Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika

Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika

This is the definitive text on hatha yoga. This is the book you want if you are serious about beginning your yoga practice. This is also a text of reference for professional teachers used throughout the world. It is no exaggeration to say that all yoga instructors in the United States know this book, and most of them own a copy and refer to it regularly.Iyengar’s text is characterized by a thoroughness of content, a detailed, precise, step-by-step “how to” for instruction in asana and pranayama. There are 602 photos of Iyengar himself demonstrating the poses with extraordinary flexibility and precision. I have an early, hardcover edition with the photos collected together at the back of the book. The newer editions have the photos spaced appropriately throughout the text.The 34-page Introduction entitled, “What is Yoga?” is a concise overview of the nature, aim and extent of yoga as gleaned from the ancient texts, in particular Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and Swatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika (from which Iyengar gets his Sanskrit title, Yoga Dipika). These are the three great texts of yoga and Iyengar knows them well. This Introduction rewards patient study, and is the kind of pithy text that needs to be returned to again and again, and yet it is written in an accessible, inspired, and inspirational style.Iyengar emphasizes precision and careful technique and a whole body mindfulness as prerequisites to success in hatha yoga. From my experience this mindfulness is absolutely essential for two main reasons. One, you will surely strain or pull a muscle, usually several little ones, if your mind goes astray or if you practice with your attention elsewhere. Count on it. Two, the full import and effect of asana cannot be appreciated, nor the psychological and spiritual lessons implicit within the practice be understood without a deep and continuous concentration–the mindfulness leading to meditation.The technical instruction of the poses includes some commentary on beneficial effects. It should be noted that according to tradition there are 84,000 poses known (or perhaps the number is 840,000) of which about 84 are said to be necessary for health and the progression to samadhi. It is also said traditionally that a cat was the first yoga teacher. I want to note that only a gifted person with a natural suppleness can hope to master all the poses that Iyengar demonstrates. So don’t despair. Most authorities will tell you that a dozen or so will suffice.Even though detailed instruction is given in only three pranayamas, the subject is nonetheless throughly introduced and explained in the twenty-five elegant and succinct pages that constitute Part III of this book. Included and noteworthy is Iyengar’s well-know warning: “Pneumatic tools can cut through the hardest rock. In Pranayama the yogi uses his lungs as pneumatic tools. If they are not used properly, they destroy both the tool and

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