Personal Trainer: Yoga for Life: The At-Home Introduction to Iyengar, Astanga, Viniyoga and Sivananda
Various Eastern masters began introducing their yogic teachings in the West in the 1800s. From those dozen or so lineages, myriad Western methodologies have multiplied. In Yoga for Life, author Liz Lark offers an at-home introduction to four key methods which sprang from two of these primary lineages. The reader discovers Iyengar, Astanga, Viniyoga and Sivananda yoga methods, and a bit about Tantric practice.
Yoga for Life seeks to appeal to all who wish to create a yoga practice, regardless of fitness level, life style or outlook, or age (indeed, children are encouraged to practice yoga). Ms. Lark is mindful to point out, though, that yoga is not a quick fix; it’s a practice one can expand and deepen with time.
To learn effectively, one must feel and experience rather than intellectualize the yoga practice.
Ms. Lark introduces basic yoga “tools” such as posture, focus, movement sequencing, hand gestures, breath manipulation, relaxation, and meditation, and encourages the reader to practice in observation, not judgment, of oneself and others.
She provides a basic understanding of the origin and benefits of each of the selected methods, and she gives simple, brief explanations of complex concepts like gunas and doshas (states of being and basic body constitutions). Her aim is to enable the reader to find a yoga method that suits one’s lifestyle and body type, and then to go find a class.
For example, Viniyoga is based on the eight-limbed system in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. It is a therapeutic practice, specific to the individual. Iyengar yoga incorporates precise and rigorous posture and the use of props for perfecting poses. Astanga yoga employs fluid sequencing of postures and is a rigorous, set discipline. Sivananda yoga is a gentle practice of posture, breath-work, relaxation, diet, and meditation with a clearly defined lifestyle to which nonviolence, devotion, and service are integral.
In chapters about each of these four methods, Yoga for Life provides practice instructions, photos (some are very small) and key benefits of individual postures (except for Iyengar poses). Case studies and testimonials are also included for each method, as is a Q&A with a teacher of that method. The chapter about Astanga yoga includes a more detailed series of practice and discussion of benefits, and a Q&A with Ms. Lark herself.
A final chapter introduces Tantra, a non-dogmatic practice in which the realities of “the seen and the unseen,” are considered to be inseparable. In Tantra, body and mind are viewed as equally important, as are the material and spiritual aspects of life; gestures, sounds, and other practices are used to guide one into simple meditation and freedom within life rather than from it.
For all the practices presented in Yoga for Life, Ms. Lark suggests experiencing different teachers and finding the yoga method that’s appropriate for the individual. She explains how Viniyoga, Iyengar, Astanga, and Sivananda yoga complement one another and how sequences differ amongst the methods. Key points from each chapter are referenced throughout the book, so it’s easy to browse or read from beginning to end.
Photos are abundant in Yoga for Life. They are variously simple and complex, instructional, and beautiful—in both lush colors and black and white. While some photos of advanced yoga postures may either intimidate or motivate the beginner, there’s a remarkably attractive quality to photos of sangha (people in community) and children practicing yoga.
This compact book is pleasant to hold and to look at. The eight-point text could be challenging for some readers, and an overview of netra vyaamam (eye movements for improving vision and relieving eye strain) would have been an excellent addition. Quotes from various masters and teachers are presented in larger type throughout the book, and Yoga for Life includes personal studies and examples from modern-day practitioners.
Most Sanskrit terms are explained in the text. The glossary and index are helpful for those who browse the book. Yoga for Life concludes with lists of recommended reading, videos, websites, and schools (most in the U.K.). It’s a beautifully presented, useful tool for selecting a path to start a personal yoga practice.