Publication and Webite Reviews

School of Yoga reviews of Publication and Sites dealing with Classical Yoga:

Through the ages, knowledge has been transferred in many ways and books have been the primary form of this transference.

There are many books, periodicals and sites dealing with various aspects of Yoga. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find any site solely dedicated to identifying and directing visitors who might want to read on the subject.

School of Yoga bridges this gap by reviewing various publication and sites on classical yoga. In this section, we review various books and sites, helping you choose the publication which best suits your style of Yoga.

Also, please feel free to start a discussion and leave your comments. 

If you want School of Yoga to review any publication or site, please do let us know.

Yoga Publications
Review of “Jnana Yoga” by Swami Vivekananda Printed by Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta). Review by Vishwanath Iyer. Swami Vivekananda (12 January 1863 – 4 July 1902) was born as Narendranath Datta in Kolkatta, West Bengal, India into an aristocratic family. He came from a family of ascetics. In fact, his grandfather, Durgacharan Duttta had become a monk at 25. Initially, as a child, Swami Vivakananda was interested in spirituality, often meditating on Indian deities. He was a brilliant student, with terrific speed reading capabilities and a photographic memory. As a result, he won tremendous praise from all his teachers in Christian College, Calcutta. Swami Vivekananda’s initial exposure to spirituality was as an apprentice of Nava Vidhan, an offshoot of Brahmo Samaj. Here, he was exposed to many types of cultural, religious, social and spiritual ideas. Later, in 1881, he met his Guru, Ramakrishna Paramahansa and slowly began to gravitate towards Ramakrishna Paramahansa, especially after his father’s death in 1884. Finally, he experienced nirvikalpa Samadhi in 1885. Evolution at a Monk In 1886, Ramakrishna Paramahansa died, anointing Swami Vivekananda as the head of his disciples. Therafter, on Christmas Eve, Swami Vivekananda and 8 fellow disciples become monks. In 1888, Swami Vivekananda left his monastery as a wondering monk, moving around India with no possessions. Then, reaching Mumbai in 1893, he departed for the West, passing Japan, China and Canada before reaching USA where he spoke at the Parliament of Religions. In fact, his opening words, “Sisters and brothers of America!” made him famous. Over the next few years he spread the understanding of Vedanta, accepting disciples and established ashrams all over the world. Finally, on 4th July 1902, he passed away. About Jnana Yoga Jnana Yoga was published posthumously, sometime around 1905. It is based on a series of lectures given by Swami Vivekananda in New York and London. These lectures were transcribed by a professional stenographer Joseph Josiah Goodwin in 1896. However, there have been additions and deletions to the book by the publishers. The important aspect of this book is that it is the first attempt to explain some concepts which underpin Yoga. The book starts with the importance of Religion and its relationship with Man. It then explains an important and often misunderstood concept of Maya (Illusion). However, Swami Vivekananda’s own explanation falls short of bringing complete lucidity, though the attempt is sincere and complete. Next, the book speaks about the nature of Man. The great thing about Swami Vivekananda’s lectures is the effort to help people understand that the Vedanta a complete source of all knowledge of the Absolute and way to reach it. Swami Vivekananda’s explanations of the Absolute and Relativity are brilliant. Swami Vivekananda speaks about Realisation and God through an abridged version of the Katha Upanishad. In fact, this chapter is explained in a simple and easy to understand manner. Next, Swami Vivekananda explains the nature of the Soul by explaining the Chandogya Upanishad. The Cosmos, micro and macrocosm are explained, followed by the nature of the soul and immortality. Review of Jnana Yoga There is no doubt that the book is superbly put together. However, some of the features which a reader will need to take into cognisance are; The book is a summation of lectures, so there is overlap of concepts. This can make reading slightly tiresome. Since the book is a series of lectures, the reader is reading what should ideally be heard. This makes understanding of the book difficult. The lectures were given at the turn of the 19th century to people who knew very little of Hinduism and India. Hence, there is a lot of cross-referencing with other faiths. This aspect may confuse the reader. There is no doubt that the book is a milestone in the History of Yoga. It was brought out at a time of ignorance and did yeoman service in educating Indians and others on the aspects of Yoga and Indian philosophy. This book must be read, at least once. [...]
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (printed by Jaico Books). Autobiography of a Yogi – Review by Vishwanath Iyer. Paramahansa Yogananda (5 January 1893 – 7 March 1952) was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. After seeking various saints, he met his Guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri. Next, at the instruction of his Guru, he passed his Intermediate Examination in Arts from the Scottish Church College, Kolkata, in June 1915. Following this, he graduated with a degree similar to a current day Bachelor of Arts or B.A. (which at the time was referred to as an A.B.), from Serampore College. The same year, he took formal vows into the Swami order as Swami Yogananda Giri. In 1920, he moved to the United States of America, where he established his ashram and spent most of his life. The Book: The book is like any autobiography. Initially, it starts off with a wholesome childhood, spent with loving and caring parents in a deeply spiritual home. The central theme of the early chapters is the constant quest for a Guru, and greater understanding of the permanent. There are many miracles and personal experiences, including the traumatic demise of his mother. Next, the book touches upon his meeting of many masters such as Maharishi Mahasaya, a disciple off Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. The meeting with his Guru Swami Yukteswar Giri is explained in vivid detail. Following this, are carefree and lyrical years at the Swami’s ashram and days as a college student. Slowly, Swami Yogananda begins to delve into his ascent into spiritual heights, explaining many nuances on the subject. Finally, this section ends in Swami Yogananda taking monastic vows. Next, the book covers Kriya Yoga, founding a school at Ranchi and other achievements in social and spiritual life. Following this is a deep dive into the ethos of his Guru lineage and its development. Also, this section dwells on his travel abroad to speak and propagate Spirituality, ending with his establishment of his Ashram and Self Realisation Foundation in California, USA. Conclusion: The book is a fascinating read for two reasons. First, it shines a light on the spiritual base of India, as it existed at the turn of the century. Tragically, this base has been deeply eroded and exists in very few placed. Secondly, the book is able to motivate one to delve into spirituality and Yoga. Despite its age, the principles of spirituality are still relevant and this book exemplifies this eternal message of the soul. The book is crisp, with very little meandering. In fact, as a personal autobiography, it is an engaging, absorbing and delightful book to read. [...]
Review of Patanjali Yoga Sutra by Swami Prabhavananda Patanjali (around 400 BCE) – Author of Patanjali Yoga Sutra Patanjali Yoga Sutra by Swami Prabhavananda is a translation of a seminal work on Raja Yoga of Guru Patanjali. However, Swami Patanjali is a source of much speculation. Some say that he is also the author of a very respected book on Sanskrit grammar while others dispute this. Thus, it is possible that the Patanjali who wrote the book on grammar is different from the one who wrote on Yoga.  This book or sutra (strand of verses) on Raja Yoga is split into 4 major chapters – first on liberation, second on practice, third on manifestation and fourth on isolation. The old Sanskrit of the book makes translation and understanding difficult. Also, the numerous translations have  added to the confusion, so one should be careful during interpretation of the verses. However, Patanjali Yoga Sutras are a “Must Read”for anyone seriously interested in progressing on RajaYoga. Swami Prabhavananda (December 26, 1893 – July 4, 1976) Swami Prabhavananda was born in India and joined the Ramakrishna Mutt after completing his graduation from Kolkatta University. After initiation, he moved to USA in 1923 to set up ashrams there. Under his administration, the Vedanta Society grew to be the largest such society in the West. His translation of the Yoga sutras can be described as expansive. Swami Prabhavananda tends to expand the translation of the verses into related aspects of philosophy, sometimes not a directly related to the verse. So, one ends up reading the Sutras as an extension of Swami Prabhavananda’s own experiences with the truth; not necessarily as a direct translation of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. However, the commentaries are earthy and simple. So whether the book can be termed an accurate representation of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra or not, it a short, simple and effective primer on Yoga. Review by Vishwanath Iyer [...]
Review of Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatmarama (printed by The Adyar Library and Research Center). Svatmarama was 15th or 16th Century Yoga master. Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written by Svatmarama, a disciple of Gorakshanath, in turn a disciple of Matsendranath. The basis of the lineage is the Siddha tradition which is an esoteric and ancient branch of Shaivism. The Hatha Yoga Pradeepika is a very lucid text book on Hatha Yoga. It is split into 4 chapters; the first is on asana, second on pranayama, third on mudras and fourth on samadhi. The reader is immediately struck by the clarity of approach in dealing with the subject. The document is very clear on its objectives and the path a practitioner should take to reach liberation. One will conclude after reading the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is that liberation is a straightforward action. For example, one does not need to know many asanas and pranayama etc, to attain liberation. It only requires focus, discipline and regular effort. Additionally, Svatmarama constantly espouses the precedence of practice and experience over theory or discussion. Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Adyar Library Adyar Library and research centre has done the translation of Hatha Yoga Pradipika in a very interesting manner. The book is a collaboration by many, there is a Jyotsna (Sanskrit explanation) by Brahmananda and an English translation of Srinivasa Iyengar by Tookaram Tatya. Despite the multiple collaboration, the book is excellently compiled and integrated. However, the lack of translation of individual words make it difficult for a reader to arrive at his own conclusions.  For anyone with an interest in Yoga, this book is mandatory. Indeed, it is well written. Additionally, where required and in certain places, the book explains the socio-cultural background of India which makes understanding easy. Conclusion – This book is a “Must Read” for all Yoga enthusiasts. However, the book also highlights the deep divide between the ideals of Hatha Yoga and current yoga practices. [...]
The Bhagavad Gita by Swami Chidbhavananda Swami Chidbhavananda (11 March 1898 – 16 November 1985)  The Bhagavad Gita by Swami Chidbhavananda is a scholarly work on the Bhagavad Gita. Swami Chidbhavananda was born as Chinnu near Coimbatore, India. Influenced by Swami Vivekananda at an early age, he joined Ramakrishna Mission at Belur, Kolkatta. His Guru was Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Obeying his Guru, he established an ashram and educational institution at Ooty, in South India . Swami Chidbhavanada was also an author, writing in English and Tamil. The Bhagavad Gita by Chidbhavananda is possibly the most secular translation of this book available so far. It is certainly, one of the most comprehensive books on the subject. The book’s index is very complete, detailing the topics that follow in each chapter. Additionally, the index also provides cross-referencing to various parts of the book. 1- Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita by Chidbhavananda: In this section, Swami Chidbhavananda introduces the reader to the Bhagavad Gita in a unique way. He cross-references the Gita with other sacred texts so as to make the reading appeal to a wider, secular audience. He then brings the reader’s attention to the relevance of the Bhagavad Gita in the Hindu frame of existence, as prasthaanatrayam (that which answers 3 questions). The setting of Bhagavad Gita is the battlefield at Kurukshetra as depicted in the epic, Mahabharata. The Bhagawat Gita is a dialogue between Sri Krishna, the charioteer and Arjuna, the warrior. Sri Krishna, using a question and answer method explains the difficult logic of yoga and this has been enunciated out by Swami Chidbhavananda. In fact, Swami Chidbhavananda tries to retain the divinity in the existence and message of Sri Krishna in his translation.   This is followed by the relevance of the workbook to normal living and problem solving. Most noteworthy is the effort to link the various concepts that make Sanatana Dharma a cohesive platform for spiritual development. 2- The Bhagavad Gita by Swami Chidbhavananda The Bhagawad Gita may be described as a book of intertwined dialogues – there are 2 dialogues; one between Sanjaya and Dhritrashtra, the blind Kaurava king and the other, a subset of the first dialogue, between Sri Krishna and Arjuna. So, the Bhagavad Geeta is a dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna recounted to the blind king Drithrashtra by Sanjaya. The book is divided into 18 chapters, each is a form of Yoga. Swami Chidbhavananda has structured his work with the Shloka or verse coming first, followed by the literal translation, then his interpretation of the verse along with a commentary followed finally by a recount of Swami Ramakrishna or Vivekananda views on the subject. This makes the translation very comprehensive. Finally, the book ends with the greatness of the Gita and an index. The book is voluminous. Reading this book will require patience, persistence and time. Also, the text is slightly old fashioned and there are repetitions of concepts and practices. However, the book is clear in its translation and allows the reader to flex in his thinking to suit current thinking and practices. Therefore, anyone wishing to develop spiritually will find this book useful as it is universal in approach and simple to understand . Conclusion: This book is recommended for anyone who has passed the first flush of youth and now wishes to find direction in life. [...]
Review of Concentration and Meditation by Swami Sivananda Swami Sivananda (8 September 1887 – 14 July 1963) or Swami Sivananda Saraswati, the author of Concentration and Meditation, was a doctor turned spiritual teacher and yogi. He founded “The Divine Life Society” and “The Sivananda Ashram”. He has written many books, but one of his best books is Concentration and Meditation.  This is a simple manual on how to achieve success in “Dhyana” and “Dharana”. First, the book starts with the need for control of behaviour. Then, it goes straight into the theory and practice of concentration. Next, Swami Sivananda also explains some philosohical and spiritual concepts which he intersperses with practical lessons for implementation. Additionally, there is special emphasis on integrating the science of meditation with ancient Indian spiritual ethos. This automatically gives depth to the book and an and assured entry into the body of books on Yoga. Swami Sivananda next addresses similarities ad differences concentration and meditation. Concentration is the ability to bring focus of attention to a single point while meditation is the ability to mold awareness to ones sense of Identity. So, this means that while concentration is a skill which does not require spiritual maturity, meditation is a spiritual activity which requires increased awareness. The book goes into many small details on the practice and requirements of meditation. Often, it integrates various elements of Yoga and Indian spiritual scriptures with practices for a cohesive outcome. Next, Swami Sivananda moves from practice to various experiences, dangers, and precautions which a practitioner should confront when practicing meditation. Finally, there is a question-answer section which addresses the most common doubts on the subject. Lastly, the final chapters are devoted to the mystical evolution and experience of Samadhi. Conclusion There is no doubt that Swami Sivananda could not have written with such accuracy without personal experience. There is also ample evidence that many students benefited from Swami Sivananda and reached great mystical levels. Unfortunately, Swami Sivananda sometimes repeats concepts and practices. Also, the english is written in the style of the 1950’s. This could make the book a little tedious, boring or pedantic. However, at no time is there any confusion on the path to be taken – collect the scattered thoughts, remove distraction, inertia or laziness, practice attention and single pointed attention, live an ethical life, do not be afraid at the various experience during practice and you will reach Samadhi. This book is sure to motivate one to reach the realm of the mystics. [...]
Review of A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton Paul Brunton (21 October 1898 – 27 July 1981) wrote A Search in Secret India about his search for a Spiritual Guru, Yogi or guide in India. Paul Brunton was a theosophist, spiritualist and writer. He was educated at St. George’s College and got his doctorate in Philosophy from Mc.Kinley – Roosevelt College, USA. He fought the World War 1 in the Tank Corps. Post war, after a brief stint as a bookseller and journalist, he came to India in 1931 in search of a Guru or Master. This brought him in contact with many Yogi’s and the book is about that experience. The book – Search in Secret India… A Search in Secret India is about his search for a meaning to life. It was published in 1934. The book can be broadly divided into four sections. The first section deals with Brunton’s early encounter with Yoga in the UK. Following this is a section on the circumstances which increased his interest in the subject and the esoteric world of yoga and spiritualism. The book then moves into the search, starting with an encounter with an Egyptian, Mahmoud Bey in Mumbai. This is followed by a meeting with Meher Baba, followed by many yogi’s, Guru’s, teachers and spiritual leaders. The book then touches his meetings with some of India’s most significant spiritual leaders – Shankaracharya of Kanchi – Paramacharya Chandrashekarendra Saraswati, Ramana Maharishi, Mahendranath Gupta – a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Vishuddhananda and Sahabji Maharaj. Subsequently, there is the frustration and helplessness at having spent so much time and money without achieving anything. Finally, there is deliverance. Brunton has presented his experience dramatically. He leaves the reader with a feeling that maybe, he was to find his solution in India. Conclusion: For people wishing to understand the ancient Indian yoga and spiritual environment until the mid 1930’s, this book is a precious gift. Additionally, the faint colonial haughtier and old fashioned English would only add to the exotic appeal of the book. At the end, as one comes back to reality, there is a nagging feeling that India has lost a valuable heritage.  [...]
Yogic Physical Culture by Yogacharya S. Sundaram Review of Yogic Physical Culture (The secret of Happiness) by Yogacharya S. Sundaram by Vishwanath Iyer. Published by The Yoga Publishing House, (A Unit of GIRINATH ABR CHARITABLE TRUST) “Girikripa” 462 Cross-cut Road, Coimbatore – 641 012. This is the first manual on Yoga and asana ever published, first published in 1928. This comprehensive manual explains, not just asana but also the background of Yoga and its relevance to Indian culture and ethos. The book highlights issues and concerns of Indian society of the 1920 and how practice of yoga can impact health and well-being.  The book – Yogic Physical Culture… First, the book covers the basics of the practice of asana and pranayama, including aspects such as location dress, food etc. Next, it provides detailed instructions for some 17 asanas which Yogacharya Sundaram considers critical and adequate for daily usage.  Each asana is explained in detail, covering its impact on the body’s muscular, digestive, circulatory, nervous and endocrine system. Also, the detailing includes instruction for practice of the asana, health benefits and precautions to be taken, all this supported by photographs. The use of appropriate terminology shows that Sundaram must have conducted enormous research to align medicine, anatomy and physiology with practice of asana. Sundaram has presented intermediate poses in addition to the final poses and this makes the manual easy to use. So, the practitioner can comprehend the process and final aspiration pose. The level of proficiency exhibited in the photos is very high. In fact, one is struck by a sense of inferiority complex at the perfection of the poses. Significantly, Sundaram has devoted an entire chapter to women, including photos of ladies performing asana’s in Indian sarees. This demonstrates his sagacity and determination to make this practice universally applicable in a conservative society struggling under colonial rule. Finally, Sundaram has not confined the book to asana alone. He has paid adequate attention to bandhas (holding postures), Kriyas (moving poses) and other tertiary asanas. Conclusion This book explains everything that one needs to know in order to become proficient in yoga. Undoubtedly, anyone interested in serious asana practice must have this book in their library. The only aspect which may turn the reader away is the old fashioned style of writing which was the vogue in 1920’s. Finally, the level of proficiency exhibited in the book on the subject of Yoga, asana and pranayama speaks highly of the authors interest, sagacity, effort and commitment to the subject. This is commendable as Sundaram was only 27 when he published the book. [...]
The Path of Modern Yoga: The History of an Embodied Spiritual Practice  The path of Modern Yoga by Elliott Goldberg © 2016 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com  In The Path of Modern Yoga, Elliott Goldberg shows how the sacred discipline of yoga was transformed in the early 20th century into a health and fitness regimen for middle-class Indians by giving prominence to the yogic postures traditionally used only as preparatory exercises for seated meditation. Goldberg tells this sweeping story of modern yoga through the remarkable lives and accomplishments of 11 key figures: six Indian yogis (Sri Yogendra, Swami Kuvalayananda, S. Sundaram, T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, and B. K. S. Iyengar). Additionally, there is an Indian bodybuilder (K. V. Iyer), a rajah (Bhavanarao Pant Pratinidhi) and an American-born British journalist (Louise Morgan). Finally, an Indian diplomat (Apa Pant), and a Russian-born yogi trained in India (Indra Devi) are mentioned. Analysis of Modern Yoga (the book) The author places their achievements within the context of the pre–independence Hindu nationalism movement in India. He also takes into cognisance Western trends as the physical culture movement and the commodification of exercise. Additionally, factors include, 19th-century New Age religion, jazz age popular entertainment, and the quest for youth and beauty. This exploration of influence reveals the multitude of diverse aspects that have shaped yoga today. Goldberg’s book is a result of more than 10 years of research from rare primary sources as well as engaging with contemporary yoga scholarship. Undoubtedly, Goldberg presents an original, authoritative, provocative, and illuminating interpretation of the history of modern yoga. The only criticism which one might offer are; 1- The author makes personal observations about the heroes of Yoga which may be erroneous. These people lived in the early 1900’s when India was groaning under the yoke of colonial British rule. Also, they were mired in poverty, illiteracy and social stagnation. Hence, Goldberg’s assumptions have a great chance of being erroneous. 2- Goldberg mixes yoga with western form of physical fitness which is mostly centered around body building. That’s like mixing oil and water. Though the intent is clean, the outcome is often confusing.  3- Finally, Goldberg tries to establishes that far from corrupting the sacred tradition, the emphasis on the moving body in yoga allows for the creation of an embodied spiritual practice. This is unfortunate because, in the end, spiritual progress in Yoga requires Samadhi. So, while the arguments may appeal to Western readers, they actually are erroneous. All of the above writing strategies could have been avoided without reducing the impact of the book.  Conclusion: One can safely say that those interested in understanding how this ancient spiritual practice got its modern form will find this book an interersting read. [...]

 

 


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