Like many yoga practitioners, I’m never sure whether to be dismayed, amused, or pleased by the explosion of new styles of yoga. It’s nothing new. Yoga has been branching out since its early days. But today’s flavors tend toward the frivolous, usually involve shoving yoga together with something else generally likable, and said two things are in some cases largely inconsistent. There’s marijuana yoga, dog yoga, karaoke yoga, and tantrum yoga. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Häagen-Dazs Yoga. Hell, if I was a bit less lazy and more unscrupulous I’d have made a mint from my patented SELFIE YOGA (™ -pending), which involves modifying impressive looking poses so that an individual can take their own pics for FaceBook. (You’re welcome; to whomever the driven sleeze-bag is that turns that idea into a thing.)
I, therefore, tend to approach books like Mark Divine’s “Kokoro Yoga” with a measure of skepticism. That said, I found that this book offered a respectable vision of yoga that might even succeed in bringing a new demographic into the fold. Divine is a former Navy SEAL who developed a fitness empire called SEALFIT, a system that combines fitness ideas from the famous Special Operations unit with ideas from civilian sports and exercise science, such as high intensity interval training (HIIT.)
Incidentally, “kokoro” is the Japanese word for heart / mind (heart and mind were inexorably entwined for Japanese in the era in which the term came into being.) Divine mentions that “Warrior Yoga” would have been his first choice, but that was already taken. The author appeals to warriors with this approach to yoga. He does this in several ways. Firstly, and encouragingly, he doesn’t neglect the mind, but rather puts it front and center by emphasizing the need for mental strength and clarity. My biggest problem with the plethora of new yogas is that they usually forget that it’s ultimately about calming the mind, and instead of providing an environment conducive to looking inward, they embrace or create all sorts of distractions (loud pop music, mirrors everywhere, nudity, animals, ice cream, circus clowns, etc.) Divine doesn’t just make a new fitness fad, he argues for the need for all of the eight limbs of yoga—not neglecting yama and niyama—and emphasizes how yoga served as a calming and clarifying tool for him and not just as a means to be more bendy.
Second, he adds components to balance out the dimensions of fitness. If you are a yogi / yogini, and you want a yoga body; yoga is all you need. However, if you are a martial artist, cop, or soldier, you also need strength, speed (then, by definition, power), and cardiovascular endurance, as well as those aspects yoga offers (e.g. breath control, flexibility, core strength, posture, and mental clarity.) Again, I’m often dismayed by attempts to round out yoga with functional strength building and cardiovascular endurance. I understand the desire to combine them into one workout. Besides the fact that some people need a more balanced approach to fitness, not everybody has time to do multiple workouts multiple times a day. Still, one can’t just ram these components together willy-nilly because if one needs to be in a space to observe one’s breath while being still and one is coming out of having done 100 burpees, it’s probably not going to work so well. I haven’t yet done any of the sequences from the book, but it looks like this shouldn’t a problem, at least not for individuals who are moderately fit. I’m less confident about the value of mixing in elements of chi gong and “cardio kickboxing,” which is suggested by the system. It’s certainly not that I’m opposed to either chi gong or functional martial arts training, but there’s a lot of important detail in those activities and this format risks some horrible half-assery. (Yes, sometimes you get chocolate in peanut butter and get a Reese’s cup, but more often you get sausage in the pudding. Two things being great, by no means ensures they will be great together.)
Finally, Divine puts his approach in the language of soldiers, using concepts like “strategy” and “tactics” and eschewing Sanskrit terminology. The book begins with an anecdote about going into a combat zone as a Reserve officer, which describes his use of yoga to help him get his mind in the right place. He also talks extensively about his practice of martial arts.
There are eight chapters and three appendices to the book. They proceed from the aforementioned story through a look at the general approach, looking at the eight limbs of yoga, before getting into the details. The penultimate chapter sums up research on some of the benefits of yoga, and the last chapter offers advice about how to set up one’s sadhana (personal practice) with the Kokoro Yoga approach in mind. The appendices offer information about functional conditioning exercises, combat conditioning, and module building.
Overall, I think this is a useful book that provides some interesting thoughts on yoga. You may or may not find that it’s the approach for you, but it’s worth checking out. The photos are well-done—though some readers may wish there were more related to the functional conditioning exercises (but he’s got other books for that, it seems.)
I’d recommend this book for those interested in how a yoga practice might be integrated with other aspects of fitness without losing track of the core yogic objectives.