My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There are many books on yoga, but not many really delve into what it means to study and engage in yoga practice beyond the mat. What makes yoga different to simply doing stretches or gymnastics at the local recreation centre?
In Bringing Yoga To Life, Donna has an easily relatable and no-nonsense style of writing and teaching. She can illuminate very complex ideas and concepts through stories, both personal recollections from her classes and retreats, and also from yogic texts like the Bhagavad Gita.
Essentially, though this concept is easily articulated, it is the very heart of yoga and cannot truly be appreciated and integrated into our practice and our daily living until we are open to learning. Yoga is the unity of not only our own body and mind, but a unity with the world. It is, as Donna tries to examine and explain, finding our self in every thing (leaf, animal, air) and every person and also, knowing that we are in everything around us also. Donna describes this idea as being like a matrix of energy, or a silence, that exists behind all the noise of daily living and our own mental chatter. It is our connection to the universe that hums along eternally. This is also the concept of Om, often chanted before and after class. The unity of our bodily selves with our infinite selves and with everyone and everything around us.
If I’ve lost you already, then this book may not be for you yet. If you have just done your first class, or your fifty-thousandth class, this book will confront and challenge your ideas about yoga and about your life. I know I have spent nights awake and stopped at the traffic lights considering everything from my approach as a teacher to whether I’m breathing fully and what my intentions genuinely are for every choice I make. As yogis, we aren’t going to do everything perfectly. Donna recognises the obsessive and ritualistic approach of a well-known yoga instructor in her book and his rigid adhesion to his own practice is so determined, he leaves the class he is conducting to go and do his personal practice alone.
What this also illustrates, inadvertently, is that yoga is a diverse school and there are many approaches. Donna’s most enlightening chapter, for me, was about seeking the teachers who resonate for us and recognising the traits that we most seek, require and benefit from in our teachers are what we really need to absorb into our approach to ourselves.
For me, I seek teachers who are frank, no-nonsense, challenging but also with a deep joy for living, movement, sharing and able to challenge my ideas and movement so that I push further than is comfortable, but doing so with a compassionate and attentive instructor overseeing.
I seek teachers who are passionate about what they know and always open and curious to learning and seeing what they know in a new light. I seek teachers who are exceptional students. I see this in myself as a deeply curious person.
Using anecdotes, spiritual texts, poetry, stories passed down from family and friends, Donna has not written a step-by-step guide for dummies on the spiritual life by any means. This is, however, not also a prescriptive text but one that like all great teachings, invites us to question what we think we are certain about and then to indulge new ideas and practices in our daily life and to also appreciate that our approach to life and to yoga will change with circumstances, age and experience.
My only niggles are very few really. I also think that with time and consideration, and more practice, I may change my mind on finding them niggles at all. Towards the end of the book, one chapter makes a few references to what particular age groups, from the 20s to the 30s “normally do”. As a yoga instructor and a writer, I meet many people of all cultures, ages, gender identity and what I have learned, is that there is no “normal”. In yoga particularly, instructors are a wild and diverse group of spiritual seekers of all ages and physical abilities. To define age groups and what they should or should not be doing is an exercise in narrowing down what a life ought to look like. This is perhaps just my sensitive interpretation though!
Donna is candid to a very controlled and short extent, in revealing family trouble that lead to an eating disorder in her twenties, exacerbated by dance training where her teacher made derogatory remarks about her less-than-bony physique. This is a common experience for many who studied dance or gymnastics as children and teens and found their bodies became battlegrounds for control and aesthetic worth. I know I have had my battles and it is enormously comforting to me to also know there are many well-known and honest international yoga teachers who speak about overcoming these lethal disorders to find a love and appreciation for their bodies through yoga. This may sound simplistic, and it is not through doing tree pose and having some amazing moment of enlightenment that acceptance and appreciation is nurtured in the body.
It is, as Donna reveals in Bringing Yoga To Life, through questioning, studying, and also accepting the mystery of life and having faith. This doesn’t mean worshipping God or Buddha or identifying with a religion. This means accepting the enormous joy and rarity of actually being here at all, of all the endlessly possible genetic and energetic combinations of a human being, you are here. This means accepting that we are not alone – we exist as part of the universe, and it exists in us. I am still considering what I read in Donna’s book. Hourly, daily, weekly. It has inspired me to seek more reading and to approach my classes with a greater curiosity and desire to inspire that same curiosity and joy in yoga as a spiritual practice in which asanas are an element but not the end goal.
Originally published in 2005, this is a book that has not aged nor can I imagine it will ever be redundant. For curious yogis and those who seek to embrace yoga on, off and beyond the mat and the routines of daily life. I had the great fortune to read this book via SocialBookCo.
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