Johnsen, a longtime yoga practitioner and author of "Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India," notes here that although yoga has become an almost trendy part of American culture, its popularity remains superficial because "the inner essence of yoga has still not percolated through to the average American." Since we live in the most action-oriented, media-saturated nation in the world, the idea of just sitting still seems foreign to many in our culture.

Johnsen recounts that as she leads yoga classes and retreats with American students, she responds to their most frequent complaint--that yoga is boooooring--with the chastisement that "if you are bored, you are not meditating." True yoga, she says, is such a state of perfect absorption that it could never be boring.

Drawing upon her own experiences as a disciple of the colorful, argumentative guru Swami Rama (Swamiji), she discusses the nine impediments that can block fruitful meditation, using memorable examples ranging from contemporary Indian sages like the famed Ammachi to classic episodes of "Star Trek" to demonstrate various points about meditation's benefits. (The Trekkie references, though illuminating, are a tad ironic, since a recurring theme throughout the book is Johnsen's contempt for television.)

One of the book's most incisive points is that meditation offers a "dress rehearsal" for-- gulp--death, a topic that is stringently avoided in American culture. Yogis who slow their breath and their heartbeat transcend the body and mind, attaining an enlightened state of union. And in a world where people assiduously develop their 401(k) portfolios and even plan their funerals, Johnsen asks, isn't it more important to cultivate what we can take with us?

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