CBR-V Review #64: Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffman

I’m still fairly new to yoga. I started practicing in free sessions led by students during college, then spent a year doing audio classes from YogaDownload.com (which I HIGHLY recommend) in my bedroom because I was too poor to afford to go to a studio. It’s only been in the last six months that I’ve started going to classes regularly and really attempting to expand my knowledge of yoga and my abilities in my practice. I’ve been looking to go deeper recently, to understand the benefits of poses and how to put them together in sequence effectively, in order to develop my own practice at home for the days I don’t go to a studio (and to make it a more personal, meditative experience without external stimuli to distract me). A yoga instructor friend lent me this book once she heard what I was trying to accomplish.

Yoga is an extremely comprehensive overview of the practice, beneficial both for complete newcomers and for those who simply want to know a bit more about the things they do in class. Schiffman recounts his own introduction to yoga and then spends a great deal of time discussion the benefits of yoga, especially the mental and emotional effects. He then breaks down the most common poses with detailed instructions on how to do them, what their purposes are, and what they look like (in pictures). He also gives some sample sequences for different ability levels.

I liked this book, and felt like it taught me a lot. Yoga is about continuous growth and learning, and this book is a great example of that–I think that even the most advanced yogis could benefit from some of the things Schiffman says. It’s a fairly philosophical book, too, and there’s a lot of discussion about personal connection the universe and the strengthening of ties to all other humans through yoga, self-awareness and self-acknowledgement, and attaining true peace and happiness through one’s practice. The language got a bit too hippy-dippy even for me at times, but overall I appreciated the message and thought that Schiffman does a great job of encapsulating how yoga should (and does) make you feel. I took a lot of notes on the things he said, including many inspirational and encouraging quotes on mentality and carrying your practice with you, and I’m sure this is going to be a book I refer back to often.

I think the best part of the book is Schiffman’s incredible pose guide and instructions on mediation and awareness and breathing. His guides for the latter are simple and easy to follow, and his pose breakdowns are also very good (I tried out one pose–a headstand–based on his instructions, and was able to do it for the first time ever!). I think the pictures are awesome and helped me visualize some of the poses I hadn’t done before, and I really liked that he included the traditional names for them in addition to the westernized versions. My favorite part was the small section included for each pose on its benefits and why it’s done–not only does he discuss the immediate/obvious benefits like stretching out the hips, for example, but he also talks about which poses relax you, detoxify you, energize you, etc. Teachers don’t have the time to include all that information in an hour-long class, so it was kind of cool to learn about the poses I didn’t know as much about.

The pose sequences at the end are also great, and are a really helpful starting point for starting a home practice. He also lists the most important poses that should be incorporated into every practice, which is also a good thing to know if you’re short on time or trying to try out a new sequence or something like that.

This is a very good resource for yogis of all levels–whether you’ve never set foot in a yoga studio or have already achieved enlightenment, I think there’s something to be gained from this book. If you have any interest at all in yoga, I’d highly recommend checking it out.