Book Review: Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi
You may have heard the exciting news that we are going to be posting semi-regular yogi book reviews coupled with book giveaways – to help our community of students deepen their understanding of yoga. It is truly amazing the way that our yoga practice enables us to feel strong in body and more flexible both physically and mentally. One of my teachers says however, that if this is all you are hoping to get from your practice – then you are selling both yourself, and the tradition, incredibly short!
I thought we would kick off with not only one of my favourites but one of the most loved yoga texts of modern yoga. Donna Farhi has been practicing and teaching yoga for over two decades. She is one of the world’s most respected teachers and many of her books are on the required reading list of many yoga teacher trainings. “Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living” is a classic, first published in 2004 and just like many yoga texts – it is as relevant today as it was 13 years ago. I chose this book because not only is it an old favourite – it is incredibly accessible to even the newest yogi – whilst still having a treasure trove to offer those well seasoned in yogic philosophy.
What’s it all about?
Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, is much as the title describes – a handbook for bringing the practices of yoga into every day and truly bringing Yoga to Life! Farhi uses arguably the most authoritative text on yoga (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) as a rough blueprint for her exploration and makes the concepts and ideas accessible to our modern day lives. She lays out the foundation with the limbs or components that make up the journey of (and to) yoga (yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi). She discusses the common obstacles and lessons along the path, expands on the causes of suffering (according to Patanjali), debunks a few myths and clearly (and realistically) sets out the ways in which yoga will enrich our lives. Farhi weaves throughout stories and accounts from both students and her own life in a way that helps us understand whilst our path is unique – the challenges are not unlike the rest of our human brothers and sisters.
The words we use are big and perhaps intimidating, yet this practice is for ordinary people leading ordinary lives who wish to take up the extraordinary challenge of awakening to their true nature. And the challenge exists, not outside our everyday life, but within it.
What I love about it:
Donna Farhi is a born writer and her way of putting words together means that this book is incredibly easy to read, exquisitely phrased and full of poetic gems that make you want to post it all over your instagram account. The wisdom is instilled in a way that makes it accessible to a complete yoga newbie – even someone who might not be aware that there is a philosophical side to yoga. Yet, it generously provides for those well versed in yogic philosophy and life practice. I first read this book relatively early in my practice journey and loved it. I returned to various chapters again and again and loved sharing quotes with students on the mat. Now, having returned to reread the whole thing again for this review, i found it just as rewarding – with so many new gems of wisdom to underline and highlight. My copy of this book is dog eared, full of post it notes and underlined paragraphs – a testament to the content.
It is also incredibly practical and as Farhi introduces us to the theory side of the practice, she sprinkles it with everyday life practices that assist us in uncovering the insights and eventually freedoms that the tradition promises the dedicated practitioner.
An important part of learning to channel our energies is increasing our tolerance for staying in the phase between desire and satisfaction. This is a very important point. For some of us, even a momentary delay in quenching our longing can cause a feeling of inner panic. Just as a person trying to quit smoking may struggle to overcome the urge to smoke, when we contain desire we begin to understand what it is that we really crave and how we might put an end to that craving. An essential element of increasing our skilfulness in this domain is learning to be in the pause between a feeling and a reaction.
What I don’t like about it
To be honest, there isn’t much that I don’t like about this book. A student of mine once commented that towards the end of the book Farhi starts to come across as a bit self-righteous. I was looking out for it as I read it this time around and didn’t find it. I do find that she can come across as stern, though, at the same time I see her as incredibly compassionate in delivering some hard truths that we are perhaps all in need of hearing. Plus I believe it is important to remember that this is not her system, the path of yoga has existed for thousands (if not more) of years. She is simply the messenger, just as Patanjali was before her.
The text is littered with quotes from some of the oldest yogic texts as well as parables from a number of similar philosophies and ancient teachings. Occasionally I found that some of the examples that she used didn’t have much relevance to the concept that she was presenting, at least that was obvious. Sometime I would have liked more explanation or I found myself completely resistant to the parable. Perhaps this is a case of Donna Farhi being so familiar with these concepts and their deeper meanings, that although it may seem obvious to her, it slips under her radar that some of us need a bit more information.
Why you should read it (and reread it again and again)
When I say this book is accessible – I mean it. If you have never stepped onto a yoga mat in your life and have no intention to do so – you would still be offered an absolute buffet of practical tools, concepts and ideas to explore in your everyday life that would deepen your experiences, enrich your relationships and help you feel more connected to the flow of life happening all around you.
If you have wanted to explore your yoga practice beyond asana (physical practice) and been a little intimidated by some of the texts on offer, this book presents a way to truly grasp these ideas with a deep, thorough and most importantly practical understanding without all the sanskrit and technical or scholarly terminology.
I find this book much like a good yoga class. The teacher is presenting these threads that run through the yoga tradition, offering them to you with no obligation. You take what you are ready to hear and assimilate; the rest simply passes through your awareness (perhaps a few seeds are planted, perhaps not). As your practice continues the same offerings are made but you hear (and take in) different things as you have now taken on and assimilated those gems you heard in so many classes before. Now these new ideas call for your attention, the teacher always presented them, it’s just you weren’t ready to hear them until now.
We practice on and off our mat to enlighten our living. Nothing has changed.. Still the difficulties, the challenges, the moments of doubt, the evening time of aloneness. Still the world with all its harsh realities, cruel fortunes, and unequivocal demands. Still the misunderstandings, the necessary compromises, the breakthroughs and triumphs. Still the ups and downs. practice cannot and does not eliminate these extremes. What practice does do is give us direct access to an internal and ever-present refuge of peacefulness that exists inside of and despite all polarities… We make it our task, then, to love what we cannot possibly understand buy letting the mind lie down and the wisdom of the heart take over.
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