"Yoga for Wellness: Healing with the Timeless Teachings of Viniyoga," Gary Kraftsow

Pros: Extraordinary detail and openness
Cons: Inhalation/exhalation labels on pictures aren’t entirely clear
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 1/8/2001

“Yoga for Wellness” specifically tackles the subject of doing yoga for, well, wellness. Health. Physical, mental, and emotional comfort. And it does a better job of this than any other yoga book I’ve ever seen. The beginning of this book goes into wonderful detail on the mechanics of yoga practice. Not just how you move your body, but how you practice the postures so as to get the most out of them and to avoid any potential harm to yourself.

One-arm variations lessen the work load, reduce stress in the neck and shoulders, and emphasize each side independently.

This book has the most marvelous section showing some of the ways in which you can vary postures to get different things out of them. My only comment here is that it helps to know some of the basic postures before looking at the variations in these pictures, so that you have some idea of what is being varied. You’ll learn about some things that even many yoga teachers do “wrong” – I had no idea that lots of yoga teachers have had knee surgery from doing certain postures incorrectly. This book takes a very safe approach to yoga, helping you to figure out not only how to do postures in a way that is good for your body, but how to notice when your body is doing something it shouldn’t so that you can stop!

My only negative comment here is that I sometimes have trouble telling which “inhale” and “exhale” arrows go where on which pictures. On the other hand, he does a good job of explaining which types of movements usually take inhales or exhales, so it’s fairly easy to figure out from the text.

Mr. Kraftsow presents variation notes for how you use your arms, how you position your legs, adapting the movement you use to enter or leave a posture, adapting your range of motion in a posture, and the speed of your movements. He goes on to show how to combine movement with posture, how to combine two or more postures together, how to work with where you hold your attention during a posture, and how to adapt your breathing practice. There are even sections on using sound and props to affect your yoga practice. I feel as though I’ve learned more in these 22 pages (much of which are photos), than in any other entire yoga book.

Sequencing

“Sequencing” is the issue of which postures you will do during your practice, in which order you’ll do them, and how you’ll move from one to another. You’ll find here an entire section on “The Art and Science of Sequencing.” In this section Mr. Kraftsow goes into a great deal of information on how you can adapt the sequence of your movements to suit the time of day, your level of activity, which postures you’d like to work toward, and more. He even includes sample sequences. He goes into the “General Principles for Designing an Asana Sequence,” including intention, efficiency, breath, transition, cumulative stress, risk, and rest. He goes into “Specific Principles for Posture Combination” as well.

How We Move

Chapter 2 goes into the “biomechanics of movement.” Mr. Kraftsow discusses what the functions are of various types of movement, and from that knowledge, how we can muck with the movements to achieve different ends or to accomodate the different needs of our bodies. He even points out, in detail, what you can do in different types of postures to make sure you avoid any injuries or stresses. He goes into great detail on the forward bends, including common risks when attempting forward bends, and sample posture sequences for practicing forward bends. He follows this up with equally useful and detailed information on backward bends, twists, lateral bends, spinal extensions, inverted postures, and balance postures.

He is careful to point out that posture sequences really should be adapted to the individual, and that the ones he gives are “descriptive, rather than prescriptive.” They are examples, and a place to start, not an exact prescription.

Warnings

I am extremely impressed by the openness and honesty of Mr. Kraftsow’s evaluations of risk. It has been my experience that you can judge much of the quality of a yoga book by whether or not it admits that inverted postures can be risky, and how it approaches the subject. Kraftsow first goes into the techniques and intentions of inverted postures. Along the way he discusses some ways to minimize potential problems. When he gets to the risks and contraindications section, it’s quite long! This is more detailed than any yoga book I’ve ever seen before. He explains exactly why and how inverted postures can be dangerous. You’ll find out that some problems only show up after years of practice. He explains how to minimize the risks and which posture variations increase risk.

He also discusses the idea that the potential benefits of inverted postures are not necessarily worth the risks, and points out what factors influence the benefit/risk ratio. He even has a list of 14 contraindications for inverted postures – certainly this list made it clear to me that I have just the right injuries to make inverted postures a really bad idea. It’s wonderful to have this information!

Yoga Therapy

The part of this book that discusses yoga as therapy for various ills is broken up into the following chapters: “Common Aches and Pains,” “Chronic Disease,” and “Emotional Health.” The chapter on aches and pains includes a few lessons on the skeletal system, the spine, the muscular system, and the neck and shoulders. You’ll learn a lot about how these things work, what sort of injuries they may experience, and what those injuries respond well to. This isn’t heavy-duty medical textbook stuff; it’s just an overview so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re doing when you use yoga. This is followed by various stretches for the neck and shoulders, including a discussion, with each, on how to execute the movements, how they work, and what they do for the body. This is followed by more complete sample practices designed to help the neck and shoulder area. Next come similar sections on the upper and lower back, and the sacrum, hips, and knees. Sometimes Mr. Kraftsow also goes into specific ailments, such as kyphosis and scoliosis.

The chapter on chronic disease starts out with a section on digestion and assimilation. It continues with the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic/immune system, the endocrine system, the nervous system, and the urinary and reproductive systems. Again he discusses some specific ailments, such as Crohn’s disease, asthma, hypertension, hypotension, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypothyroid conditions, type II diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and even PMS.

The sections on specific ailments discuss real-life cases, and how yoga has or has not helped the relevant people. Mr. Kraftsow won’t lie to you and tell you that all of these people have been cured, but sometimes small improvements are better than nothing at all.

The chapter on emotional health goes into the limbic system, stress responses and the effect of stress on our susceptibility to disease, mental illness, and anger and anxiety. I was pleased that he wasn’t saying “it’s all in your head and relaxing will make you all better.” Mr. Kraftsow sees yoga as an adjunct to a normal treatment plan, not a replacement for it. There’s even a practice in here for chronic depression.

The Small Details

You’ll find a pronunciation guide in the back, an index of the postures, and a full index (a very detailed one, in fact). You’ll even find the email address of the author in the back of the book!

I was incredibly impressed with the quality of this book. It isn’t just another book of “try these postures for these conditions.” Instead, it goes into a great deal of detail as to why things work the way they do, why things help, and how you can vary your practice in order to make it safer and to help you get the most out of it. This is a big book, and it’s more than worth its price tag.

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