was always to be a fiction writer and it’s harder and harder to do if you’re not an established name. But I’m just putting this out there and seeing what happens. I might as well try.

YN: Might as well.

NP: What is it that LuluLemon says, “do something every day that scares you”?

YN: Right.

NP: Well, I don’t usually take my advice from a clothing company, but I suppose in it’s own way it makes sense as advice, right? I’m jumping into the void with this. But I’m used to that. My whole life is void jumping. Or chasm jumping. It’s nice to be writing something that has nothing to do with myself.  Characters a story and I can just write whatever the hell I want.

YN: It’s like wearing different shoes, not wearing the same shoes every day.

NP: It’s definitely a different pair of shoes. Cheap gym shoes from the 1930s. Historical novel set in the late depression era…

And, I tend to be a bit of a technophile and I see that this is where the world is going. I don’t know where it’s going to stop-–when a meteor hits it probably—but this is how the business is evolving and I’d like to be a part of it. I don’t want to be the last person to buy and iPad. Although I haven’t bought one yet.

YN: You don’t want to be a Luddite.

NP: I’m not a Luddite. I’m not afraid of —Richard, my yoga teacher, teaches that change is the only constant and your job as yogi is to know that change and act upon it skillfully. I’d like to think that my decision to self publish falls under that category.

Part of the problem with marketing Stretch was that it had to find its audience. Now it has, but I think it’s one of those things that’s going to have to gradually find its way into people’s hands. Some people are going to say this guy’s a fucking idiot. It’s happened before. And other people will read it and find a little bit of their own experience in there. You know?

I’ve come to realize my book represents the experience of a certain kind of yoga practitioner.

YN: Definitely. I think that’s also what makes it distinctive.

NP: The regular schmuck bumbling through it. Male and female.

YN: The hairy sweaty Jew?

NP: Okay, well first of all there are some hairy women, but I think I’ve had just as many female readers tell me they liked it.

YN: I loved it. But what I’m trying to say is the yoga comes through, but you come through, too, and that’s what makes it different because you have this distinct take.

NP: I just called it like I saw it. Like, what the fuck is this thing we are all doing.

YN: That’s the question we need to ask more!

NP: I think I know now why a lot better than I did then, even from when I published the book I know more now.

YN: What do you think the answer is?

NP: It’s the best system every devised to get people through life sanely. Our minds are so crazy and yoga was developed by many thousands of people for many thousands of years as a useful system for helping them live a sane, happy, and healthy life. It’s not a perfect cure for anything: you’re still going to have suffering, illness, and death, sadness. But it will affect you a lot less if you have a regular practice. I’m pretty certain of that.

And I’m certain that consistent practice over a long period of time without excessive expectations will yield excellent results. Even when I finished the book 2 years ago I didn’t really understand that so much.

YN: That’s a good answer. Does your son do yoga?

NP: He’s a grade-school kid in Los Angeles so yoga enters his life occasionally. But you know, who wants to do what their dad does?

YN: He’s not curious?

NP: Nah. When I say goodnight to him I semi-ironically bow to him and say ‘namaste.’ And he does the same thing to me and then he goes to sleep. And his teacher said, “You know, when Elijah’s done giving presentations he bows to the class and says, ‘namaste’ ironically.” I’m like, that’s my legacy: Ironic namaste.

YN: That’s perfect.

NP: I guess. There goes Alternadad asshole again.

YN: What’s up now for you and Stretch?

NP: I’m continuing down my yoga path for sure and I haven’t stopped trying to sell Stretch. I like the idea of going to other cities and meeting new people, and eating food and drinking beer, but I’m not the guy who is trying to pimp his yoga DVDs. I have no desire to be part of that corner of yoga culture. I’ve been tempted to try but I think it would be a disaster and a failure.

So instead I’m going to keep practicing and take opportunities as they come and enjoy whatever happens. I’ve only been practicing for 8 years. It’s not that long in the scheme of things. I’ll talk to you when I’m 60 and see where things are.


Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit: Book Review


This generous and straight-talking book showcases Ana Forrest’s intelligence and creativity as a healer, while dipping into memoir to detail the extreme abuse she suffered as a child. Born crippled, Forrest (the creator of Forrest Yoga) was imprisoned, drugged, starved, and raped from the age of two, and started drinking alcohol at four. At six, she began working in a nearby stable to escape her sadistic family, and, at 17, while working as a horse trainer, she attempted suicide by jumping off a cliff. As remarkable as her recovery from these soul-crushing experiences is her perspective—rebellious, inquisitive, and clear-eyed.

The exercises in Fierce Medicine are drawn from Native American and yogic traditions, and are designed to help readers step up their own healing practices and step into their intuitive powers. Forrest’s uncompromising approach to herself and compassionate approach to others declares that we can all overcome life’s trials, whatever they may be, and find radical joy in our existence.


War and Peace of Mind: The U.S. Military Embraces Holistic Healing

Author Joelle Hann War and Peace of Mind The U.S. Military Embraces Holistic Healing.jpg

Total Force Fitness, a new model of holistic wellness, can help soldiers with PTSD, brain injuries, chronic pain, and sleep disorders—and the military is taking note.

The U.S. Military’s ideas of fitness are changing, and in some surprising ways. In December 2009, the Department of Defense brought together over 70 experts to explore the possibility of a holistic approach to health that includes physical, psychological, and spiritual health. The results, published in the August 2010 edition of Military Medicine, outlined the radical new concept of “Total Force Fitness”—eight interconnected concepts for health, half of which focus on mind-body, spirit, community, and psychological wellness.

Ideas about holistic health are more often heard in yoga studios than in war rooms. But with thousands of service members coming home with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brain injuries, chronic pain, and sleep disorders—and many thousands more expected as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down—the military is looking for a broader range of effective long-term treatments. As Richard Miller, PhD, clinical psychologist and creator of the iRest Yoga Nidra program for sufferers of PTSD says, “The military is asking the question, with real innocence, ‘What does work?’ Acupuncture, guided imagery, yoga nidra—the military is in the mood that if you can prove it works, they will do it. The openness is there.”

Total Force Fitness will be launched at the third annual Warrior Resilience Conference in February, introducing top military leaders to this model of holistic wellness. The conference includes experiential sessions on nutrition, integrative yoga practices, and mind-body techniques for resilience. “If we are to protect the freedom of our nation,” says Admiral Michael Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who requisitioned the report, “we must move beyond simply having a sound body to a holistic view of health and fitness that includes both mind and body. Such a shift is essential, perhaps even for our very survival.”

“What we get out of this training will take us to the next level of being warriors.”

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), which is sponsoring the conference, is also in the process of creating a social networking site to encourage soldiers, their families, health care practitioners, counselors, and chaplains to share information on existing mind-body programs and research across the military. “We want to give people as many resources as we can,” says Mark Bates, PhD, director of Resilience and Prevention at the DCoE. “We don’t think the answer is pills and quick fixes, but ways to enhance overall health, and being connected with what’s important to a full and meaningful life.”

While most mind-body and yoga-related research to date has focused on helping service members returning from combat, Total Force Fitness aims to address the forces at every stage of engagement. Elizabeth Stanley, PhD, at the Mind Fitness Training Institute (MFTI), is studying whether meditation techniques can offset the cognitive and psychological effects of war—before and during deployment. The results of her pilot study have been promising. Soldiers who had trouble sleeping, staying focused, and dealing with trauma in the field are reporting improvement after using the MFTI techniques.

As Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth McKelton, U.S. Marine Corps, says, “This program has helped us to step back and really get in touch with what’s going on internally. We actually go inside and analyze the symptoms and start relaxing those feelings—those anxieties or pain.

Did you know?

  • 28 % of soldiers returning from extensive tours of Iraq and Afganistan have symptoms of PTSD.

  • 31% of marines and 38% of soldiers report mental health problems.

  • 90% of vets who enter an iRest program are skeptical but end up learning how to meditate in three weeks.

The Guru in You: A Personalized Program for Rejuvenating Your Body and Soul: Book Review


Former male supermodel Cameron Alborzian has written a compulsively readable book on yoga and ayurveda, littered with stories from his modeling career, personal life, and therapeutic work with clients. The Guru in Yoga aims to get people on the path of health and healing by helping them set clear intentions, work with breath and asanas, and apply ayurvedic techniques. For those who can’t afford Alborzian’s handsome services, this book is a helpful alternative.



Radanath Swami: American in Mumbai: Book Review


In front of tens of thousands of people, the guru motioned. “Tell that young man to come.” But the young man sitting shyly at the very back of the enormous tent didn’t understand. After waving and gesturing to no effect, an assistant went to get him, parting the awed crowd. So Radanath Swami, formerly Richard Slavin of Chicago, met the man who ultimately became his teacher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Or, some might say, this was how Srila Prabhupada chose him.

On a bitterly cold December night, Slavin, now 59, read from his recently published memoir, The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami (Mandala, $24.95) at Eddie Stern’s Ashtanga Yoga Shala on Broome Street. A slight, unassuming man, he sat quietly in the audience next to one of his students, wrapped in the light orange robe of a monk (unbeknownst to me; I sat down right beside him, in one of the only open spaces in the room). As Slavin approached the stage, no flowers were thrown or gifts given, Rather, his New York-based students revered him quietly from their cross-legged seats, as Eddie gave him a warm introduction.

Radanath Swami explained how he got to India at age 19 from an impulsive summer jaunt to Europe with a childhood friend. While abroad, their god of the counter culture, Jimi Hendrix, overdosed and died, just after the two youths had seen him perform in England. Fame, money, and talent hadn’t saved him. Wasn’t there a better way? Driven by his hunger for knowledge and relief from suffering, Radanath traveled from England to Crete where, meditating in a cave, a voice told him to go to India. Parting from his friend, he traveled overland for six months and entered the country penniless.

Reaching the banks of the Ganges, Slavin tossed in his American jeans and turtleneck, and adopted the life of a sadhu, a spiritual seeker. For more than a year, he traveled to the heights of the Himalayas, to the lush forests of Vrindavan, to the city of Bombay and many places in between. Like many young Americans in the late 60s and early 70s, he was on a quest to make sense of life’s larger import, that until recently had included the Vietnam war and the ordinary middle-class life that awaited him back in Chicago. By the time he met his guru in 1971, he had already studied with many spiritual dignitaries such as S.N. Goenkaji, founder of Vipassana, Maharaji Mahesh Yogi, with whom the Beatles briefly studied, and Swami Muktanada, founder of Siddha Yoga. He had been invited to take diskha, initiation vows, with high babas and gurus unknown in the west.

It might seem ironic that Slavin had traveled to India, searching in poverty, physical danger, illness, and sometimes extreme discomfort to find the man who, in 1966 and 1967, had already established an International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)—otherwise known as the Hare Krishna Movement—in New York and San Francisco. Ironic, too, that once he found his teacher, he returned to the US and only once he was living in an American ashram did he at last cut his hair and take initiation vows in 1973.

But at the reading, Radanath made clear that his search overseas was an important part of his quest: it transformed him. It also tested him. His long silences worried his family back home, a burden he keenly felt. He wrote them ardent letters that instead of comforting them only served to heighten their concern. “I thought they would be so proud when I wrote that the forest animals spoke to me and the butterflies were chanting OM. But my father went straight to the consulate to demand that they find me.” Alas, the consulate could not help: no man living in the caves of the Himalayas could be tracked down.

After teaching in the US for many years, and taking vows as a swami, in 1983 he returned to India where he lives today. His ashram in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) feeds almost 200,000 school children daily, runs a busy urban hospital, and offers spiritual instruction for all who seek it. Everything is done in the spirit of service and devotion, or bhakti, the true spirit of vaishnavism, his lineage.

Radanath’s slim quiet form, his story of determination and love, bears little resemblance to the rowdy Hare Krishnas we typically encounter today, who chant and dance en masse in public parks or harass people with copies of the Bhagavad Gita on subway platforms.

His mother, who had to look up the word “vegetarian” in the dictionary before preparing her son’s long-awaited homecoming meal in 1972, came to accept and take pride in Slavin’s vocation as a Krishna priest. On her death in 2003, Radanath took her ashes to India, spreading them on the Ganges as 2,000 devotees chanted kirtan on the banks of that sacred river.

Radanath’s memoir not only describes the journey of one spiritual seeker but also a world of spiritual leaders and their mesmerizing feats. “The supernatural powers of extraordinary yogis had begun to seem ordinary,” he said. Readers are reminded that even though these leaders have siddhis—unusual abilities that defy time and space—they don’t always use them to good ends, something we would do well to remember in the West. The memoir also serves to remind us that a spiritual quest requires hard work, a desire to learn, and a true heart: it’s not mere fashion and certainly not for the meek.

The evening ended with hot tea, havala, a traditional sweet made of shaved carrot, sugar, and raisins, and a book signing. I left after 11pm, before Swami had patiently signed all the books and the kirtan band had begun to sing its praises to Krishna.


It's Not About the Money: An Interview with Brent Kessel


I thought it would be appropriate for a site dedicated to frugal living to hear a few words from someone who spends his days and nights advising people on their money–and helping them to use it better.

Financial planner Brent Kessel is the C.E.O. of Abacus Portfolios and President and co-founder of Abacus Wealth Partners. I met him at the Yoga Journal conference in New York in May, where he was presenting at the 2-day “business of yoga” workshop.

It's not about the money Interview Brent Kessel Author Joelle Hann.jpg

Kessel, a long-time yoga practitioner, has been able to combine his wealth of financial experience (pun intended) with the mental discipline and spiritual insight of his yoga practice to come up with some pretty fascinating theories on our relationships to money. And, some helpful techniques for taming the financial beasts within.

In his talk–and in his book It’s Not About the Money: A Financial Game Plan for Staying Safe, Sane, and Calm in Any Economy–he outlined 8 major money archetypes as he sees them: the Guardian (worry/prudence), the Saver (hoarding/abundance), the Innocent (avoidance/hope), the Pleasure Seeker (hedonism/enjoyment), the Caregiver (enabling/empathy), the Idealist (distrust/vision), the Star (pretentiousness/leadership), and the Empire Builder (greed/innovation).

I was so fascinated that I took another workshop with him a few weeks after the conference. I found out (no surprise for a Frugaltopian) that I’m a Guardian and a Saver—also, to my surprise, an Idealist and a Pleasure Seeker.

Brent was gracious enough to agree to an interview with Frugaltopia. So, I’m happy to pass some of the super interesting insights outlined in his book “It’s Not About the Money” (Buy it! You won’t be sorry!) on to you, dear readers.

Interview with Brent Kessel

Frugaltopia: Do many people avoid looking frankly at their financial situation? If yes, do you know why?

Brent Kessel: Almost everybody avoids looking at some part of their situation. I call it their Money Mask. This is the part of us that hopes the world will see us a bit differently than we know ourselves to be. Most want to appear to have more income and assets than they do, primarily because in our culture, that’s synonymous with approval, success, praise. They are like a drug fix that allows us to avoid emptiness, restlessness, or sadness. However, because they’re ego-driven, they’re completely impermanent. So the only lasting solution becomes an addiction to more and more.

Frugaltopia: How did you come up with the idea of the 8 archetypes that best describe most people’s money issues?

Brent Kessel: Mostly just by observing the patterns that people get stuck in year after year, even if they sell a business or get a big inheritance. And these patterns are almost entirely based on past conditioning. It seemed an easy way to give us a common language for identifying our weaknesses and strengths, and to cultivate more balance.

Frugaltopia: Is there one archetype that seems to do better financially than others? Why is that, in your opinion?

Brent Kessel: It really depends how you define better. If it’s defined as increasing your net worth or financial security, it’s likely the Saver, or sometimes the Guardian. If it’s defined as voluntary simplicity, it’s probably the Idealist. If it’s using money to ease the most suffering in the world, then it’s the Caretaker.

"It's Not About the Money"

Frugaltopia: Frugaltopians–the 4 of us who run Frugaltopia–are most likely Savers or Guardians, according to your system. (I’m both!) Are there any downfalls to being frugal?

Brent Kessel: The biggest downfall is when we believe that we can obtain ultimate security from our frugality or savings. They are impermanent too. It’s imperative that we stay in touch with our mortality, with the preciousness of life and how quickly security can vanish. This elicits compassion, which is the best antidote to the extreme Guardian (who’s overly anxious about money and safety) and to the Saver (who never gives money away for fear that they might need it one day.)

Frugaltopia: If there’s one piece of financial advice you could give to everyone, no matter what their archetype, what would it be?

Brent Kessel: Look beneath the surface. Your financial life is not dictated by interest rates, investment returns, or budgets. 99% of it is dictated by the unconscious beliefs you have about money. Use my book, or the Cure for Money Madness to uncover the parts you’re not yet aware of.

Thank you, Brent! Learn more about Brent and his work at his web site

Documenta Brazil 2008: Rhythms of Brasilidade


A still from “Jogo de Cena” (Playing) 2007 by Eduardo Coutinho. Coutinho ‘interviews’ actress Fernanda Torres in a fake ‘audition.’

A still from “Jogo de Cena” (Playing) 2007 by Eduardo Coutinho. Coutinho ‘interviews’ actress Fernanda Torres in a fake ‘audition.’

What does it say when one of the filmmakers featured at a documentary film festival is 40 minutes late for his scheduled round-table event? True, it’s Friday night in New York, and it’s storming out. True, Brazilians have a more elastic sense of time, and the filmmaker had just arrived from Brazil. Maybe he had gone to some other event that had run late?

“I’d like to say I went to see a wonderful film from Estonia or Mongolia,” said a sheepish João Moreira Salles when at last he took his seat in the already-started panel. “But I did not. I went to see James Bond.”

So went the second day of Documenta Brazil, a documentary film festival hosted at the King Juan Carlos Center at New York University that featured 23 well-chosen films from 21 contemporary Brazilian filmmakers. Humor and a little bit of the absurd permeated the serious event–—which included several catered receptions, live music, and a keynote address by a prominent Brazilian critic and intellectual, José Miguel Wisnik (also an accomplished composer, pianist, and singer).

The crowd was a refreshing blend of students, academics, neighborhood residents, Brazilophiles, Brazilians and friends of the festival. Though people dressed in jeans, sweaters, and parkas, the vibe was elegantly engaged; this audience had a good appreciation of film and culture. For film buffs it was a thrill to mingle with admired filmmakers—João Moreira Salles and Sandra Kogut—who had accompanied their films to the six-day festival.

Having already seen Salles’ latest documentary Santiago in Boston last winter, and Carlos Diegues and Rafael Draguad’s AfroReggae: No Motive Explains War (AfroReggae: Nenhum Motivo Explica a Guerra) at MoMA’s Brazilian film festival in 2007, I was curious to see a broader range of Brazilian documentaries, and what—if anything—filmmakers were addressing outside of the well-documented, almost cliché subjects of Brazilian cinema—life in the slums, police corruption, and hard times in the rural northeast.

Friday’s discussion included Salles, Kogut, Lincoln Center Film Festival director Richard Peña, and two academics—Luz Horne from Princeton, and the moderator Edgardo Diekele.

Kogut emphasized, “Brazilian filmmakers know what’s expected from Brazil is violence and misery—they know people want to see the big issues, but this is changing.”

Salles added that the best Brazilian documentary filmmaking is increasingly not just about its subject, but also about the “grammar” of film, or what the film also says about filmmaking. Diekele held up three examples: Salles’ Santiago (2006), an elusive portrait of his family’s butler; Eduardo Coutinho’s Playing (Jogo de Cena), in which actresses and ordinary women separately recount the women’s tragic stories (2007); and Sandra Kogut’s 2002 documentary The Hungarian Passport (Um Passaporte Húngaro).

Kogut called all three films more subtle stories for Brazil—dot-dot-dots rather than exclamation points. Kogut’s film charts her own quest to receive her Hungarian passport despite overwhelming bureaucratic and cultural obstacles. A Brazilian Jew of Hungarian origins, Kogut is also charting Jewish immigration and Brazil’s early anti-Semitism.

Festival co-director Micaela Kramer, a PhD student in Comparative Literature at NYU, says she got the idea for the festival after being impressed by the work of three prominent filmmakers, João Moreira Salles, Eduardo Coutinho, and Paulo Sacramento. But it took her a year and a half to secure funding, and find a location and a co-director, fellow student Fernando Pérez (“the most Brazilian Chilean I know!” says Kramer).

The project gained momentum after the pair received their first grant, and after the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center showed an interest in hosting the festival.

While most of Documenta Brazil’s films were made before 2000, the oldest—Eduardo Coutinho’s Santa Marta: Two Weeks on the Hill (Santa Marta: Duas Semanas No Morro) from 1987—gave a nod to Coutinho as the father of Brazilian documentary filmmaking. It also contextualized other works in the festival, having been one of the first to document “the open secret” of impoverished life and police harassment in Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Marta slum.

The festival directors thoughtfully paired Coutinho’s film with News from a Personal War (Noticias de Uma Guerra Particular) (1999) by Salles and co-director Katia Lund. This film returns to the same favela 12 years later by which time the drug war, violence, and police brutality had escalated to an absurd point. The Rio chief of police is on film saying the “war” is no longer about the good guys winning—there are no good guys anymore, and no one is going to win.

In spite of this continued emphasis on the horrors of the drug trade, police corruption, and favela life, I was happy that the festival also included documentaries on other subjects such as immigration (to, from, and within Brazil), romance (as older women looked back on their lives in a macho society), teenage pregnancy, folk artists, and Orson Welles’s visit to Rio in 1942. Brazilian music and musicians were well represented with no fewer than five documentaries.

In fact, Documenta Brazil seemed designed to elevate the form of documentary filmmaking from the status of supporting actor in the Brazilian film world to leading man.

“Documentary filmmakers are often asked when they will make their first feature film,” said João Moreira Salles (whose brother, Walter Salles, is a successful feature film maker) with a chuckle. “But no one would ever approach a director such as Ingmar Bergman and say, ‘Okay with the fiction, but when are you going to make your first documentary?’”

“A festival like Documenta Brazil aims at destabilizing such a hierarchy,” agrees co-director Micaela Kramer. “We are showing that documentary films are as interesting as fiction films.”

Richard Peña, Lincoln Center Film Festival director, adds, “This is a new generation of filmmakers. They don’t claim to speak for a nation, but to speak for themselves.”


Celluloid Dreams: Sao Paulo


The Rise of a Little Film School in Brazil

AT 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, students wait anxiously to be buzzed in through the heavy, wrought-iron gates at 142 Rua Dr. Gabriel dos Santos. Beyond lies a large, colonial house with a broad, wrap-around veranda. As students march upstairs to the old-fashioned classrooms, the wide-plank steps creak noisily underfoot. By 3p.m., schooled in the basics of documentary film making, they’re back on the street—shooting their first video on a digital video camera.

Brooklyn NYC Author Joelle Hann Brazil

While this scene might sound typical, these students are not from New York University’s illustrious film school, nor the well-funded School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. They won’t be driving off to Sundance anytime soon. (If they go, they’ll be taking a 10-hour international flight.)

Rather, these students are enrolled at Academia Internacional de Cinema (AIC), a small, independent film school that’s located in the residential Higienópolis neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil.

Chasing a dream, AIC’s founders Steven Richter (an American), and Flavia Rocha (a Brazilian), co-founded the Academia in 2004 with their friend Ram Devineni (American). Richter, who had worked as the Production Director for Trafika Films in the U.S., briefly considered opening the school in Brooklyn. But when Rocha met some generous Brazilian bureaucrats at a Manhattan cocktail party, the couple decided to base the school in Brazil.

“Our goal was to launch an independent film school that developed independent filmmakers. It was to empower individuals to go out and have a vision and the know-how in all the areas in the art and craft of filmmaking,” says Richter, 36, who is AIC’s director and majority owner with Rocha, 34. (The couple are married.)

Celluloid Dreams Author Joelle Hann.jpg

Richter, who had taught film to underprivileged students in the Bronx and was also an educator and course developer for the Seattle Film Institute, designed AIC to meet the needs of students who wanted to learn all aspects of filmmaking by actually making films. In Brazil, where major film schools typically require years of coursework before filmmaking begins, the Academia’s hands-on approach was a welcome change. (It was the first and is still the only independent film school in Brazil to offer a full-time program.) As of 2007, the school—which increases its programming by 15-20% every year—had 80 full-time film students and 300 part-timers taking workshops and intensives.

“Most programs available in Brazil are geared towards people who can afford it,” says Devineni, 35, who handles international relations for the school, fostering important connections with industry insiders in the U.S. Devineni also recently established Bollywood Brazil, bringing Bollywood films and productions to Brazil and vice versa. “We wanted to make it more open and democratic—anyone can apply—and if they’re diligent they can do well.”

The Academia is not unlike other Brazilian film schools in that it’s mostly comprised of middle and upper-class students in their mid-twenties. But while most film schools accept only 10-12 people, AIC accepts anyone—even if they don’t have an extensive portfolio. The school also makes a concerted effort to be inclusive, offering bolsas (scholarships) to low-income students, some of whom come from favelas in São Paulo and Rio (known for their poverty and drug and gang activity).

The Academia originally opened in the southern city of Curitiba, where the city government found the school subsidized housing in a former industrial neighborhood. But soon discovering the limitations of this relationship, Richter and Rocha relocated the school to its current spot in São Paulo.

“The school is now 100% private money,” says Richter, “That gives us freedom but makes things difficult, too.” The school relies exclusively on student tuition and grants to help them bring in international faculty such as Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel (“The Holy Girl”), Polish cinematographer Grzegorz Kedzierski, American Allison Anders (“Gas, Food, Lodging” screenwriter), and Steven Hopkins (director, “Trembling before G-d”). Most of the Brazilian faculty continue to work in film.

Brazilian writer Marcelo Carneiro da Cunha, 50, whose 15th book will be published this May, teaches scriptwriting at AIC. He says the Academia is important in the landscape of Brazilian film, “because it has a very practical view of filmmaking. It is not academic, and this helps improve the quality of the students’ films enormously.”

Former student Érico Rassi, 35, adds that because students work all crew positions (lights, sound, directing, etc.) on one another’s films, they quickly become very skillful. They also make connections that last well beyond school. “It is a college of art so you get to know a lot of people who have the same lines of thought as you. You make connections—your friends become your colleagues.” Rassis’ 10-minute film, “Um Pra Um” (One to One, 2006) made during his one semester at the Academia, has been shown in festivals throughout Brazil and won first prize at Rio’s International Short Film Festival in 2007.

Despite its emphasis on the practical side of filmmaking, the Academia sees itself as an art school that teaches filmmaking rather than a technical school that teaches craft. Students have created over 1,000 short films to date, with full-time students directing 14 films in both film and video, and acting as crew on at least 15 others in their graduating year alone. The majority of students are just beginning to enter festivals, win prizes, and get distribution for their projects.

Aside from Rassi, who continues to work full-time in advertising (as many Brazilian filmmakers must to support themselves), graduate Cristiano Burlan’s work is getting recognition: his first feature film, “Corações Desertos” (Deserted Hearts, 2006) was selected for the New Directors competition in the 30th International Film Festival of São Paulo, South America’s biggest film festival. His documentary “Construção” (Construction, 2006) was accepted to Tudo Verdade (It’s All True) an important documentary festival held (simultaneously) in São Paulo and Rio, as well as other festivals in Brazil and Cuba. He now teaches at AIC.

To help bring in new students and diversify their offerings, the Academia added a one-year creative writing program in February 2007. The program, Criação Literária, has a broader curriculum than the ones available at other schools in São Paulo, the seat of some of Brazil’s most powerful literary publishers. Already it has 30 full-time students.

“There are only small workshops in São Paulo,” says Rocha, who directs the writing program and has an MFA in poetry from Columbia University. Her bilingual book of poems “The Blue House Around Noon/A Casa Azul ao Meio-Dia,” from Travessa dos Editores, was published in 2005. “This is a different kind of commitment, much more extensive.”Rocha, also a working journalist and the former director of communications and publicity at the school, invites writers she admires to run the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction workshops. “There are some talented students in the course and we hope that it will have an effect on the São Paulo writing community.”

The film students have all the necessary equipment and facilities at their disposal, including two sound studios and a screening room, ten Macintosh computers with Final Cut Pro 6, and about ten cameras in various formats, including 16mm. Lighting and sound gear, plus post-sound mixing and editing equipment are also available, as is a library with more than 500 films on DVD. Quality used equipment can be very hard to find in Brazil’s relatively small film industry, and extremely expensive to purchase outright.

Additionally, Brazil’s major arts funding is closely tied to heavily bureaucratic government programs at the federal, state, and city levels that allow corporations to sponsor artists instead of paying taxes. This can lead to problems—lack of sponsorship because of a film’s subject matter and implicit favoritism when corporations want to continue funding an experienced artist instead of supporting new artists. When funding is granted but slow to get past administrative hurdles, it can delay the completion of a project—even for established filmmakers. It took Phillipe Barcinski, the award-winning film and TV director, five years to make his latest film, “Não Por Acaso” (Not by Chance, 2007).

With the exception of big-name filmmakers such as Fernando Meirelles (“The Constant Gardener,” “City of God”) and Walter Salles (“Motorcycle Diaries,” “Central Station”), Brazil produces few films that make it beyond the country’s own borders—or that even gain a respectable audience within them. “National production was seen as seen as third class. What everyone was watching and reading was American—better quality,” says Juliana Faria, Senior Analyst for research and acquisition at GloboSat, a pay-TV section of Globo Network.

However, citing the freedoms that digital technology affords, AIC co-founder Devineni says that he, Rocha, and Richter took inspiration from the ethos of 70’s filmmaking in the U.S., “Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese figured out how to raise money and get their films made; they worked on every aspect of them, that’s how it was.” They hope that AIC graduates will not only approach filmmaking—and secure funding—in the same DIY spirit but also gain wide audiences both in Brazil and abroad.

Acclaimed documentarian João Moreira Salles, winner of the Cinema Brazil Grand Prize for his 2003 film “Nelson Freire” (and brother of Walter Salles), says he feels optimistic not only about the new crop of film technicians graduating from Brazilian film institutes, but also about the type of artistic films new graduates might make. Especially, it seems, those who have graduated from independent-minded schools like the Academia. “I am very hopeful that something really good will come from it. Something formally different that says something new.”


Lady Matters: The Power of Women in Yoga: Book Review


A yoga class in which only men can chant “om” seems silly today, but that restriction was once one of many imposed on female practitioners. Janice Gates, founding director of Yoga Garden Studio in San Anselmo, California, illuminates the yogic role of the fairer sex in her new book, Yogini: The Power of Women in Yoga (Mandala Press, $20). Gates begins with a compelling overview—including the story of how women’s role in the practice diminished once the Brahmin culture took hold in India in 1500 B.C.E.—before profiling 17 contemporary yogini pioneers, including Sharon Gannon, the director of megastudio Jivamukti, and Gurumayi, Siddha Yoga’s beloved leader. With handsome reproductions of yoginis in Indian art, the book uncovers a story that’s rarely told: Women were once valuable teachers and spiritual guides in yoga—and now finally are again.


For Total Posers: Four Book Reviews


Unfurl your mat and meditate on this summer's best yoga books.

yoga beneath the surface.jpg

Yoga Beneath the Surface: An American Student and His Indian Teacher Discuss Yoga Philosophy and Practice

By Srivatsa Ramaswami and David Hurwitz. Marlowe and Company, $16 paperback.
Don’t have a personal guru? How about a portable one? In Yoga Beneath the Surface, Indian master Srivatsa Ramaswami elaborates on the finer points of yoga philosophy with California yogi David Hurwitz. A student of the renowned Sri T. Krishnamacharya (1888--1989), Ramaswami illuminates issues as varied as the nature of the self, the hidden benefits of poses and whether to jump back to chaturanga on an inhale, exhale or no breath at all. The conversational format is skimmable—making it handy for yogis commuting between classes—but the full experience may require the use of other reference books, notably Ramaswami’s The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga. And if you aren’t already comfortable with Sanskrit and the yoga sutras, this book will take some effort.

the wisdom of yoga.jpg

The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living

By Stephen Cope. Bantam Dell, $25.
All too often, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, that tome of yogic wisdom, gathers dust on earnest yogis’ bookshelves simply because it is so very esoteric. Enter senior Kripalu yoga teacher Stephen Cope, who provides much-needed Western context in The Wisdom of Yoga. Cope, also a psychotherapist, follows six people—from a hard-nosed litigator to a Berkshires gardener—in their psychological dramas. As each case study develops, Cope deftly explains how the sutras’ major terms and concepts—such as stilling the mind, building awareness and facing the false self—apply. Cope is well versed in Eastern and Western ideas and has a light touch with heavy concepts; you almost forget that this is theory. The book includes a handy English translation of the yoga sutras at the back.

waking a memoir of trauma and transcendence.jpg

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence

By Matthew Sanford. Rodale, $24.
Matthew Sanford vividly illustrates the power of mind-body connection in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. At age 13, this Minnesota native became a paraplegic when a freak car accident sent his family off an icy highway, killing his father and sister. Although Sanford went on to lead a life that included college, marriage and a family, it was yoga that ultimately helped him recover. Working with an Iyengar-trained teacher, Sanford learned to experience his unresponsive body in powerful energetic connections. He’ll never walk, but that hasn’t stopped him from teaching yoga to students both walking and disabled. If you’ve ever questioned the healing power of yoga, this fast read is for you.

the yin yoga kit the practice of quiet power.jpg

The Yin Yoga Kit: The Practice of Quiet Power

By Biff Mithoefer. Healing Arts Press; book, flash cards and audio CD, $25.
Yoga is healing, yet practitioners sometimes tear knee ligaments, pull hamstrings and strain rotator cuffs while pushing themselves to perform. According to Biff Mithoefer, Omega Institute instructor and author of The Yin Yoga Kit, the culprit is too much yang, or aggressive striving. He recommends more yin, or softness and receptivity. Yin Yogis allow connective tissue and joints—especially in the lower back and pelvis—to gently stretch by holding poses for five minutes or more. The peaceful practice follows the flow of chakras, energy centers and meridians to deeply balance the body. And since Mithoefer’s kit includes a book, a programmable CD and flash cards, you can organize that peaceful practice at home.

Peace Keeper: Pema Chodron: Book Review


To end wars, some march on Washington or analyze foreign diplomacy. According to Buddhist nun and best-selling author Pema Chödrön, we need to meditate, too. Chödrön, 70, discusses ways to de-escalate violence—on ourselves, others and the world—among other topics on the season finale of PBS’s Bill Moyers on “Faith & Reason” on Friday 4 at 9pm and Sunday 6 at 7pm. It will be a rare appearance for Chödrön who, in failing health, recently embarked on a yearlong retreat. Her new book, Practicing Peace in Times of War (Shambhala, $16), lands in bookstores this September, and, like her other tomes, makes complex Buddhist ideas appealing and accessible to the average joe. “War and peace begin in the hearts of individuals,” she says. And when she says it, you believe her.


The Heart and Soul of Sex: Book Review


A few blissful nights might tell you what tantric yogis have always believed: Sexual and spiritual ecstasy are related. And now we’ve got hard evidence. Sex therapist and scholar Gina Ogden, Ph.D., applies Western academic research methods to the ancient tradition in her new book, The Heart and Soul of Sex: Making the ISIS Connection (Trumpeter, $23). Of the more than 3,000 women and 600 men she polled, 67 percent say, “Sex needs to be spiritual to be satisfying.” These findings challenge prevailing medical models, which study intercourse within the parameters of performance and dysfunction. On Tuesday 25, Ogden discusses her findings at the Open Center and offers practical advice for transcendence in the bedroom (think tantra, chakras and visualizations). Yes, the book is aggressively New Agey, but don’t let that turn you off, because it could ultimately turn you on.