August 2, 2011

Review of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life by Charlotte Bell

At the beginning of her book, Charlotte writes:
‘The place where the quality of our yoga practice speaks most clearly is the way we live our lives.’

In this beautiful book, Charlotte shares many personal examples, including her practice on and off the mat, as she integrates the eight limbs of yoga and the eightfold path of Buddhism – weaving in stories about her life, her meditation practice and about her family.

One of the themes Charlotte returns to again and again, and truly resonated with me, is the reminder we have choices.  (My website is Living Life, Making Choices!) We make choices to act a certain way or to react to people or situations in a certain way.  When we live with awareness paying attention to the patterns in our lives and the choices we make, then we are opening ourselves to the lessons presented along the way.  This is yoga!  Getting to know ourselves.  Being responsible and kind and honest.  Living with integrity.  Being disciplined.  Bell provides us with so many examples of how the 8 limbs show up in our lives both on the mat in our practice and off the mat in our daily living.

Her examples are relevant.  Case in point:

In my yoga classes, I often suggest students ‘find their comfortable or intelligent edge’ and every so often someone will ask what that means.  I often reply something like ‘It is about paying attention and noticing what is possible in your posture – today.  If you move slowly in and out of a pose, your mind has an opportunity to make a choice about how deep to go into a given pose.’  Then in Charlotte’s book I read something that anatomically describes ‘intelligent edge’ in a way I can share with students.  She wrote ‘In order to lengthen a muscle in the long term, we must hold a position for a minimum of 30 seconds.  In each bundle of muscles cells is a sensory nerve called the muscle spindle sensory nerve.  Its function is to sense when a muscle is being stretched beyond its capacity.  When the muscle spindle nerve senses danger, it sends a message to the spinal cord, which in turn sends a message through the muscle’s motor neurons to protect the muscle by shortening it.  After 30 seconds, the muscle spindle nerve habituates to its new length and no longer sends a message of distress to the spinal cord. This allows the muscle to maintain its length.’

Throughout the book Charlotte also provides Yoga Sutra translations and quotes her favorites – one of which is Alistar Shearer’s translation.  She shares so many meaningful excerpts from his book she has me convinced I need this translation!

I’ve read other books like Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life (Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi and Judith Lasiter’s Living Your Yoga) where the author teaches the reader how yoga is much more than the asanas/postures. I think this is valuable to students at the beginning of their yoga journey as well as a reminder for practitioners who have more experience with the 8 limbs – Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

Toward the end of the book she summarizes the 8 limbs beautifully:
Practicing the limbs builds a foundation that readies us to step into the river of Samadhi.  When we practice the yamas, we condition our worldly behavior to bring about peace of mind.  The niyamas define our lifestyle to set our bodies and minds on a healthy plan.  Asana balances the body, so that the mind can abide in a restful environment.  Pranayama uses the physiology of breathing to support concentration.  Pratyahara teaches us how to detach from our addiction to the external world. Dharana steadies the mind.  Dhyana opens us to witnessing presence, allowing us to see reality as it is and to see the illusory nature of our thoughts and biases.  These limbs, when practiced and refined over time, lead to the experience of Samadhi .

I hope what I have shared demonstrates how well written this book is and how beneficial it can be to any yoga practitioner – someone who is new to yoga as well as for those of us who have been practicing for years.

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