Along with Summertime comes talk of beach reading. I'm not a big fan of sitting on the beach (I get bored. I guess I'm more of a kayak on the lake girl than a lie on the beach girl.), but I do enjoy spending some quality time on the deck in a chaise lounge with a good book. This year, there's an excellent crop of books that have made my must-read list:
Downward Dog Upward Fog -- The best way to describe this light-hearted book is relatable. Rather than a tale of pilgramages to distant lands or meeting gurus in India, this book, which is peppered with teachings from familiar names in the New Age world such as Eckhart Tolle, Neale Donald Walsch, and Deepak Chopra, focuses on us regular folk attempting to live a spiritual life in what often seems like a non-spiritual world. In fact, the main character Lorna, was created by an author to relfect her own pursuit of a non-religious spirital life. After returning from a silent retreat, we find Lorna thrust back into the anything but silent real world, having to deal with work, relationships (and a boyfriend who is anything but spiritual, religious or otherwise), the expectations of others, email, and a brain offering up a constant inner dialog. Sound familiar? That's the joy of this book -- it feels like you could put yourself directly in the middle of this story. I think many of us can relate to the intrepid yogi in this story who so astutely observes, "...I'm plowing through my days unmindfully. Nine o'clock morphs into six o'clock without much awareness of what's happened in between." This book is a quick and enjoyable read in which you'll find yourself time and time again.
A Brief Introduction to Yoga Philosophy: Based on the Lectures of Srivatsa Ramaswami -- I enjoy reading books on Yoga Philosophy and I especially enjoyed this little gem in which the oldest living student of Krishnamacharya -- Srivatsa Ramaswami -- offers up a concise treatise on the tenets of yoga. Bravo to David Hurwitz for putting together these thoughtful and thought-provoking teachings from a master (in my opinion). Yes, there are no shortage of books based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, but this one is well worth your time. If you'd like to hear a little more about Srivatsa Ramaswami's teachings, fellow blogger, yogi and longtime student of Ramaswami, Linda Sama, has some excellent posts on his teachings including Chitta Vritti and The Three Gunas.
Yoga: Dance of the Gods -- I found the title of this book intriguing and was further sucked in by the thoughtful words on the back cover: "Like dancers on a stage, each and every moment, as in each and every way, we put on the costume of a different part of our personality in order to satisfy the particular movement called for in the moment. The dance represents the relative truth only which is a perception of the personality as it is reflected through the movements of the enviornment of the dance." The inside of the book is no less interesting. This brief treatise on all aspects of the yoga of self discovery offers up teachings of yoga with both depth and simplicity. The author, who has a background in Tibetan Buddhism, starts the book with a compelling summary of the philosophy of yoga and goes on to write an interesting read that encourages the reader to reflect on the concise passages in a more in-depth fashion. I found the chapter at the end of the book -- entitled A Word to the Wise -- to be a refreshing change from the more popular, Americanized definitions of yoga. While the final chapter might offend some as it makes a case for vegetarianism, it does raise some interesting points. This book isn't fluffy, but is, rather, a brief, but thought-provoking read, almost like a meditation.
The Journey Home -- This book -- a memoir of "an American Swami" -- is the longest of the bunch (and includes pictures), as it takes the reader from a swami's humble beginnings in Chicago to exotic lands as he journeys to self-awareness. This book offers a nice break from fluffly fiction and an interesting glimpse into India's mystic culture. I'm a fan of autobiographies, and this one earned a place on my thumbs-up list.
The Way of the Happy Woman: Living the Best Year of Your Life -- Rather than a fictional story or a more scholarly book about yogic teachings, this fabulous book offers a variety of tools, self-care practices, and techniques for reconnecting with and soothing your body, mind, and spirit. As you can tell by the title, this book is geared towards women and offers some excellent advice for getting back to natural cycles that have been overridden by modern life. It's like a mini-retreat in book form. You'll find yoga poses, meditations, brainstorming techniques, recipes and a healthy does of personal stories and wisdom from the author, an Ivy-League educated recovering Type A personality who healed herself from a variety of health issues, eating disorders, and anxiety. Part 1 of this comprehensive book covers the core principles behind The Way of the Happy Woman (which is defined by the author as "Living in harmony with oneself and one's surroundings as a feminine being in the modern world" and entails simplifying, slowing down, and aligning with the rhythms and cycles of nature.) and offers a variety of foundational practices. Part 2 offers a chapter for each season and includes shopping lists, menus, recipes, Yin and Yang yoga sequences, and meditation sequences for each seasonal cycle. Engaging Try This boxes are sprinkled throughout the book, so you'll want to have a journal handy to dive into the exercises presented. This book isn't lacking in helpful exercises, excellent information, and moving stories. In fact, there's so much excellent information packed into this book that it warrants a second, third, and fourth read.
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses: This book came out at the beginning of the year, so I suppose it can't be called a new release. Still, I just had to recommend it here thanks to the engaging writing of author Claire Dederer. Although this book is a memoir quite different than the one I previously mentioned, it's no less entertaining. The author, a mom in suburban Seattle who turns to yoga to relieve her back pain, takes us through a decade of her life and all of the ups and downs therein. While I couldn't necessarily relate to her life, I did find myself interested in her musings, observations, and adventures. Yes, each chapter is named for a yoga pose and includes a delightful little asana illustration. This book offers fun, Summer-light reading.
The Art of Flourishing: A New East-West Approach to Staying Sane and Finding Love in an Insane World -- I have to say that this book is my favorite of the bunch. In fact, I was hooked by the introduction and what I read there (and the story of T.K.V. Desikachar in chapter 2 was fabulous). This meaty book is an exploration of self and relationships and endeavors to answer the question: How can we avoid sacrificing our own self-care to get the love we want? The book recognizes self-care as the foundation for intimacy and includes tools to live a fulfulling, meaningful, and passionate life. The author, an expert on Eastern meditative and Western psychotherapeutic traditions, presents a unique perspective thanks to the interesting mix of Eastern and Western schools of thought. The case studies and personal experiences cited throughout the book bring the principles written about to life. The book is composed of 2 sections: 1. Planting the Seeds of Self-Care and 2. Cultivating the Garden of Love and shares the author's own teaching of meditative therapy. Flourishing in this book is defined this way: "...flourishing focuses on both changing ourselves and on getting along better with other people." The author introduces a variety of cool concepts with their own cool names -- a meditative therapy vocabulary, if you will -- including Behavioral Buddhism, Emotional Recycling, and Emotional Composting. This is a great read with empowering information that can help you achieve exactly what the title promises. I found myself nodding along with the many excellent points brought up by the author in regards to the challenges we face living in our modern society. This book, too, deserves more than one read.
If you're looking for a quicker -- and extremely funny -- read, this article (Speak No Evil, Tweet No Evil) follows the author's attempts to find make peace with the truth during a divorce and resist the urge to blast his cheating spouse via social media for an entire month. This lengthy article offers up plenty of laughs peppered with yoga teacher wisdom from the author's yoga teacher/spiritual mentor. Ah, it's like a reverse fairy tale for the Technological Age...
The next time you're sitting on the beach or on the deck or just on your couch and in need of something to read, I encourage you to pick up one -- or all -- of the books here. You'll laugh, you'll be entertained, you'll ponder, and you'll learn something. What more could you ask for from a good book? Happy Summer reading!