BOOK REVIEW: Living Your Yoga by Judith Hanson Lasater

Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday LifeLiving Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life by Judith Hanson Lasater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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If you’re the average joe, you probably think of yoga as a series of stretchy postures–many or most of which seem physically impossible for a run-of-the-mill human. If you’re a little more sophisticated on the subject–perhaps you’ve even done a few yoga classes–you realize that breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana) are also an essential part of the practice. However, if you’re hardcore, you realize that there is an entire moral, ethical, spiritual, and philosophical approach to life embodied in yoga.

Lasater’s book is aimed at the latter group or people who plan to one day be in that group. You will not find out how to do a single posture (asana), and you won’t learn how to do breathing exercises or meditation. So, the book might sound like one of those navel-gazing, pie-in-the-sky, philosophical tomes. But it’s not. On the contrary, the chapters are short and readable, and each one ends with exercises to put that chapter’s lesson into practice. Now, it probably sounds more like a how-to workbook. It is, but the exercises can only be carried out in everyday life.

Admittedly, I don’t know that much about yoga, but I suspect such a book is much-needed. I do know that in the martial arts there is also a rich and well-defined moral, philosophical, and–for lack of a better term–spiritual component, and that it gets lost much of the time by a large percentage of students as soon as they step out the door of the dōjō. I suspect this is true of yoga practitioners as well. I imagine that as yoga has spread globally many of the less visible and tangible aspects of the system get left behind. I know this happens in the realm of martial arts–sometimes these elements even get lost in the homeland. It’s a natural side-effect of busy lives; people take on what they can grasp and don’t go looking for the rest.

Living Your Yoga is divided into three parts of seven chapters each (21 chapters in total.) The social circle widens as one goes through the parts. Part I deals with the yoga practitioner as an individual. Part II considers the practitioner’s relationships with others in their immediate domain–family, friends, co-workers, etc. The final part looks at the practitioner in the global context.

Each chapter focuses on a particular virtue or vice and how to cultivate it or mitigate against it, respectively. All of the chapters begin with a quote, most from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or the Bhagavad Gita, then there is the body of the chapter, followed by a practice on that particular theme, supplementary practices, and a few mantras.

The chapters in the first part are: spiritual seeking, discipline, letting go, self-judgment, faith, perspective, and courage. The second part deals with compassion, control, fear, patience, attachment / aversion, suffering, and impermanence. And the final part considers greed, service, connection, truth, success, nonviolence, and love.

While I suggested this book is for the hardcore yogi/yogini, it has value for a more general readership than that. It’s really for anybody interested in working on self-improvement on a daily basis, as opposed to those who restrict their development pursuits to inside the yoga studio (or dōjō or ashram.) The advice is sound, regardless of whether one ever practices an asana or not.

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