"The Sivananda Companion to Yoga," Sivananda Yoga Center

Pros: Detailed drawings; prescribed courses; information on meditation, health, and the history and philosophy of yoga
Cons: Not enough warnings about inverted postures; no real indication of difficulty of postures
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 11/29/2000

“The Sivananda Companion to Yoga” looks beautiful. The full-color photos have softened tones, and are shot with gorgeous muted colors. The drawings are very well-done. It really is a beautiful book. It contains a wonderful spread of information. There’s a very good introduction to yoga here that includes a decent amount of history and philosophy. It’s a good essay to read for newcomers to the yoga practice. There’s a reasonably large section on breathing (about 10 pages), a similar section on diet (including information on fasting), a slightly longer section on meditation, and a decent section on yoga and health.

You’ll find a very helpful section called “The Cycle of Life” that talks about yoga practice during such times of life as childhood, pregnancy, and the “later years.” This is a handy section I haven’t seen in many other yoga books. There’s one section I find very helpful, called “Asanas and Variations,” that details variations on the basic postures. I think it would be easier to have these details up with the information on the various postures, the way the Iyengar book does, but this is still useful. There are some basic warm-ups provided, such as neck rolls, shoulder lifts, and eye exercises.

This is a book on Hatha Yoga, and Hatha Yoga teaches that it’s important to work according to a pattern, rather than simply trying out random postures. You’ll find a chart on page 66 that will give you a few sequences to work with, including ways to fit them into either a half-hour or 1.5-hour “class.”

This book doesn’t have the many photos of postures and the deep detail of micro-movements that the Iyengar book that I reviewed already has. It does, however, have a number of very realistic drawings for most postures, which do almost as well. And it does have a decent amount of information on each type of posture, even if it isn’t quite as much. If you find the sheer volume of detail in the Iyengar book to be a little overwhelming, you might want to try this one instead.

The One Bad Thing

I’ve developed a certain test for yoga books. I look up the headstand, or the inverted postures in general, and I check what they have in the way of warnings. Inverted postures are supposedly some of the most health-giving yoga postures, and I find that some books, because of this, gloss over the fact that they can also be a bit dangerous, particularly if your neck or back muscles are weak, or you have any kind of a neck injury, or certain other sorts of medical problems.

If a book has these warnings, then I know it’s probably a pretty unbiased book, that is likely to tell me about any dangers I need to know about. After all, you’re working – often strenuously – with your body. Yoga is very healthful, but it can still cause problems in certain cases. (Don’t let this scare you away from yoga, though – there aren’t that many people who develop physical problems through yoga!) The only note here is a tiny note in a corner that people with high blood pressure, glaucoma, or a detached retina should concentrate on yoga practices that may rectify the condition before approaching the headstand. No mention of heart problems or neck or back injuries; no exhortation to check with your doctor first if you have any relevant conditions or injuries. Not even a recommendation to just skip the inverted postures altogether if you have a condition that contraindicates them.

So, while in general I really like this book, I would suggest that you not make it your only yoga book. Get another one, too, that mentions any possible problem spots you should watch out for.

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