The English version of Are Holen and Torbjørn Hobbel’s book on yoga is more than just a translation of the Norwegian original. It spells out with even greater clarity how meditative yoga differs from what the authors call “yoga gymnastics”, the type of yoga taught in fitness centres around the world. The title says it all: “Meditative Yoga: Integrating Body, Breath and Mind”.
Like the original, the book contains 150 beautiful illustrations and thorough instructions for more than 60 postures and practices, divided according to type (e.g. starting postures, inverted postures, backbends, forward bends, twist postures, balance postures etc.) and described stepwise with illustrative photos. In addition, there are separate chapters for breathing and meditation practices. A chapter on impulse practices covers a type of yoga not often met with in the West, with slow and rapid bends, twists and shakes, to let loose all bodily impulses, including the breath.
The book mostly avoids talk of the specific benefits of each individual practice and suggests that the real benefit of yoga comes from the combination of yoga postures in sequence. It spells out the principles behind such sequences, and suggests a number of yoga programmes for four different levels of yoga practitioners, from completely unexperienced to quite advanced. It also spells out the most important principles behind a meditative approach to yoga, including how to stretch and move, how to breathe, how to close or half-close your eyes, and – most importantly – how to use your attention at different stages of yoga practice, in order to work towards a true integration of body, breath and mind. One basic principle is the frequent changes between mobilisation (moving and holding a pose) and relaxation (letting go of everything). The front cover shows a woman in the “corpse pose”, and this position is described as the “climax” of meditative yoga, allowing the mind to flow freely into “a spontaneous meditative dive that further vitalizes both mind and body”.
Patterns of yoga
Most of the postures are described according to a fixed pattern, moving from a starting pose into the posture itself, which is then held for some time, before the practitioner goes out of the posture again in order to rest and relax. This general pattern and its implications are discussed in a separate chapter. The book is rich in such thematic chapters, treating issues of general interest to all yoga practice: how to move your back and upper body, how to breathe, as well as the relation between yoga and meditation, and the diet and life style suitable for yoga practice.
Down to earth
There are many good and even more bad yoga books on the market. However, I know of no other book that approaches the concrete practice of yoga with the same degree of lucidity and thoroughness as this one. Although based on a meditative orientation, it has none of the fluffy new-age rhetoric that make too many yoga books boring to read, and it is not primarily concerned with metaphysics, neither eastern nor western. Instead it goes about its task in a practical and down-to-earth way, making it a true joy to use the book for one’s own yoga practice at home. My quality of life has improved since I started not only reading, but using this book.