Some people use yoga to strengthen, stretch and relax muscles; others delve into its lifestyle and spiritual aspects. Here are three new books with varying approaches to the 5,000-year-old practice.
“The No Om Zone” bills itself as a “no-chanting, no-granola, no-Sanskrit practical guide to yoga.” This book by Kimberly Fowler, founder of the L.A.-based YAS Fitness Centers, is geared to athletes and others who want to improve muscle tone and flexibility, take away aches, alleviate pain and calm the mind. Fowler promises you won’t have to go sit on a mountaintop and chant to achieve these results.
The former triathlete started doing yoga in 1983 to rehabilitate after an injury and became a fan after seeing the benefits to her body and athletic performance. She was turned off, however, by "elitist" classes targeted to the few who could do pretzel poses and handstands. Today, the motto in her yoga classes is “safe, fun and effective.”
Her book offers short workouts for 13 parts of the body, including the neck, arms, core/abs, lower back, hips and knees. Each body part gets its own chapter describing and showing the anatomy of the area, common injuries, recommended yoga poses for it and a workout routine typically lasting about 10 minutes. Poses are accompanied by photos, step-by-step guides, difficulty ratings, descriptions of benefits, tips and modifications to make them easier.
Fowler does manage to slip some mind-body material into the book. The first body part addressed is the head, for example, and here she talks about the benefits and practice of meditation and describes how to do yoga breathing.
This is a good book for those who want yoga workouts targeted to individual body areas as opposed to a one-size-fits-all workout. Fowler also offers a "No Om Zone" DVD containing three 15-minute workouts.
Dollard, digital director at Self magazine, is a yoga teacher and former editor of iyogalife.com. Douillard directs LifeSpa, an ayurvedic retreat center in Boulder, Colo., and has written and produced numerous health and fitness books, CDs and DVDs.
Their pretty book – generously illustrated with colorful pen-and-ink drawings – says it can help you get a “yoga body” in four weeks through eating, exercising and de-stressing according to the principles of yoga and ayurveda.
The book describes ayurveda as yoga’s sister science, one of the world’s oldest medical systems practiced by 80% of India’s population today. Dollard and Douillard say their mission is to present “ayurveda’s greatest hits” and teach you how to use it for weight loss.
“Yoga Body” kicks off with a quiz to determine what ayurvedic “type” you are: vata (airy), pitta (fiery) or kapha (earthy). Each type is told what kinds of foods to eat and avoid, yoga moves to do and lifestyle changes to make. Recipes for chai tea, pad Thai, roti pizza and other dishes include variations for each ayurvedic type.
The book’s illustrated yoga pose guide is easy to follow, with about 75 positions that range from the simple corpse pose to the more challenging revolved half-moon.
The book at times has the feel of an overly simplified greatest hits compilation as it offers its take on ayurvedic practices. Some of the recommendations – such as to stop snacking and eat only three meals a day – may not work for some or even have proven benefits. But those interested in the ayurvedic philosophy may find the book an approachable starting point to determine whether they want to go further into the practice.
“Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain” zeroes in on the area of the body where many people feel the effects of stress. Author Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., writes that neck and shoulder tension, tightness and discomfort are the top complaints of her students. Krucoff says she’s been successful in helping people find lasting relief with yoga, though it doesn’t happen overnight.
Krucoff, a former Washington Post journalist, looks at the practice of yoga through this lens, exploring the science of neck pain and yoga; the anatomy of the spine, shoulders, neck, face and jaw; the role of stress and emotions in neck and shoulder pain; and the best postures for sitting and standing.
She explains how, where and when to do yoga; how to breathe properly; and how to do 38 poses to help the neck and shoulders. Simple line drawings illustrate the mostly gentle exercises. Some of the stretches can be done in an office chair.
“Healing Yoga” is a good introduction for those who want to focus on this part of the body, or ease into yoga for physical reasons or lack of familiarity with the practice. The book’s production values are basic, but the writing is clear, informative and inspiring.
Krucoff writes that the best healing comes when people bring the lessons of yoga into their daily lives.
“Rather than muscle your way into a yoga pose, you learn to relax into it -- using the tools of gravity, patience, and the breath -- to allow the pose to deepen and unfold,” she says. “Over time, with regular practice, the lessons learned on the yoga mat begin to influence how you live in the world.”
-- Anne Colby
Photos, from top: "The No Om Zone: A No-Chanting, No-Granola, No-Sanskrit Practical Guide to Yoga," Kimberly Fowler, Rodale Books, $19.99; "The Yoga Body Diet: Slim and Sexy in 4 Weeks (Without the Stress), Kristen Schultz Dollard and John Douillard, Rodale Books, $21.99; "Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain: Easy, Effective Practices for Releasing Tension & Relieving Pain," Carol Krucoff, New Harbinger Publications, $17.95