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.


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.


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.



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

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.