Office Yoga: Simple Stretches for Busy People
by Darrin Zeer
Chronicle Books, 96 pages
The Peaceful Arts: Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Stretching
Mark Evans, John Hudson
Lorenz Books, 192 pages
The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga
Shambhala, 304 pages
One day, there will be a genuine "American yoga"
one that meets our culture's specific needs, without losing any of its vital spiritual energy. The process has already begun, the inevitable adaptation, simplification and synthesis is underway, giving rise to debates about accessibility on the one hand and preservation of yoga's rigorous spiritual tradition on the other. Meantime, we're blessed (or cursed) with an abundance of styles and methods from which to choose. Three new yoga books offer a broad and representative look at those choices.
By far the most streamlined and basic of the lot is Darrin Zeer's pocket-sized "Office Yoga: Simple Stretches for Busy People." As the title implies, Zeer offers a series of short, simple yoga stretches and poses or asanas
designed for the home and office. "Office Yoga" takes the reader from early morning in-bed yoga stretches through workday routines (easily performed in the cramped and hurried atmosphere of the office) and returns home with gentle and lighthearted exercises such as "Yoga for Couch Potatoes."
"At-The-Desk-Relaxation," and "Afternoon Invigoration," offer a balanced mix of traditional Hatha yoga poses (e.g., Sun Salutation, Cobra, and Cat) and adaptations such as, "Keyboard Calisthenics" (for loosening wrists and fingers), "E-mail Meditation" (for calming nerves), and "Crowded Elevator Stretch" (to restore energy ). The exercises are enlivened by Michael Klein's retro, New Yorker-ish illustrations, as well as the occasional inspirational quote from the likes of Fred Astaire and Buddha.
Zeer doesn't spend much time teaching yoga concepts; this is a day-planner for relaxation, with a simple, easy-to-follow yoga routine for relieving stress. But it serves that purpose well.
"The Peaceful Arts: Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Stretching," a coffee-table book with over 350 color illustrations, is a visual feast. Its authors, Evans, Hudson, and Tucker, have combined material from three previously published books into one holistic, "Eastern" approach to healthful living, with superb photographs and richly drawn illustrations. The book offers a broad sampling of each discipline (with the main emphasis on yoga), organized into three, 60-plus page sections.
The first segment, "Inner Harmony: The Art Of Meditation," includes four guided meditation programs (e.g., a step-by-step visualized visit to a country house that relaxes both mind and body), as well as methods for calming the mind using sound, touch and color. There are also many descriptions of poses and relaxation exercises conducive to the meditative state.
The yoga section provides a comprehensive overview of beginning to intermediate poses and routines, including "The Bow, "Full Twist," "Locust," and "Dog Pose." The section is organized into helpful categories ("Posture Enhancers," "Traveler's Stretches," Instant Fatigue Revitalizers," etc.) and presents both warm-up and cool-down exercises. The more advanced poses come with valuable cautions.
The final segment of the book offers descriptive routines of the Yang-style Short Form of Tai Chi (the most popular form in the West) and holds to the same standard of detail and presentation as the previous sections.
This book is an overachiever. There is plenty of quality information, but "Peaceful Arts could use a bit more synthesis, as it's all a little overwhelming. The book is worth exploring, though, and while no book can replace a good teacher, it is a valuable "tune-up" manual for home practice.
Georg Feuerstein's "The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga" was originally published 10 years ago, in an abbreviated version called "The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga." This updated and greatly expanded offering is destined to become a classic. The more than 2000 entries are organized in Sanskrit with easy-to-use English cross-references and the text is interspersed with many wonderful illustrations.
Virtually anything that one wants to know about yoga is contained in these pages, from biographical listings (Sri Aurobindo, the founder of Integral yoga) to ancient gods (Kali, the destroyer of illusion) and simple poses (Bhujanga-asana, the Cobra). Feuerstein's research is exhaustive, impeccable and fascinating--"Duhkha originally meant `having a bad axle hole,' but early on came to signify `sorrow,' `suffering,' or `pain.'" The writing is lively despite all the detail, and overflows with the author's unbounded enthusiasm for his subject. It reads like a good story not, thank God, like an academic tome.
`The Shambhala Encyclopedia' is a must for anyone interested in this complex and lively tradition, and will be a valuable reference by which to gauge the ongoing invention of American yoga.