Showing posts with label Yoga Book Club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yoga Book Club. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Spoiled Yogi's Summer Reading List

Image via Flickr user katerha

I haven't had a summer reading list since high school. That could be because that was the last time I had enough free time to sit down with a big stack of books to read for pleasure (Oh wait!, I had to do it for a grade?. Nevermind.)

This year I'm not working full time, so I've found myself with a little more down time. Sure, I'm writing whenever I get assignments, teaching a few yoga classes week, keeping my 2-year-old busy in the sweltering Charleston, SC heat, practicing yoga as much as I can, cooking a lot.... OK, I don't have time to read books now either. But, I am more motivated than ever to learn, grow, find financial freedom, clean up my act, and generally enjoy every moment as much as I possibly can. (If for no other reason, then because I've started to notice my daughter mimicking nearly everything she sees me do--from asking her Daddy to turn down the TV (oops!) to my Downward Facing Dog.) I want her to see me more often with a book in my hands and less with a screen in my face. (And, yes, I do read on a Kindle. It was just a figure of speech, OK?) So, I made my own summer reading list. You'll notice these are not all yoga books--but they all are very relevant to my life as a yoga teacher, mother, freelance writer, woman, etc.

Money: A Love Story. I think all yoga teachers should read this book by Kate Northrup about valuing yourself, spending money on the things you value, seeing sound financial decisions as a form of self-care, and understanding that there are a billion ways to create abundance in this world. This one was the first on my list, and I've already devoured it.. but still need to go back through and do all the journaling exercises.

It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys: The Seven-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized.  Kate Northrup mentions this book a couple of times in Money: A Love Story, and I knew it would be the next book I'd dive into. Even the title kind of strikes a nerve with me because I'm the type of person who has a million grand ideas and a ton of ambition and drive, but my life is just too chaotic right now to be as productive as I'd like. Case in point, the e-book I'm "writing" that's been collecting electronic dust in my Google Documents list for two years now... TWO!

Pushback: How Smart Women Ask--And Stand Up For--What They Want. This is another one that I think people in the yoga community have trouble with. Compassion is a part of the practice, and so it's really easy to think, "Yes, I do need to make X amount teaching this yoga class, but I certainly wouldn't want the studio owner to sacrifice what she needs to meet her bottom line... so I'll just take what she offers me." This attitude never helped anybody pay their bills, and settling for less than we deserve doesn't help the thousands of other yoga teachers out there struggling to pay their bills either.

Breathe: A Novel. Sure this sounds like just another fictional story of someone transforming through yoga... But, every now and then, I like to be reminded in a don't-take-yourself-so-serious way that yoga can be fun, healing, and, yes, even entertaining. I'd like to read this one on the beach, with a fruity umbrella-shaded drink in hand.

Miracles Now: 108 Life-Changing Tools for Less Stress, More Flow, and Finding Your True Purpose. I've followed Gabrielle Bernstein online for a long time now--and I have loved her video tips and tricks for using meditation and Kundalini Yoga techniques to deal with everyday life. So I can't wait to dive into this book, which promises to offer 108 simple solutions to combat complicated problems like "stress, burnout, frustration, jealousy, resentment" without spending hours meditating and practicing yoga everyday. We'll see. I'm skeptical of anything that offers quick fixes, but I don't doubt I'll learn at least one or two more things to add to my toolbox.

To keep myself motivated and honest, I'm going to review each of these books when I'm done reading them. Will you join me? What are you reading this summer?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review: Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga

For someone who has made her living as an editor for the the last 8 years, I sure do have difficult time editing myself when I get up in front of a yoga class sometimes. The things that really COULD make me a good teacher--my knowledge, passion for the practice, and sincere wish to both connect to my students and communicate the deeper philosophy of yoga--sometimes makes it hard for me to take a step back and focus on just one or two main points in one class. Unfortunately, when I get going and say whatever comes to mind, I know my students just can't process it all. At best, they take in what resonates with them and are able to tune me out the rest of the time. At worst, I'm sure there are times when they're confused, overwhelmed, and annoyed that I don't know how to shut the heck up and give them some room to just be--which is why they probably came to class in the first place.

I really try hard not to talk so much that it's confusing or distracting for my students. I've tried a few different approaches to keep myself in check. I give only three cues for each pose. I find an essential action I want my students to work on and I stick to cues that help them understand that action in a variety of poses. I even plan moments of quiet into my sequences--Child's Pose breaks are my own time to zip it, re-group, or focus on my own breath for a moment. But there are still plenty of times I look out at my students and see furrowed brows and confused, blank expressions that quietly scream, "Could you GET ON WITH IT ALREADY?!"

Theme Weaver served as a really great reminder of how much more power my words have when I keep things succinct and focused on one thing.  The author, Michelle Berman Marchildon (AKA The Yoga Muse) offers practical advice for yoga teachers on how to choose a theme for class (something that resonates with you), plan your yoga classes around a theme (winging it is NOT a great idea), and how to make the theme applicable to the practice without overwhelming your students. It's a recipe for getting a message across to your students in a clear, concise way that they will understand and appreciate so they will keep coming back to you for more!

One word of caution: While I loved this book, unfortunately, just reading it won't make you an amazing teacher over night. The first time I tried to deliver a class theme using Marchildon's techniques, I was awkward and likely came across like I was trying a bit too hard. (It wasn't quite authentic to me because I was following someone else's formula.) But as I practiced using it more and more, I took what worked for me and let go of anything that just doesn't come naturally to me. Some teachers really rock at reading an inspirational quote in class, for example, but I found this just doesn't work with my silly approach.

 Still, I think this book should be required reading for yoga teacher trainees (and those of us who haven't done a teacher training in a while!). I loved her ideas on writing a mission statement and bio--because we should all be clear about what kind of teacher we want to be. For that matter, I think it's vital that more yoga teacher see themselves as trained professionals who should be PAID FAIRLY for their services in accordance with their education and experience. And, most importantly I love this book because, as Marchildon so eloquently put it: "Most yoga teachers could use a big cup up shut  up." Guilty. And thanks for not beating around the bush, Ms. Marchildon. I couldn't agree more.

Get your cup here. And if you read it, don't forget to let me know what you think about it by commenting below.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Yoga Ph.D.: A Q&A with Carol Horton

Carol Horton's writing often makes me furrow my brow--in a good way! She always seems to be able to make me think about things in a new way. It's no wonder--Carol was a political science professor so she once made people furrow their brows on a regular basis for a living. But she's way more relatable than I remember my poly sci professors being when I was in college (or maybe I'm way older so I can relate more now than I could then? But that's beside the point.)  

Her experience in the academic realm colors the way she views the yoga phenomenon in a really interesting and thought-provoking way. I'm so glad she decided to share that experience in her new book, Yoga Ph.D.

I wanted to learn more, so I asked her to tell me more. Learn more about Carol and buy her book, here


What makes Yoga Ph.D. different from all the other yoga books that have been released lately?
Yoga Ph.D. offers a comprehensive rethinking of what contemporary American yoga is and why it matters based on social science research and personal experience. It presents a new interpretation of the history of modern yoga and explains why that matters to me as a practitioner in very concrete, personal terms. Similarly, it discusses the psychological, spiritual, and cultural dimensions of American yoga today in ways that are both sociologically and personally meaningful.

Normally, scholarly work is very abstract and impersonal. Conversely, yoga memoirs and other forms of personal writing about practice are usually not very scholarly. Yoga Ph.D. is unusual in that it brings both social science and personal experience to bear on some really big questions about yoga today, including where it came from, why it’s become so popular, and what it offers us as individuals and a society.

How as your experience as a political science professor influenced how you view modern "yoga culture"?

There’s no question that my experience as a political science professor is central to how I understand modern yoga in general, as well as contemporary American yoga culture in particular.

As I explain in my book, I was already working as a college professor when I started my first weekly yoga class. This meant that when I became curious about questions such as the origins of modern yoga or the nature of American yoga culture, I naturally approached them informed by the years I’d spent studying social and political theory, as well as American history, politics, and culture.

What could the yoga community learn from the academic world? What could academics learn from the yoga community?

Great question! I think that academics could learn a huge amount from the yoga community – in fact, taking yoga seriously could revolutionize many fields of study, including psychology, biology, and religious studies. Most academic disciplines tend to approach studying the mind and body in ways that are isolated and mechanistic, rather than integrated and synergistic. Once you start taking yoga’s ability to integrate mind and body seriously, however, all sorts of fascinating research questions pop up that wouldn’t be on your radar screen otherwise.

I’ve also found that the stereotype that academics tend to live so much in their heads that they’re personally unbalanced is generally true. Certainly, this was the case with me J. Yoga has been an incredible tool of self-discovery and self-integration, giving me access to parts of myself I wasn’t previously aware of and experiences I wouldn’t have formerly imagined possible. 

Conversely, I think that the yoga community would be much better off it embraced the value of critical thinking, which is, of course, highly respected in academia. The recent wave of scandals that’s rocked the yoga community is only the most obvious indication of the need to become more thoughtful, reflective, and informed about the type of culture we’re creating. More ambitiously, I think that we need to become much more thoughtful about the extent to which we’re actualizing the positive potential of yoga in our lives and the world at large. This requires becoming more aware of and concerned about what’s happening in our society beyond the yoga community, and seriously reflecting on what we can do to help a world in crisis.

What was the most surprising thing you learned as you researched this book?

I was very surprised by what I learned about the history of modern yoga. While I had always been skeptical of claims that yoga is an unchanging 5,000-year old discipline, I had previously assumed that what we’re doing today is a wholly Westernized version of what had previously been a purely Eastern practice. What I discovered about the historical development of modern yoga, however, was much more interesting – as well as exciting and inspiring – than that.

Basically, I became convinced that master Indian teachers from Swami Vivekananda to Sri T. Krishnamacharya developed a distinctively modern approach to yoga that deliberately synthesized ideas and practices drawn from both modern Western and traditional Indian cultures. In my view, modern yoga has embodied a creative synthesis of East and West, ancient and modern, and the traditional and the revolutionary from its inception. This means that rather than feeling discouraged by the fact that modern yoga is “only” a little over 100 years old, we can feel inspired by the fact that we’ve inherited a practice that was designed to work in the historically unprecedented conditions of modernity, which is the world that we’re living in today. 
What's next for you? Are there more books in your future?

I’m developing a set of book talks and yoga workshops that build off ideas presented in Yoga Ph.D. and 21st Century Yoga (a recently released collection of essays that I co-edited with Roseanne Harvey). Specifically, I’ll be presenting a workshop on “Socially Engaged Yoga: Indian Roots, American Developments, and Personal Practices” at the Serendipity Festival in April, and several talks on “Making Sense of Modern Yoga” in Chicago in May. Hopefully, more opportunities to present this material in innovative, interactive ways will develop from there.

I’m also working with my neighborhood yoga studio, Chaturanga Holistic Fitness, to develop a community outreach program serving the South Side of Chicago, where I live and the studio is located. Our neighborhood is very racially diverse (about half African American) and relatively affluent. (It’s where the University of Chicago is located and where President Obama used to live.) But, we are very close to some of the tragically troubled neighborhoods that have recently made headlines about Chicago being the “murder capital of America.” We hope to find ways to bring yoga to nearby communities that would otherwise not have access to it, and to cultivate students who could become teachers themselves by developing a yoga teacher training scholarship program.

I’m also working with a local nonprofit, Yoga for Recovery (YFR), that teaches yoga to women in Chicago’s Cook County Jail. We recently expanded from teaching non-violent offenders in a minimum security setting to serving women convicted of more serious crimes in the main part of the jail. I’m be attending James Fox’s Prison Yoga Training at Chicago’s Moksha Yoga Studio in April, and writing about that for Yoga Chicago, as well as helping YFR develop a protocol for teaching trauma-sensitive yoga to incarcerated women based on that and other trainings and research we’ve done.

I’m also working with Chaturanga to develop a module for their yoga teacher training focused on the specifically modern dimensions of yoga history, philosophy, and ethics. Ideally, I’d like to be able to offer this to other YTTs in the future. As far as another book goes, I’m hopeful that this will happen at some point in the future. For the time being, however, I’m focused on promoting Yoga Ph.D. and 21st Century Yoga, and bringing some of the ideas they embody out into the world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Awakening Shakti

Anyone who has written anything from a term paper to the Great American Novel has felt it: That sinking feeling of emptiness when you stare at a blank Word document or piece of paper. You know you want to say something, but for whatever reason the words just won't come out. It's like someone built a dam between your creative energy and your mind and there's nothing you can do to access it.  In our culture we call this writer's block, and I learned early on that when this happens the best thing to do is get up, walk away, and hope that when I return to my computer in an hour.. or two.. or 24... the gate will be open and the ideas will flow freely. 

When I'm in the right frame of mind to write or create, it's never a struggle. The words just pour out effortlessly and when I'm done I often read back over my "work" and think to myself: Where did that even come from?

After spending some time reading Sally Kempton's new book, Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga, I know that this creative energy is the goddess Saraswati at work (I call her Sara for short). Sara often comes to see me in the mornings when I'm drinking my coffee. Often it's right before a deadline when I'm panicked that she shows up as if to say, "Chill out, Erica. We got this." Whatever I was struggling to say comes out like magic. Voila! (All this time I was giving credit to the caffeine!

Let me put it another way. Beyonce gets help from her alter-ego Sasha Fierce when she's performoing. Saraswati is my secret weapon for writing.

In the afternoons, I imagine Sara leaves to help someone else, probably college students who stayed up too late the night before who work best after lunch. So I've always thought it was imperative to do my writing at that magic time of day where the words seemed to flow.
I never knew that I could simply ask Sara for help by imagining her in a meditation!

In Awakening Shakti, Kempton explains how to call on different goddess energies through meditation to help us with all areas of our lives, from wisdom and creativity to prosperity and beauty and more.

Growing up, I was taught that we all had God-given gifts and talents. The idea was that God decided before if you'd be a gifted artist or athlete, a whiz with numbers or a crazt scientist. Then, it's your job in life to nurture those talents, as if by working hard and learning as much as you can about something you have some sort of control over how successful you'll be in the world. The problem with this way of thinking is that it doesn't give you much reason to work hard at the things that don't come naturally to you--as if they're kind of a lost cause. But just because you're not great at getting things down on paper, for example, doesn't mean the world doesn't need to hear what you have to say. It's like saying you can't pracitce yoga becuase you're not flexible... how are you ever going to get flexible if you don't practice?

It's nice to have an experienced guide who can demystify the whole process and make it seem so-very-accessible--even for people who aren't experienced meditators. In fact, just reading the words in this book has a meditative quality. I think Saraswati must have been there during the writing process.

What energy do you wish you could cultivate more in your life? Have you ever thought about meditating on it?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hell-Bent, Bikram, and Thoughts on Narcissism

Am I a narcissist?

Don't answer that.

It's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately, though, mostly because of a book I recently read about Bikram Yoga.

Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and My Search for Transcendence or Something Like It is one of those books that every yoga teacher should read, not for inspiration or teaching tips (certainly not!) but for a good chuckle and some insight into what NOT to do. It paints a picture of Bikram Choudhury as an egotistic, selfish, power-mongering, money-hungry man that founded Bikram Yoga. I laughed at his crazy antics and even crazier tall tales. He sits in a throne during his teacher trainings while his students fawn over him offering massages and fetching him his drink of choice--Coke. He says he never sleeps, and yet is never out of bed in time to teach an early class. He no longer practices the yoga that's made him rich. He invented the disco ball. There are a million other unfounded and ridiculous claims.

It's easy to condemn Bikram--to say he doesn't embody the true spirit of yoga. He definitely has his faults. But here's the thing: All of us have some of the narcissistic qualities Lorr describes in his book.

I've never made any outlandish claims. I don't have any trademarks. I've never sued any one. But all the Bikram hubub of late has made me think about my own motives for becoming a yoga teacher.  I often tell people about how the yoga that I practice can improve their lives. I fancy myself so wise that I write about my experiences with yoga in 3 different blogs (sometimes more!). I look at other people's postures and tell them how to improve. I collect money for my expertise. And while I certainly practice as much as I can, there are those times when I don't unroll my mat nearly enough. I occasionally enjoy a Coke. I collect yoga clothes in much the same way Bikram collects cars. I don't always practice what I preach, but I still think people should listen to what I have to say. And I have a LOT to say.

If I learn nothing else from Bikram, I'm thankful for this lesson: It's important to explore my own narcissistic qualities from time to time to keep myself in check. It's even more important to be honest with my students (and everyone else who might look to me for guidance or inspiration) about my shortcomings and my own struggles with ego, ambition, and pride. Because it's only after we understand and accept ourselves (the good and the bad) can we begin to teach others how to accept themselves. For me, that's what yoga is all about.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: enLIGHTened: How I Lost 40 Pounds With a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer

I know it's only November, but do you have a New Year's Resolution yet? Many of us start to think about what goals we'd like to set for the next year around this time. I don't really like New Year's Resolutions, but there's one thing I'm determined to change--the food I feed myself and my family on a daily basis.

See, I have a baby who just started eating solid foods. And, being the yoga mama that I am, I am making my own baby food for her from fresh, organic, local when possible vegetables and fruits. It might sound hard, but it's actually super easy to make a big batch and freeze it into individual servings in ice cube trays. So I'm making an effort there, but I realized I'm putting forth all this effort to make sure my baby eats healthy foods while I serve frozen pizza to my husband and myself... something just doesn't add up. It won't be long until my little one will be eating the same foods I make for us, so if I want to keep her on the healthy foods track I need to find healthier options. (And applying the same, make a big-batch-and-freeze-for-later mentality I'm realizing it doesn't have to be much more effort than going to the grocery store to buy frozen pizza.)

Just when I was coming to this conclusion, I got a little surprise in my mailbox.

enLIGHTened: How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer, now in paperback, tells a story of how my YJ blogging colleague Jessica Berger Gross changed her relationship to food through her yoga practice. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you I couldn't put it down. I could relate to many of her struggles. The advice she offers is practical and simple enough that I could start putting it into action easily. The focus isn't really on weight loss so much as eating reasonably and getting exercise. In my experience if that's the focus everything else will fall into place--whether you need to lose weight, manage stress, or work your way out of depression--taking care of yourself in this way is a great start.

I'm not really interested in losing weight. Despite my admittedly rather poor eating habits (I'm a junk food vegetarian), I've been a healthy weight for most of my life. I managed to lose my extra baby weight within a month after giving birth (I attribute this to yoga and the fact that I didn't gain much because I was nauseous for most of my pregnancy). But enLIGHTened reminded me of the importance of eating right, taking long walks, and putting my health as a top priority no matter how many other things are happening in my life. And I'm also a  little obsessed with the veggie chilli recipe in her book--I'd never thought to put broccoli in chilli, but it is yumm-O.

BTW, yesterday I asked my Twitter friends to share their favorite vegetarian recipes with me. Here are a few of my most recent favorites! (Add yours to the comment section below, please!)

Little Quinoa Patties
Mexican Black Bean Enchilada Casserole
Veggie Jambalaya

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: BIG

My favorite way to spend time with my four-month-old is reading a good book to her. I read the same books over and over again. She can't ask me to read to her yet, But I know she loves it because I can see when I get out a book that her eyes scan the pictures and she often reaches her little hand out to hold the cardboard pages.We have a lot of children's books, but since I'm reading 4-5 a day, let's just say I'm starting to unintentionally memorize all the words. So when Little Pickle Press offered to let me review the new illustrated children's book BIG by Coleen Paratore as a part of their blog tour, I was thrilled to add  new to add into the rotation.

BIG is no ordinary children's book. It has beautiful illustrations by former greeting card illustrator (how cool is that?) Clare Fennell and an amazing message about what it means to "get big." As the youngest child in my family, I could certainly relate to feeling small and dreaming about the day I could be big and do all the fun things my older sisters could do. I'm sure every child sometimes feels like this sometimes. BIG shows them that it's possible for even the littlest child to make a difference in the world--and that's an empowering message I want my little one to hear over and over again.

The moral of the story is this: Being big is about being the best you can be and contributing in your own way to making the world a better place. It's the same message I hear lots in yoga classes, too: Start where you are. Do what you can. And know that even the smallest efforts matter.

My favorite line in the book sums it up nicely:

"Some people say BIG is measured by years or weight or inches. Others think BIG is how rich you are or where you live or how much stuff you own. These people are wrong." 

Learn more about the book here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yoga Books for Babes

My wee one is four months old now and I can barely believe it. I still look at her nearly every day and think... "How cool is it that I made that little person!?" But even though it still seems like she's an extension of me, I know that she's growing and will be more and more independent. Some day, she's going to do things that really annoy me--like get big, grow out of her clothes, and disagree with everything I'm working so hard to teach her right now. I bet she'll even develop her own thoughts about life. And, if she's anything like her momma, she'll want nothing to do with the things I like and find her own interests and hobbies...  Sigh.

That's OK. I figure I still have at least a couple of years before she realizes that her mommy is lame. Until that day comes, I'm going to do my best to brainwash.. err.. guide my little cherub to enjoy the things that I think will help her in life. That means yoga.

I jumped (well, I eased very slowly) back into my yoga practice when she was five weeks old so she's been watching me practice yoga since then. And she practices some pretty lovely, effortless poses herself. But my favorite time of the day is when I read one of these yoga books together.

How do you share yoga with your little ones? Do you have any favorite children's books about yoga? I'd love to add to our collection.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Yoga Book Club: Poser

What makes a good yoga book? In my opinion, it's the same thing that makes a good yoga class: honesty, stories the audience can relate to, and humor in all the right places. And that's exactly what I found Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses to be. The only thing that can improve upon the experience of reading a great book is reading it with a group of friends!

So obviously I was thrilled when my Twitter book club friends expressed an interest in the book. (Yes, I've already read it.. but I still intend to participate! And, no, I don't think it's cheating.)

If this is your first time tweet book clubbin' with us, here's how it works:

There are no rules, no time restraints, and no pressure!
Tweet the stuff that you find interesting at your leisure.
Include the #YOBC hashtag so the rest of us can find your tweet and respond!

It's as simple as that!

More on Poser:

There's a list of questions for reading groups here.

This video has very little to do with the book as far as I can tell, but I guess it's kind of funny ...