The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary
Chip Hartranft
Shambhala Classics 2003

There are numerous translations of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, and Chip Hartranft has now added his translation to the collection. Hartranft explores the path of meditation in the sutras based on his yogic and Buddhist meditation practice. As well as his commentary, he has included a history of the Yoga Sutra, an essay on Patanjali's legacy and access to a website of the text offered in Sanskrit-English translations.

The Yoga Sutra comprises 192 verses that are divided into four groups: preparation for controlling the mind, body-mind relationship and discipline, psychic powers and spiritual powers. These sutras require study, practice and teachers to bring them to life. In his commentary, Hartranft weaves groups of the sutras together so that the practices in each build on and support the others.

Hartranft comments that we "are endowed with native faculties of speech, silence, logic and movement, so do we possess a bottomless well of inner silence and stillness." We go to the inner silence and stillness to connect with meditative roots and gain our own knowing. Yet taking yourself to this place goes against "everything one might have thought of as being alivethe self cannot suffer this yoking gladly." Who willingly goes toward a sublime realm of freedom that demands renunciation and discipline? A small way to start is "each time we can observe without reactingwe are in effect practising a small but significant austerity which unlocks immeasurable energy."

The patterns and concepts of our minds produce the suffering in our lives, yet "we cannot move very far toward clarity before certain of our efforts themselves become obstacles." Patanjali's sutras lay out the necessary disciplines, which may seem very difficult, but give us a map to arrive at the place where we are "at home in all experiences, in things as they are."

The path is expressed in many forms, and you may find in Hartranft's translation and the commentaries a map that makes the path accessible for you at this time. Because in the Yoga Sutra "we find that it leads not away but straight back to the heart of the self."
Swami Radhananda

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Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind: A Guide to Personal Reintegration
A. G. Mohan
Shambhala 2002

A. G. Mohan says that "what is most important in a yoga practice is a constant sense of discovery about oneself." As a Hatha Yoga teacher, I must keep fresh my interest in the body, both for my own benefit and so that I have something to offer to my students.

Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind provides a thorough overview of Mohan's method of yoga, based on decades of study with his teacher, Shri Krishna-macharya. The book also contains many practical suggestions and observations that rekindled my enthusiasm for the inner exploration of the body.

Can a movement begin at the centre of my body rather than the extremities? What is the symbolism and psychological effect of going upside down? What does my breath tell me in each moment about the state of my mind and body? Can I stretch my spine simply by breathing with awareness: "The process of inhaling first into the upper chest, then into the lower chest, extends the upper spine. Beginning each exhale with the lower abdomen lengthens the lower spine. In this way the entire spine is moved by the breath."

The body is an exciting field of discovery, no doubt, but Mohan knows that a smorgasbord of complex poses and breathing exercises do not necessarily make for a beneficial yoga practice. He focuses on a relatively limited number of basic asanas (twenty) and offers clear guidance on how to get quality out of this small quantity.

I will continue to use this book as a reference and source of practical inspiration. While Mohan cautions people not to rely solely on a book, Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind is a good at-home guide to supplement your Hatha Yoga classes. Mohan has the yoga teacher's gift of encouraging students to delve into practices in a way that is both safe and adventurous.
Juniper Glass

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Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America
New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2002
Brad Gooch

As Brad Gooch, a journalist and biographer, sat praying in a Manhattan church, he wondered what all the other people out there were thinking, seeking, believing in. He searched the library shelves, but couldn't find a book with much "close-up, detailed reporting on the social aspect of the spiritual scene in America." So he resolved to write it himself. The result was a trip to India, four years of crisscrossing the United States, and a new book called Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America.

In Godtalk, Gooch sets out to capture the essence of what it is to be a seeker in the "post-denominational" age an age where boundaries and traditions blur, merge and metamorphosize. Just as America prides itself on being the social melting pot of the West, Gooch shows that any number of religious and spiritual traditions may co-exist, cross-pollinate, dutifully abide by ancient tradition, or adapt and thrive here in the New World.

Each chapter of Godtalk deals with a particular religion or movement: New Age, Hinduism/Yoga, Christianity and Islam. For his research, Gooch participated in the different practices within each religion. Deepak Chopra's mix of Hinduism, modern feel-good psychology and science is discussed alongside the Siddha Yoga ashrams of Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. Gooch prays in orthodox Sunni Islam mosques and eats Turkish Delight with the mystical Muslim Sufis of New York. In the chapters on Christianity, we see and feel the deep differences between monks and nuns, getting an especially insightful portrait of the female contemplative in the West. In the chapter on the so-called Urantia Book (transmitted to humanity by alien spiritual beings in the early part of the 20th century), the author's detective work unearths the dubious foundations of this text and examines how the ever-growing number of its readers interpret its rather amazing 196 Papers. Throughout Godtalk, there is a vivifying and sometimes heady combination of participation, observation, history and storytelling.

The author himself tells us the object of Godtalk is "less existential and more journalistic." His primary intent is not to inspire though he does occasionally, when you can feel empathy coming through his writing, which can be technical, whimsical and sarcastic in turns. What he does offer is well written, well researched, broad in scope and in some shining moments a wise chronicle of spirituality in this post-denominational age. Though initially agitated by his constant prodding at the assumptions and values of these spiritualities, I was reminded that a healthy questioning of what a spiritual regimen stands for, where it aims to bring you, and who your fellow travellers may be, is as necessary as the faith and devotion you pour into it.

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The Perfect Jewel
Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir
Rykodisc 2002

After a day of rushing about, I return to my apartment feeling completely emptied. I collapse on my bed, and as an afterthought, slide a CD into the stereo; it's an album I've just picked up on the advice of a friend. The Perfect Jewel is a selection of ancient sacred chants from Tibet, as performed by the Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir.

A male baritone voice rings out through the speakers, solid in tone yet otherworldly, being joined by voice after voice, ethereal harmonies warmly filling my bedroom. And despite myself, as the chant is joined by echoing drilbu (small bells) and damaru (small drums) in a steady crescendo of spiritual proportions, I feel myself being swept away to another time, to another place, in an almost transcendent current of sound....

The Gyuto monks' order, now located in northeast India, is steeped deep in a rich and unique history. By the fifteenth century, the Gyuto Tantric University had been founded in the heart of Tibet, a school that offered monastic training in the rituals of the Guhyasamaja Tantra, a form of Tibetan Buddhism. In the 1950s, following persecution by the Chinese, the Gyuto monks reestablished their school in northeast India, where they have been slowly initiating new monks ever since. Various specialized yogas were developed at the university throughout the centuries, particularly a form of polyphonic chanting wherein each monk sings several tones simultaneously. When a choir of devotees sings this sonic prayer, the atmosphere it creates is as beautiful as it is transporting.

Reminiscent of other Eastern traditions of multiphonic vocal styles such as Tuvan throat singing, the chanting sampled on this album showcases a mlange of minimalist instrumentations, which create an almost visceral spiritual atmosphere when played aloud. The album stresses that these chants are not intended simply as entertainment, but as prayer, and are in fact short excerpts from monastic rituals that may take many hours or days to perform in full. The spiritual weight of these ongs is fully palpable, and shines clearly through the music.
Michael Wray

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Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove
Tabla Beat Science
Palm Pictures 2002

click here to listen

When I first heard Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove by Tabla Beat Science, I was amazed at the skill and technical ability of the musicians. At the time I was busy with other tasks, and having the CD playing in the background was actually disturbing. Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove is not easy listening the music demands my total attention.

Tabla Beat Science was founded by Zakir Hussain and Bill Laswell. Internationally recognized as a master of percussion and improvisation, Hussain has his roots in classical Indian music. On bass, Bill Laswell has made an art of mixing and producing seemingly different cultural music, and is responsible for some of the most cutting-edge sounds today. Along with the two founders, Ustad Sultan Khan and Karsh Kale form the core of the group. Khan is a renowned classical Indian musician who adds an extra dimension of fluidity to the music through his vocals and playing of the sarangi, an eerie bowed string instrument. Kale epitomizes the new "fusion" music, playing various instruments such as tablas and turntables.

Later, when I was able to give the CD my undivided attention, my mind changed. I could sense the organic exchange between audience and artist that allows live performances to go where a studio cannot. I closed my eyes and imagined a sea of people moving in unison and diversity. The music of Tabla Beat Science is not something to be still with. I relaxed, and my body became still while my mind took off. As one captivating track ended, I imagined the crowd looking around with confused faces, as though they had just awoken from sleepwalking. The music started up again with the warm voices of Indian and African devotional singing. I realized I had been holding my breath, but now I breathed easily.

Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove is a fine balance between spacey exploration and grounded rhythms. As it moved back and forth between these dynamics, I discovered a structure to the music higher than I can comprehend. By straining to hear and make sense of the sounds, there was only chaos. But when I allowed myself to relax, my mind stretched enough to follow the artists to the farthest reaches of their musical universe.
Colin Dorsey

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Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life