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Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann.  Pocket Books 1996.  357 pages.

I’ve long had an interest in yoga, though that interest was often more intellectual than practical.  I guess it started in college, when I became obsessed with all things kundalini.  This was on account of some personal experiences of said serpent power and my obsession led to an eighty page plus senior thesis on the subject.  My yoga interest got another boost during my years wandering in Asia with my German dharma brother Gregor Lechner, who was a yoga devotee.  (He now teaches aikido in Freiburg Germany.)  A bad back also has a way of firing one’s enthusiasm for this ancient self-maintenance art, and I’ve got that in abundance (scoliosis and ankylosing spondylitis).  So here I am, now age 45, doing my un-American best to maintain health, youth, vigor and wholesome bodily feelings.  In conjunction with my quest for mental transformation I figured a quest for physical transformation would be well assisted by a yoga practice.

So I started looking on Amazon for the best book.  I already had–and had widely explored–the Iyengar classic Light on Yoga (aka LoY), but for some reason I thought I needed something else.  All things considered, this one looked really good for a neophyte so I got it, read it, considered what it had to offer, and….well, here’s my review.

The book opens with an inspiring yoga bio, then divides into four sections: 1) Mr. Schiffmann’s yogic philosophy or approach, 2) an overview of how to approach asanas, breathing and energy, 3) asana instructions divided by type (standing postures, forward bends, backward bends, etc), and 4) meditation.  This struck me as a totally reasonable way of going about things and is sufficient to whet any would-be yogi’s appetites.

Regarding the first part, occupying pages 3-40: Schiffmann is definitely a New Agey, pseudo-theistic “all is one, one is all” kind of guy, and if that is your leaning, you are likely to enjoy and get benefit from this section.  For better or worse, I am not that sort, and so I found myself skipping and rarely (actually, never) employing my ever handy hi-liter.  So while I enjoyed the bio, part one was pretty much a wash for me, though like I said, I think this is on account of my temperamental and intellectual bent than on account of any lack of insight on the author’s part.

In part two I started perking up.  My hi-liter got some action and I felt I was learning things that I could really use.  One thing Schiffmann did well was his discussion of ujjayi breathing while doing the asanas.    Part three is a quite detailed review of various yoga postures–a little too detailed for my taste, actually.  This may be on account of my having done many–if not most–of these postures at some time or another, so again, I think it depends on where you are in your yoga training.  Newbies will especially benefit from this section.

I admit I skimmed part four.  The New Agey-“God and the Self” talk returned, and the instructions are rather basic.  This is not to say they are no good, though.  It’s just not the way I prefer to go about my meditation.  Schiffmann discusses “centering,” and “communing inwardly.”  He emphasizes “listening for guidance,” the development of intuition and devotional surrender.  All of these are perfectly fine practices and can lead down wonderful roads of self-discovery, but they are definitely not for everyone (such as yours truly).  That being the case, I’m not even sure I am the right person to make a judgement here.  My advice would be that if you do feel this approach fits/benefits you, then go for it.  Make the most of it and I am sure you will be rewarded.

All in all, it is a good book and I am happy I bought and read it.  The most important thing I learned was very valuable: For right now, Iyengar’s “bible of yoga” is all I need.

My Amazon rating: 4 stars


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