BOOK REVIEW: The Stories Behind the Poses by Raj Balkaran

The Stories Behind the Poses: The Indian mythology that inspired 50 yoga posturesThe Stories Behind the Poses: The Indian mythology that inspired 50 yoga postures by Raj Balkaran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Released: July 26, 2022

Yoga practitioners will be aware that — while some posture names are banal, straightforward descriptions (e.g. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, or “standing hand-to-big toe pose –”) many others invoke animals, sages, or deities for historical, mythological, or symbolic reasons. As this book’s title suggests, it presents the mythological backstories for fifty yoga postures. The vast majority of these fifty poses are common ones that will be readily familiar to most Hatha Yoga practitioners, though a few are advanced or obscure and aren’t likely to come up in your run-of-the-mill studio class. (And a couple may be familiar to some individuals by another name.)

The book is cleanly organized with five sections (Shiva poses, Vishnu poses, Devi / goddess poses, God story poses, and sage poses) each containing writeups for ten poses. Each pose is presented via colorful artwork in the Indian style (typically with the deity or sage in question performing the posture.)

I found the entries to be well-written and clear (Hindu Mythology can be extremely complicated and some authors get lost in the weeds by including too much minutiae or unnecessary details, but that wasn’t the case here.) The full-page artistic renderings of the poses are also clear and tidy, such that anyone familiar with the pose should readily recognize it.

The one thing I think could have been done better (though probably not without messing up the aforementioned clean organizational scheme) would be to cut some of the redundancy in the stories. In a few instances, the same story appeared in multiple chapters. To the author’s credit, these weren’t just copy / pasted, they were written uniquely, sometimes with additional information or a different focus. Still, it was a bit distracting to find myself in the middle of the same story and wondering whether I’d zoned out or lost my place. This might have been dealt with by putting multiple poses with one story and not repeating the tale one or more times. For example, the stories about Vasisthasana and Visvametrasana are inherently coupled, and the poses might be as well. (Perhaps even referencing the fact that the story had already been told might have been helpful and less distracting.)

All-in-all, I thought this book did a fine job of presenting the myths and relating them to the postures. I learned a great deal from reading the book and would recommend it for yoga practitioners and those interested in Hindu Mythology.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga by Ray Long

The Key Muscles of Hatha YogaThe Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga by Ray Long

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is a handy anatomy reference for yoga teachers and practitioners. The bulk of the book describes major muscles, or—when relevant—muscle groups. For each of the key muscles it gives the insertion, origin, innervation, agonists, synergists, and depicts the muscle in color drawings. The book also shows typical yoga postures in which the muscle is engaged or stretched. This gives one some idea of how the muscle is affected by changes in attitude and state of contraction.

True to the title, this isn’t a general anatomy and physiology book for yoga. It specifically deals with the muscular system. That being said, it does have some opening matter on the skeletal system, the various types of joints, and other fundamentals that one must understand to grasp how muscles create movement and change bodily alignment. It also has a few brief chapters at the end that deal with important issues like breathing and bandhas. However, if you’re looking for a book with substantial coverage of the anatomy and physiology of breath or nervous system activity, you’ll likely need to look elsewhere. The book also addresses the concept of chakra, which seems out-of-place in an otherwise scientific book, but it will be appreciated by those who view the body in that way and is easily enough ignored for those who want a strictly scientific presentation of material.

While the book is limited in its focus, it does a good job of giving a lot of information in a concise fashion. The graphics are easily interpreted and one can readily distinguish the muscles in question. I found the book to be well-organized and easy to use.

I’d recommend this book for any serious yoga practitioners, particularly teachers and those who need to be concerned about the minutiae of movement and alignment.

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