"Yoga: the Iyengar Way," Mehta

Pros: LOTS of photos; incredible amount of detail; difficulty indication; variations; provided courses
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 11/27/2000

Some time ago I started doing yoga as a way to ease the pain of an old neck injury. Yoga is a practice of stretching in specific postures; to many, it is also a meditation practice (it has often been called “meditation-in-motion”). Yoga has many beneficial effects. Besides the obvious (flexibility and strength), it also spaces out the vertebrae (wonderful for those of us with neck and back injuries) and increases circulation.

“Yoga: the Iyengar Way” is one of my favorite yoga books. Specifically, it is the most detailed yoga book I’ve ever found. If you want to do yoga but want to do it yourself, without a teacher (or have taken a class or two and want to continue on your own), this is one of the best books out there in my opinion. It has pictures for every posture, often multiple pictures for single postures, showing them from various angles. Some postures come with as many as five or six photos! It details variations on the postures: one of the ways to keep things interesting and to stretch out better is to vary the postures, but this can be difficult if you don’t know where to start.

This book starts from the basic instructions, and goes on to discuss all of the tiny “micro-movements” that help you to do yoga safely and comfortably, and to stretch your muscles out wonderfully. Each posture comes with a difficulty rating of one to four. Some variations on poses have different difficulty ratings than the original postures, which is a level of detail most books wouldn’t consider. I find it quite helpful.

The back of the book contains “courses,” or sequences of postures, along with instructions for how long you might spend learning and practicing each sequence. For those who have trouble designing their own practice, this is invaluable. It also lists a few courses designed to help those who suffer from certain ailments, such as backache, hernia, fatigue and depression. (Many people believe that the therapeutic benefits of yoga go beyond just flexibility and strength.)

Other Topics

This book also has sections that go into the philosophy of yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, and other such related issues. Do be sure to read the descriptive sections at the beginning of each chapter. For example, the write-up on “inverted poses” explains that they probably should not be attempted if you have a neck injury, high blood pressure, heart problems, detached retina, or ear problems. (Inverted poses are ones where you’re basically upside-down – headstands and related postures.)

If you are more interested in the meditational aspects of yoga, other books might appeal more to you. But if you want help in exploring the postures and in making sure that you’re doing them right, it’s hard to do better than this book!

Oh, and yes – yoga has helped my neck injury. The injury is a combination of pressure on a nerve, and strain on the muscles because I now hold my head too far forward. The yoga relaxes the muscles, thus reducing that part of the pain; helps to space out the vertebrae, thus reducing the pain from the nerve; and corrects my posture, thus teaching me to keep my head a little closer to where it’s supposed to rest.

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