Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
This is the third asana practice based book I’ve reviewed, the others being Iyengar’s classic Light on Yoga and Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann. This yoga manual (the back cover refers to it as a “reference text”) from the Bihar School of Yoga is heavy on substance and light on frills.
What I mean is clear as soon as you open the book. Instead of photos of lithe yogins and yoginis (think Schiffmann) or intimidating poses of Iyengaresque perfection, what you get is simple black and white drawings with lots of descriptive text. Readers searching for a soft and cuddly yoga book might be put off by this, but they would be cheating themselves if they then closed the book. For what is contained in these pages is quite possibly the most complete and authoritative “cookbook” for yoga practice I’ve ever seen.
Those who’ve read my review of LoY may well be surprised by this statement. Indeed, there are ways in which LoY is definitely superior–most notably in its extensive five-year plus asana program, as well as therapeutic programs to treat specific ailments. But there are also ways–important ways–that Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha (henceforth APMB) has the edge.
First is the organization of the asanas. In Iyengar’s text asanas proceed generally from less advanced to more advanced, but there are no internal divisions among the asanas. For example, if you want to find just the forward bending asanas, you can’t do it via the table of contents. Instead, you’ll have to sift through the text, looking at the pictures or, if you know the specific asanas you’re looking for, go to the index. If you’re just going by Iyengar’s routine as outlined in the back of the text, this is okay, but if you’re wanting to use the book in a more free-style fashion, then this is less than ideal.
APMB, by contrast, is intelligently arranged for someone who wants to take charge of their yoga routine. A peek at the table of contents immediately shows what I mean. The major division is by experience level–beginner’s group, intermediate group, and advanced group–but then within each of these groups the asanas are arranged according to their specific characteristics. So for example, under the intermediate group you have asanas that employ padmasana, or forward bending practices, or spinal twisting, etc. The beginner’s group is especially well suited for complete neophytes, and it would be advice well heeded to not begin the intermediate practices until you’re thoroughly comfortable them. They include warm-ups (the pawanmuktasana series), relaxation postures, standing postures, vajrasana-based postures and others, including surya and chandra namaskara.
I think also the descrptions for each asana are in general better than in LoY. A typical posture has the following: a black and white hand drawn picture, a detailed description of how to enter and exit the pose, then, each with bold headings (to easily pick them out), details on breathing, duration (how long to hold, how many times to do), awareness (where to concentrate), sequence (in relation to other postures), contraindications and benefits. What more could you possibly ask for?
And this is just for asanas. Fully 160 pages are devoted to detailed discussions of a progressive pranayma course, mudras (and how to integrate them into practice), and bandhas. As an added bonus, you even get a section on shatkarma–practices on physical and mental “cleansing”. By comparison, Iyengar devotes a measley 37 pages to these subjects, but has nothing on mudras or shatkarma.
I guess the only complaint I have about the book is that it lacks the sort of pre-programmed courses that are so helpful in LoY. This is sort of made up for in the sections on “sequence”; however, it seems the writers at the Bihar School of Yoga are still practicing an approach to asana that seems to have gone out of style in the last twenty years or so. This is the notion that every pose should be followed by its “counter-pose.” (Please someone correct me on this if I have gotten it wrong!) Erich Schiffmann suggests a quite different approach (349-50), which I’ve adopted: e.g. emphasis on standing postures one day, then forward bends, then backbends, then the cycle repeats. Every day should have twists and inversions, and you’re never too old for sun salutations. APMB is perfect if you adopt this mode of practice, because the organization of the text is tailored perfectly to suit. Yet another point in this fine work’s column!
The only other suggestion for improvement I would make is that the section on yogic “subtle” physiology probably should have been moved up toward the front of the book, before the asanas, as part of the general course on yoga terminology. As it stands now, someone reading into the text will see references to visuddhi chakra etc and possibly not know what this means because the terms are not introduced until the end. This is a small complaint though, and I think it would be hard for anyone to go wrong with this book.
My Amazon rating: 5 stars
Amazon rating: 5