5 Books About the Mental Side of Yoga


5.) Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi: This book, which is presented in Q&A format, explores Sri Ramana’s approach to Jñāna yoga, and explains atma-vichara, the exercise of self-enquiry that Ramana proposed was the key to self-realization.

 

4.) Supernormal by Dean Radin: Okay, this is an unconventional choice for the list but bear with me. (I mostly included it because I like to have an under-the-radar entry in these lists, and this seems like one that could have been missed readers of works on yoga.) Radin is a paranormal researcher who, in this case, has investigated the topic of siddhi, which are the controversial powers that Patanjali discusses in the third section of The Yoga Sutras, but which many deny are real.

 

3.) Sure Ways to Self-Realization by Swami Satyananda Saraswati: This is the Bihar School of Yoga guide to meditation, and it covers both yogic meditation methods and those from other disciplines (e.g. Buddhism, Taoism, Western / scientific [e.g. biofeedback], etc.) By “meditation,” here I mean more than dhyana. This book uses the word in a broader and more colloquial sense that includes some practices that are normally considered pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) or dharana (concentration.)

 

2.) Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati:  Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) is a sustained hypnogogic state — i.e. the state of mind on the edge between wakefulness and falling into sleep. It is used both as an intense relaxation exercise as well as to access the subconscious to plant seeds therein.

 

1.) Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: (Sutras by Patanjali with commentary by B.K.S. Iyengar): This isn’t — strictly speaking — only about the mental side of yoga, but, in the Sutras, Patanjali makes clear that yoga is a tool to advance mental calm and clarity. There are many translations and commentaries available. Commentaries are useful because the 196 sutras are extremely sparse. Iyengar’s book is probably one of the most approachable translation / commentaries for a modern reader.

BOOK REVIEW: Sure Ways to Self-Realization by Swami Saraswati

Sure Ways to Self RealizationSure Ways to Self Realization by Satyananda Saraswati
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book is one-stop shopping for the yogic meditator. The first half of the book explores many of the most common yogic practices of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) in step-by-step detail. The second half of the book situates yogic meditation in a global context of meditation by introducing various techniques of meditation and mind science seen around the world. This allows the reader to compare and contrast the yogic approach to that of other systems — be they closely related systems such as Buddhism or Jainism or more remote ones such as hypnosis or moving meditations like dance or the martial arts.

I found this book to be incredibly useful. While there are mountains of books on yoga, there are relatively few that shine a light on the practices of the mind, and among those that do only very few are nonsectarian. Many books look at meditation solely as a spiritual practice and a few others present it exclusively as a secular scientifically grounded practice. This book skillfully bridges between, and does its level best to get the accounts of different systems right. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few oversimplifications or minor misunderstandings here and there, but the good overshadows them by far. It should be noted that even within the domain of yoga, many authors warp concepts such as jnana yoga and tantric yoga to fit their worldview or sect instead of reporting on how practitioners of those systems would see them. This book seemed to me to be much fairer than many in this regard.

The book consists of an Introduction and seven chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 discuss tools and aids used in meditation. The primary difference between the two chapters is that the first looks at traditional aids such as mantra, mandalas, and symbology, and the second discusses more modern scientific aids such as biofeedback, drugs, and sensory deprivation tanks.

Chapter 3 is one of the largest (more than a quarter of the book) and it explores the many yogic meditation techniques, including: antar mouna, japa, ajapa japa, chidakasha dharana, yoga nidra, prana vidya, trataka, nada meditation, jnana yogi meditations, kriya yoga techniques, and tantric techniques. While the later discussion of non-yogic approaches generally includes instructions for basic exercises, the descriptions in this section are much more detailed, and some include variations on the primary practice.

Chapter 4 is about the same length as chapter 3, and it investigates many of the other systems of meditation from around the world. These include religious systems such as those in: Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, various sects of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, the mystical branches of Christianity and Islam (Sufi,) and Native American animist traditions. It also includes secular systems such as hypnosis and autogenic therapy.

Chapter 5 delves into how movement of the body is used as an anchor point in meditation in yoga, on pilgrimage, in Tibetan Buddhism, in Zen Buddhism, in the martial arts, in dance, and in sports. This is where I saw those few of the aforementioned minor oversimplifications and misunderstandings (e.g. referring to all martial arts under the rubric “karate.”) However, I greatly appreciated that the authors included discussion of this important topic, and so I can’t say that there was anything that detracted from my enjoyment of coverage of the topic.

The penultimate chapter is a catch-all for miscellany not covered earlier in the book. It includes meditations for kids (who require a very special approach, I can attest.) It also has a section on meditation on death, which I believe to be an immensely important topic for helping people shed their fear so they can get the most out of their lives. The other two sections are on nature and sensory meditations, respectively. The last chapter is short and discusses samadhi as the goal of meditative practice.

There are only a few graphics in the book, mostly symbology, but there is a glossary and a bibliography.

I would highly recommend this book for yoga practitioners and those who have a broad interest in meditative and mind science practices.

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5 Minds You Meet in Meditation





No matter what style of meditation you practice, you’ve probably heard the following refrain: “And if you find your mind wandering, non-judgmentally make a note of where your mind went, and let that thought drift away as you return your awareness to __________.”



I’ve certainly heard many takes on that teaching, and had plenty of opportunity to implement that advice. In the process, I’ve noted that the places my mind wanders can be classified into several categories.



5.) The Planner: Our conscious mind is first and foremost about answering the question, “What’s the worst that can happen, and how can I make that worst case less bad?” The mind wants to anticipate undesirable events and either make an end run around them or figure out a way to make them less troubling. The Planner wants to rehearse everything from making dinner to being interviewed for a job to having a dreaded conversation.



4.) The Entertainer: This is the mind that sticks songs in your head and replays clips of movies.



3.) The Walter Mitty / The Bolsterer: This is the daydream mind which cooks up scenarios in which you are the hero.



2.) The Subconscious Image Generator: In a relaxed state in which the conscious mind is quieted, one may find oneself seeing images that probably don’t make a lick of sense. The pictures may come and go in a way that make them hard to maintain even a glimpse of. This is the same kind of imagery that one experiences in the hypnagogic state–as one is drifting towards sleep.



1.) The Critic: Saving the most despicable for last; this is your inner critic. The one who thinks that you won’t succeed at any given task.

BOOK REVIEW: Pocket Guide to Hatha Yoga by Michele Picozzi

Pocket Guide to Hatha Yoga (The Crossing Press Pocket Series) (The Crossing Press Pocket Series)Pocket Guide to Hatha Yoga (The Crossing Press Pocket Series) by Michele Picozzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Having moved to India, I’ve been wanting to take advantage of the wealth of expertise in yoga. However, part of the problem is that there is such a wealth of knowledge. There are many different schools, each with different approaches and focal points, and each of those with separate branches. So I began, as I often do, among the shelves of one of my local bookstores. (Yes, here in India, we still have local bookstores [plural emphasis intended.])

That is where I picked up Michele Picozzi’s Pocket Guide to Hatha Yoga. A slight book of only about 100 pages, this guide serves as a sort of “Yoga for Dummies.” (I’m aware that there is a book by that title, but it’s probably not as concise.) Despite a mild bias against learning about yoga from Westerners (what’s the point of being in India–yes, I realize it’s irrational), I picked up this thin guide because it was only 70 rupees (less than $1 US), and I like the way it was organized.

It begins with a quick overview of the many schools of yoga. Next, it does the same for the many branches of Hatha yoga–which by all accounts seems to be the most popular school. I found this very helpful. The book doesn’t get bogged down in the minutiae, but rather presents a short paragraph hitting the highlights that differentiate one sect from another.

Then the book gets to the meat of the subject (my apologies to vegetarians for that analogy.) It gives helpful tips for one who has never been in a yoga studio before. Then it has chapters on postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana.)We learn that these are but three of yoga’s 8-fold path (not to be confused with Buddhism’s 8-fold path.) For the neophyte, it may be news to learn that there is more to yoga than just bendy poses.

The last chapter deals with basics of a yogic/ayurvedic diet. Here I learned that the Dalai Lama isn’t a vegetarian, among many more important advice about how and what yogis and yoginis should eat.

There are appendices containing line drawings of about 45 of the most fundamental asanas (all of the graphics in the book are line drawings), a glossary, and a list of references.

If you are brand new to yoga, I would recommend this book. You can get it through Amazon for only a little more that 70 Rupees.

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