Updated: Feb 12
This is a list of the Yoga, Health, and Philosophy/History books I read in 2019. I didn't have the time to give all of them full reviews. Generally, I only do full reviews if I acquire the book through a reviewing service like NetGalley.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
by Bessel A. van der Kolk
This was the most recommended book by my peers and teachers on the subject of trauma psychology and science. It was a HARD read. Long for one. Difficult, sensitive subject matter at times. Brilliant composition on the science including more information that I thought I could appreciate on how the brain works. I think the edition of the book I read is more up to date than previously available.
If you don't want to read quite so much, there are several "cheat sheet" style books on the market that claim to glean the most important facts. I haven't read those so I can't attest to their quality, but as someone who did have a challenging time reading this, I want people to know that there might be other options out there to get the information.
Why this book is important: it comes from the creator and medical director of The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts. Dr. van der Kolk traveled the world to study trauma and neuroscience with anyone who would take him on. He pioneered the "bottom up" approach to recovery which means treating the body first and the mind will open up -- the opposite of talk therapy.
Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity
by Felicia Day
This isn't my favorite Felicia Day book, but that doesn't mean I didn't find any value in it. The book isn't mean to be churned through in a day. Each section comes with assignments on unleashing your creativity. Essentially it's as if Day is in the room with you, handing you a 64 box of Crayola and construction paper and giving you permission to express yourself without holding back. It's fun and cheery.
This was a book that did get a full review courtesy of NetGalley.
Embrace Your Weird acts as a tool where you can have your own imaginary cheerleader, parental figure who is proud of you, role model, and friend at your disposal. Day tells us that being creative is our natural state. Isn’t that wonderful to know?
Why this book is important: As we move from childhood to adulthood, we have strict behavioral guidelines put upon on. Parents insist being an artist (visual, musical, writing, whatever) is no way to make a living. And while that's kind of true, the economics of the art/creative world SUCKS -- it's honestly sucks even if you're a bookkeeper. Jobs are hard to come by. Art used to be as mandatory as Phys. Ed. in school curriculum and now it's not. Give yourself permission to express yourself. Be bold. Be weird.
The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee
by John Little
I was gifted The Warrior Within after a casual conversation where I mentioned that I wanted to learn more about Bruce Lee's beliefs since I sometimes listen to The Bruce Lee Podcast. I've never sat through a Bruce Lee movie! Yet, there is still something inside me -- and I suspect in a lot of other people -- that see Bruce Lee as a sort of Buddha/Messiah figure.
Why this book is important: John Little was one of Lee's top students at a time when Asian people were being exploited by Hollywood and their cultures appropriated without fully comprehension. Here's what I know about appropriation: if you revere something about a culture and you treat it with respect while utilizing it in your life, it's supposed to be acceptable; it's a fine line and people will possibly disagree with you anyway. If you are horribly disrespectful, then you should admit your mistake humbly and promise not to do it again (example: dressing up as a Geisha for Halloween and making your eyes appear slanted through makeup). The philosophies of Jeet Kune Do emphasis "take what works for you" from a variety of sources, an à la carte approach to martial arts and to life.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” ― Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee was also not perfect. Some of the language addresses human gender as a binary (male/female) even though the energies of Yang and Yin must be balanced within us. That's something to keep in mind. I can't presume to know how he would have felt about today's awareness of the gender spectrum.
Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga
by Amy Weintraub
I didn't give Amy Weintraub's book a full review because I highlighted about fifty percent of the book. This is the book I recommend first to people who want to explore the link between the brain and body and why movements and meditation can help alleviate symptoms. For more of the neuroscience, I recommend van der Kolk's book (above).
Why this book is important: Weintraub presents summaries of yoga philosophies and spirituality in digestible ways. She has excellent instructions for the breathing exercises and postures including photos. The only criticism/warning I have about this book is that there's a small section about the healing power of sound cited to Dr. Oz who is an utter quack. I believe sound and its vibrations can be healing, but I would prefer better reference and resources.
The Art of Jin Shin: The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips
by Alexis Brink
Brink's book did a full review courtesy of NetGalley.
There is plenty that’s fantastic about Brink’s book. She repeats that there’s no wrong to do this art. There are instructions throughout the bulk of the book, but if you become a person who likes self-care in Jin Shin, you aren’t going to cause yourself any harm if you place your right hand where the book says to place your left hand. The body is filled with all these safety energy locations (SELs) and missing one step or confusing it, won’t be detrimental. Those SELs are explained perfectly in the book whereas my old spiral books have my handwriting in every spare margin.
When it comes to Brink’s passion, there’s no doubt whatsoever that she believes in the miracles of Jin Shin. My only criticism of this book is that there are no cautions about seeing medical doctors to compliment the treatments. Brink even talks about clients who had given up their medications after a week or two of sessions. I love complimentary medicine as much as the next person, but I think it’s a bit irresponsible to highlight people going cold turkey off their prescriptions. Some may have great success while others may be in life-threatening danger.
Why this book is important: Brink created this book more specifically to be used for self-care than to use to work on others although one could certainly could figure it out. The models in the photos are shown in the self-care variation. This brings me to another point that I appreciated about the book: diverse models of all ages and ethnicities. Again, Jin Shin is fantastic for self-care and it’s how it was discovered in the first place.
Curvy Yoga®: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day
by Anna Guest-Jelley
I've been a fan of Anna Guest-Jelley from the beginning when I first learned that she created a platform to teach people the modifications for larger bodies to enjoy yoga asana practices. She found the void and was able to commercially fill it without becoming a sell-out to corporate culture. She founded her school of yoga and taught people in Memphis before she moved across the country. She was able to harness the powers of the internet and include her homemade videos with other teachers on YouTube much the same way as others have, but with the full-bodied figure in mind.
When I use the term fat to describe my body, I hear lots of “You’re not fat! You’re beautiful!” and other variations on that theme. While I appreciate people trying to give me a compliment, they kind of make my point for me. I’m fat and beautiful. The two are not mutually exclusive, even though our culture certainly tries to convince us that they are.
The book gives excellent examples of modifications and prop use. The tone comes across cheery and encouraging while still having realism that some days just might suck for you. You might fall off that committed, cheery, self-improvement wagon; but you can get back to it.
I also found that her summaries of the koshas (subtle body layers) was more approachable than in texts that dive into sutras and feel so academic. The same holds true for her explanations of the Yamas and Niyamas.
Why this book is important: I think yoga teachers of all sizes should read it or get familiar with the Curvy Yoga world because too often, I don't witness thin teachers making or offering modifications for students' bodies.
Drinking from the River of Light
by Mark Nepo
Nepo's 2019 book, Drinking from the River of Light did a full review courtesy of NetGalley.
This book is for the creative audience, particularly writers, but not exclusively since just about everyone has a sense of creativity. As I writer, I found a lot of appreciation for his outlook. I don't think I would ever utilize his conversation prompts, but it's an interesting part of the assignments.
What I liked about Drinking from the River of Light was that it had the same concepts of mindfulness but all of it is presented in a softer, lyrical form of essays as chapters rather than books that come across more like a stern teacher. Each chapter ends with suggestions of topic conversation starters which readers are invited to bring to someone close to them. The idea is not to read through the book from start to end. You read through the essay and then have the conversation if you choose, and journal about what you observed.
Why this book is important: Nepo is nothing but inspirational. He has several books available. My yoga teachers quote from them often.
Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by B.K.S. Iyengar
This seems like essential Yoga reading if you are going to dive into the spirituality of yoga at all. I will say a few things about it and the author, B.K.S. Iyengar that might put you off to it.
It's a book on the Patanjali's sutras so it's not exactly an easy read. It's academic, but each sutra is presented and then an interpretation in layman's terms is offered. That's the good part.
The unfortunate part is that Iyengar was a known abuser towards his students. I did not know this at the time I started reading the book. Like another abusive guru, Bikram, there are people who swear by the Iyengar style and follow it wholeheartedly despite the known abuse; they see the good in the practice and the words and separate that from the source.
Personally, I don't know how you can interpret sutras which include non-harming (ahimsa) and then get outed as someone who berated students and smacked them around if they didn't things your way when told on command.
Why this book is important: It might be considered essential for someone wishing to teach yoga or for a practitioner looking to get more than they can from a class. At this point in our history, however, I would use caution in recommending it since he did not "walk the walk". We are all fallible and that's something you would have to wrestle with personally.