The relationship of religious faith and spirituality with yoga practice can be a complex one. Some people of faith worry that yoga’s philosophical and spiritual aspects might conflict with their personal beliefs. Others find that faith can interact with yoga practice in a way that makes it far more meaningful than “a good stretch.” “My experience of God on my yoga mat and my experience of God in temple support and enrich each other,” says Edith Brotman, author of Mussar Yoga. “My yoga practice takes me to the place of inner stillness where the transcendent Divine resides, while Judaism grounds my spiritual life in the earthly relationships of family and community.” Brotman’s book joins three other new titles that take distinctive approaches to the intersection of religion, spirituality, and yoga, in ways that will intrigue students of religion and practitioners of yoga alike.
Mussar Yoga: Blending an Ancient Jewish Spiritual Practice with Yoga to Transform Body and Soul
Edith Brotman (Jewish Lights, July)
Yoga teacher and sociologist Brotman brings together two broad and historically complex teaching traditions—yoga philosophy and the Jewish practice of self-study known as mussar—in a book that connects yoga poses with Jewish principles such as trust, compassion, simplicity, generosity, and gratitude. For example, Tree Pose is presented in the context of “silence,” with notes for practitioners to reflect on the power trees have in their serene stillness. In addition to photographically illustrated, step-by-step pose descriptions, the book is replete with journal prompts and reassuring mantras drawn from a wide range of Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu sources to help readers connect with how the two traditions “add their unique strengths to the challenges of life,” she writes.
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography
David Gordon White (Princeton University Press, June)
White’s book, a contribution to Princeton’s Lives of Great Religious Books series, delves into the short collection of verses that many contemporary practitioners believe—erroneously—to be the original, definitive guide to ancient yoga philosophy. A scholar of comparative religions, White conducted sharp and deep research to tell the story of the rise, fall, and modern-day resurgence of the 195 verses attributed to the author/compiler Patanjali, who lived in either the first century BCE or the fourth century CE. White refers to the Yoga Sutra as a “comeback classic” that has journeyed far from its early Buddhist and Hindu roots and found new, sometimes improbable, advocates since its early 19th-century “discovery” by a British Orientalist.
Going Om: Real-Life Stories On and Off the Yoga Mat
Edited by Melissa Carroll (Viva Editions, Oct.)
Carroll, a Florida-based yoga teacher and creative writing professor, compiles essays from noted writers including Neal Pollack, Dinty W. Moore, and Claire Dederer, asking each to reflect on what millions of Americans—themselves included—are searching for in yoga practice, and what they are finding. Yoga helped one writer cope with her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease; another found self-worth through the challenges of being a 375-pound yoga student; yet another gained new perspective on the notion of “stillness” in a busy world. “That practice of discovering that you can be with yourself just as you are—you can be with your body in the present moment just as it is—that’s really special,” Carroll tells PW.
Sit with Less Pain: Gentle Yoga for Meditators and Everyone Else
Jean Erlbaum (Wisdom Publications, June)
Students of yoga often also practice meditation, and vice versa, and Erlbaum’s book is a practical guide to relieving the tightness and pain that can come with the prolonged sitting required for most meditation practices. Naturally, meditators aren’t the only people who spend long periods of time in seated positions, and many of Erlbaum’s cleanly illustrated poses, especially those for the upper body, will be helpful to desk-hunchers or carpool-drivers as well. The poses are organized by anatomical area, and sequences of poses to be practiced together will help readers experience a soothing “flow” sensation. Erlbaum, who has taught yoga since 1972, urges readers to practice both yoga and meditation in physical comfort. “We get no extra meditation points for some kind of ‘advanced’ method of sitting,” she writes.
Holly Lebowitz Rossi is co-author of Yoga for a Healthy Lower Back: A Practical Guide to Developing Strength and Relieving Pain (Shambhala, 2013).