supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness is an excellent and informative book and a good practical manual for meditation. A wide variety of meditation techniques are discussed, in language that makes them accessible to even the most un-Buddhist of readers. Mingyur (Rinpoche is an honorific given to respected teachers) is a kind and encouraging teacher; his writing style is very natural and conversational, helping you feel as if he's right there beside you to help along the way.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part One: The Ground begins by describing Mingyur's early life and training in meditation and his journey toward overcoming anxiety. He's an engaging storyteller, and it's comforting to hear that even a monk who grew up meditating from childhood can still struggle with his mind. This section also discusses the connection between the ancient Buddhist practices of meditation and modern advances in neuroscience, physics, and biology. Raised in isolated monasteries, Mingyur is fascinated with Western science and has worked with many scientists to learn about the brain's workings and the structure of the universe and compare them with the Buddhist understanding of the mind and reality. While interesting, this area was not as strong as other sections - these discussions could have benefited from a scientist coauthor to help refine and make specific Mingyur's comparisons. However, Mingyur does make a good case for meditation as valuable and needed in the West, and his ideas here are well worth reading.

In Part Two: The Path and Part Three: The Fruit, Mingyur is at his best, carefully walking the reader through the basics of meditation. He provides a firm foundation for beginners, with examples from his own history as guidance. Beyond the basics, he details a variety of different meditation techniques that will appeal to new and experienced students alike. He asserts that it is the intention to meditate that is most important, not the actual time spent on it or whether your mind wanders off in the middle. Mingyur strives to make meditation available to everyone.

I began reading this book back in February 2011 and just finished it this month, but the long reading time is due to my own crazy schedule this year, not any failing of Mingyur's. I've actually posted about this book on several other occasions because as I read I found his words so encouraging and insightful. I highly recommend this book to anyone hoping to begin or deepen a meditation practice.
supercheesegirl: (books - monster)
I liked this. I hadn't read the previous book in the series (though I'd read all the earlier Landover books), but there were enough allusions to what happened that I got the gist and was able to read this book with no trouble. I found Mistaya's character entertaining and very true to a 15-year-old girl. I also liked that much of the action took place in a library. Brooks does kind of ram the secret identity of one character down our throats pretty much as soon as we meet him (to the point where the Bad Guy actually says to his henchman something to the effect of "What, you haven't figured out who he really is yet?"), but I was having fun anticipating the reveal so I didn't mind that too much. Overall this was just the sort of light reading I was looking for.
supercheesegirl: (books - monster)
Found this on a shelf with a bunch of crappy paperbacks at my local train station. It was a really fun read and a nice escape from everything else going on right now. I've read some Foster before, but I guess I never think about mass-market sci fi authors writing short stories. My favorite was definitely the one about Ory Checker: I saw where the plot was going and anticipated the twist, but it's the one where Foster reaches the most and consequently comes closest to the level of his heroes like Asimov. I also appreciated "The Question" and some of the others.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Swami Vivekananda lived from 1863 to 1902 and is best known for his address at the Parliament of Religions in 1893, which helped to bring Hinduism to the modern world as a major religion. Vivekananda wrote a number of books, some of which are based on his lectures, and Karma-Yoga is one of these. In this book, Vivekananda expands on the concept of Karma yoga as set out in the Bhagavad Gita. The copy that I read is borrowed from the library at the college where my husband works; it's a tiny little book, maybe 4" x 5", and only 143 pages, but Vivekananda's explication of Karma yoga really moved me and helped me to understand how the path of Karma yoga can work in my life. Because the book was published so long ago, you can read the whole thing online, so feel free to check it out! If you're interested in the topic, this book is well worth the time. Read my full review behind the cut. )
supercheesegirl: (books - hugged by words)
Tailchaser's Song is Williams' first book; I've loved others of his books but never got around to reading this one until now. It was a really fun read and a unique look into the minds of cats. Williams' cats are each unique characters without losing their catlike essence (by which I mean, they're totally cats, you can't imagine them as humans or hobbits or anything else). The plot's a little predictable, but it's still a fun and worthwhile read for fantasy fans and cat lovers.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
The Upanishads are a group of ancient wisdom texts. Each individual upanishad is named for the sage who delivered its teaching, long ago; each one describes in flashes of insight how to explore your own consciousness, how to come closer to the Divine. Some of the upanishads take the form of a story: a student (or a wife, or even a king) implores a great sage (or even Death itself) to share holy secrets. Most of the upanishads rely on classic natural images - birds, trees, water - that make the metaphors timeless and appealing even thousands of years after they were written.

It's impossible to write an unbiased book review of a cherished spiritual text - how could I possibly critique the writing style or the structure of a book like this? So this review will be a little more personal. I loved The Upanishads. They called out to me in a way other spiritual books, including the Bible, just haven't. I expect to keep The Upanishads by my bed, read them again and again, consult different translations, flip through seeking guidance. It can be a difficult book, and I don't ever expect to understand it fully, but I loved it.

While the text itself is beyond critique, the translation and the version I can comment on. I really like Eknath Easwaran's translations (I also read his version of the Bhagavad Gita). Easwaran is well-versed in Sanskrit and in Hindu spirituality, and before becoming a spiritual teacher was an English professor, so he has all the tools to create both a beautiful and accurate rendition. Easwaran also writes the introduction, which I found helpful for putting The Upanishads in their historical context and setting the stage for the sort of text I was about to read (since when I started I really had no idea what I was getting into). This volume also includes a brief 2-3 page introduction before each upanishad, written by Michael Nagler. These I also found informative, and it was helpful to look as I read for the points that Nagler had called out as being important, but I think I would have preferred to read the upanishad first and then read Nagler's summary of it. Nagler also writes a lengthy afterword, which I did not find very useful. The end matter includes a glossary and a section of notes, which I didn't realize were there as I was reading the upanishads, and I think I'm glad I didn't know they were there - I'm the sort of person who will flip back and forth consulting the notes, and I'm glad I was able simply to experience the upanishads on this first read rather than analyzing them academically. There will be plenty of time to look at the notes and read other translations. The glossary might have been helpful a few times, though, and I imagine it would be very useful to someone who hasn't spent the past ten months up to her ears in yoga philosophy.

Overall, I would say that if you're new to Hindu spirituality, I wouldn't recommend starting with The Upanishads - the Bhagavad Gita is a much more accessible book for most people. For me, though, The Upanishads was more inviting, more enthralling than the Gita, and more accessible too. The first time I read the Gita I walked away thinking that it was nice and all but nothing great, and I needed the lectures and discussion of my yoga teacher training course to put the Gita's systems in context and help me understand what I was reading. With The Upanishads, I felt like I could really hear the sages speaking directly to me: faraway, murky, blurred voices, sure, but I could hear it. I look forward to listening again and again.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Leslie Kaminoff's Yoga Anatomy is a fantastic reference and guide to the way the body moves during yoga. The drawings are incredibly detailed and really help to increase understanding of how each pose works. The introductory sections on breathing and the spine are clearly written and really helpful for comprehending how breathing functions and how the spine develops and moves. The remainder of the book is organized by categories of postures: standing, sitting, kneeling, supine, prone, and arm support poses. Each pose gets detailed coverage with at least one drawing, often two or more showing the pose from different angles. For each pose, the text describes relevant joint actions and structures and muscles that are working, lengthening, or stretching, and provides any notes on or significant obstacles to practicing the pose as well as notes on breathing. Common variations on certain key poses are described in detail as well.

I started out trying to read this book from start to finish, which was fine in the early chapters on breath and spine, but less fine when I got into the specific postures. Eventually I began to use the book more as it was intended, as an on-the-spot reference guide. The biggest problem I've had with the book is that of vocabulary: I'm just not familiar enough with the names of bodily structures to be able to follow along with some of the text. For example, the text will often go into detail describing how a muscle is stretching, but the drawing won't have those structures labeled. I have a very vague sense that the obturator externus is somewhere in my leg, but telling me that it's lengthening in a seated wide-leg forward fold doesn't help me identify it. I wouldn't expect the drawing for each pose to have every single active muscle labeled, since that could easily become overwhelming, but I could have really benefited from a chart somewhere with all muscles labeled that I could flip to for quick reference. I also had trouble keeping straight exactly what sort of action is occurring with words like "flexion" and "extension", particularly because one part of the body can be flexed while another is extended, and if you add to this my anatomic vocabulary confusion, I have no idea what's going on. Sometimes I would have to perform the pose while I read so I could literally feel what the author was talking about, and that did help. In general, though, the descriptions really lost something for me, which is a shame because the book is very thorough and detailed and I could have really gotten a lot out of it if there had been more help included for less scientific minds. Overall, this is an excellent reference, but I'm going to be looking for another anatomy book to accompany it on my reference shelf.
supercheesegirl: (books - reading addict)
I really, really enjoyed this. Apple has a wry sense of humor and isn't above humiliating himself in his writing (or his parenting), so he's a lot of fun to read. The first half of the book describes Apple's wife's pregnancy; the second half, the first months of his son's life. Apple is able to integrate his personal story seamlessly with the research he's done on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and, of course, all the endless baby products new parents have to contend with. If you like A.J. Jacobs (author of The Year of Living Biblically), you're very likely to enjoy this book (and indeed, there's a blurb from Jacobs on the cover, describing this book as "funny, smart, surprising, and useful"). If you're interested in parenting, or in laughing at hapless new parents, you'd also enjoy this book.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Some good recipes to tear out in this issue. I feel like I have stacks of read YJs sitting around waiting for me to go through them and tear out the recipes or otherwise do something with the pages I marked while I was reading. Plus when I do get around to tearing out the recipes, they just get shoved into my recipe binder, where I then need to organize them. (The recipe situation is made worse by the fact that F has a subscription to Bon Appetit.) I don't want to throw this stuff out because we've cooked some really good recipes from these magazines before, but just looking at my recipe binder is stressful. Anyway, yeah, Yoga Journal, I read it. (And just now in the middle of writing this post, I went through the two read YJs and tore stuff out, and now I'm done with them. Yay.)
supercheesegirl: (books - Matisse reading lady)
F got me this book for my birthday, since the last writer in translation he got me, Angelica Gorodischer, was such a big hit. This book wasn't such a hit for me, unfortunately. Chateaureynaud's work is really beautiful: the stories are short and quick to read, the language is lyrical and lovely, the fantastic events that happen are truly creative. Chateaureynaud makes things happen in his stories that I haven't seen before. The problem, for me, was how sad all the stories are. The author bio at the back of the book refers to "his luckless, well-meaning, Everyman heroes and narrators", which is as good a description as anything. Amazing things happen to these people, but they don't benefit from it. Usually their lives become worse. And the fact that the characters really do mean well makes that sadder for me as a reader, because I want to see them happy and they aren't, and never will be again. I enjoyed the book and would probably read more of Chateaureynaud - that's how unique and lovely his writing is - but I found it difficult to read.
supercheesegirl: (books - monster)
This issue of Rain Taxi had some great stuff, as always.I love Rain Taxi because they rarely review books I've actually heard of, so I'm always discovering something new that looks interesting. This time I was intrigued by a book on the art of Thornton Dial, the sort of thing that I'd never look up on my own, but he sounds fascinating and the little black and white images of his work were really interesting. There was also some poetry books that sounded good in this issue. My problem with Rain Taxi is that, with its focus on new work that's unlikely to get a lot of media attention, they end up reviewing a lot of very experimental poetry and fiction, and that's not the sort of thing that I enjoy, but in every issue there are still always a few things that sound amazing that I have to add to my list.
supercheesegirl: (books - hugged by words)
Oh my god. This was fantastic. I love Kay anyway but this is a masterpiece. Absolutely brilliant. I'll be thinking about this for a long time.
supercheesegirl: (books - Matisse reading lady)
This was lovely. I don't think I realized there was a first Miss Marple mystery, when she solves a case for the first time! I loved seeing Miss M try out her sleuthing skills. I also loved the Vicar, what a sweet old dear. A really good read.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
In this book, Ellen Barrett uses yoga to help couples access the poses of the Kama Sutra. Both yoga and the Kama Sutra originated in ancient India, and Barrett relates each to the other to show how, with yoga practice, the difficult sexual poses of the Kama Sutra can be achievable (and pleasurable!). The book contains over 100 black and white photographs, illustrating both the yoga asanas and the Kama Sutra poses.

Barrett begins the book with an introduction describing the origins of both yoga and the Kama Sutra and how they relate. She covers yoga breathing, the chakras, and auras. The second section, “Glowing Solo”, is a guide to the yoga poses Barrett feels will be most helpful in opening the body for enhanced sexual pleasure. For each pose, Barrett provides instructions on how to get into the pose, how long to stay there, the benefits of the pose, ways to modify it, a meditation to consider while practicing the pose, and a photograph of what the pose looks like.

In the third section, “Divine Duets”, Barrett provides a guide to yoga asanas for couples – using yoga poses to mimic their counterparts from the Kama Sutra to give couples a workout and a good stretch before heading to the bedroom in section 4, “Sacred Sex”. In this last section, the models in the photographs take off their clothes to demonstrate the Kama Sutra poses hands-on.

Sexy Yoga would be a great book to keep in the bedroom for quick reference or inspiration at bedtime. However, with its large photographs, Sexy Yoga is not a book you can read on the train. Even throughout the introduction, photographs of bare nipples and buttocks abound – great for a bedroom guide but not for reading in a public place. Overall it’s not the sort of book that people will use by reading it cover to cover; readers will likely want to flip through looking at the photos to get ideas, only reading more deeply when something catches the eye.

Where Better Sex Through Yoga is in essence a yoga book with sex in it, Sexy Yoga is ultimately a Kama Sutra sex manual with some yoga in it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The combination of yoga and the Kama Sutra does make sense: for example, a man doing camel pose and a woman doing cow tilt combine to create the Kama Sutra’s congress of the cow. By practicing yoga asanas, one can build the strength and flexibility to be better able to utilize the Kama Sutra pose and get more enjoyment out of it in the bedroom. However, readers should note that this book is by no means a complete guide to yoga, as Barrett really only gives coverage of 20 solo yoga asanas, and recommends that the asanas be practiced in the order she presents them. Better Sex Through Yoga gives a wider variety both of poses and of routines/sequences. However, the poses discussed in Sexy Yoga are covered thoroughly and well, including modifications for those with physical limitations. This feature makes the book more accessible than BSTY, which generally assumes its reader to be physically fit. Barrett’s sections on pose benefits are more in-depth than those in BSTY, and the meditations for each pose are a nice touch. Barrett does give attention to the spiritual and emotional aspects of yoga, and acknowledges the Kama Sutra as a sacred text.

One downside of Sexy Yoga is the fact that the author seems to scrimp on some of the yogic content, leading to inaccuracies. For example, Barrett describes hatha yoga as having three parts: asana, pranayama, and pratyahara, which she mistranslates as “meditation”. It wouldn’t have taken too much more effort to list the eight parts of classical hatha yoga correctly and then say that she’d focus on three of them. Also, Barrett conflates several pranayama techniques together into one, which she calls ujjayi breathing. I just don’t see a need for presenting this material inaccurately. In BSTY, the authors leave a lot out, but the material they do present is given accurately and correctly. Still, while Barrett’s omissions may annoy experienced yoga practitioners, they won’t hurt a beginner.

On the whole, Barrett’s Sexy Yoga is a fun and frisky guide for couples who want to bring some Kama Sutra adventure and yoga strength and flexibility to the bedroom.
supercheesegirl: (doctor who - brilliant)
I can't remember if Tia sent me this or if I found it on sale somewhere. This was just okay. I didn't hear the Doctor's or Martha's voices as strongly in this book as I have in other novels, but it's still a solid adventure.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
This issue had Alanis Morissette on the cover. It was a music issue: interviews with musicians about how yoga keeps them centered on tour, info about kirtan and yoga music and concerts. Interesting, but not really where my head's at these days.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute)
In Better Sex Through Yoga, Jacquie Noelle Greaux and Jennifer Langheld discuss in detail how yoga can make your sex life better by boosting your sex drive and enhancing physical pleasure. For those who already practice yoga, this concept is a no-brainer: yoga makes you physically stronger and more flexible, it improves your stamina and muscle control, gives you more energy, and helps you develop a thorough knowledge of how your own body works, all of which can lead to improved physical performance in the bedroom. Further, yoga practice often leads to increased self-confidence and a more open and compassionate heart, and yoga is proven to relieve stress, so practicing yoga can help with the emotional and spiritual side of sex as well.

In the first few chapters, Greaux and Langheld discuss all of these benefits, going into detail about why both yoga and sex are good for you and how practicing one can benefit the other. In chapter 3, they embark on a yoga primer for those who've never practiced it before, including coverage of yoga breathing and the chakras.

The bulk of the book is in chapter 4, which offers a detailed breakdown of each pose Greaux and Langheld use in the Better Sex Through Yoga program. There's a brief description of each pose, detailed instructions on how to perform the pose, notes on which chakras benefit, which areas of the body are worked, and which sexual positions work the same muscles, followed by a "hot tip" for improving your posture in the pose and/or your sexual use of the pose. In addition to yoga poses, Greaux and Langheld also pull from pilates and dance moves to provide a full body workout. Duo-assisted poses are offered, as well as poses you can do at your desk at work. There are photographs of each and every pose, often demonstrating step by step how to accomplish the pose.

In chapters 5 and 6, the individual poses are pulled together into a series of routines. There are three core routines and eight quickie routines, which offers the reader some flexibility in her yoga practice depending on how much time she has available. The routines vary widely, and there are routines specially designed for being stuck in a chair at the office, calming down after a stressful day, or stretching out quickly before joining a partner in the bedroom. Chapter 7 ties it all together by giving a list of sexual positions, with an illustration and a description for each telling how your yoga practice will deepen your sexual satisfaction.

I have some conflicted feelings about this book, so I'll get the negative stuff out of the way first. Greaux and Langheld obviously have a target audience in mind: straight women (lesbians could certainly use this book to improve their sex lives too, but they're clearly not the target audience), women who probably work in offices, and who are already in fairly good physical shape and are already physically active. I think this book would be difficult to use for someone who was overweight or someone limited in their flexibility. That's not to say that yoga wouldn't help those people, or that those people can't have hot sex, just that the book seems geared toward women who resemble Greaux herself, as Greaux models all the poses (there's a male model as well, credited in the back of the book as the "Living Male Work of Art" - he's good at yoga poses but I'd almost rather see him on a naughty birthday card). You can see Greaux on the book's cover, doing a split. Photographs of less flexible people might have been more helpful for those who are true yoga beginners.

The routines are definitely intended to be vinyasa style: each routine includes a lot of poses, with instructions that you should work up to practicing for 30-45 minutes. They expect you to move fast through these routines, and that's not necessarily what beginners can or should do, unless they're already very used to exercise. From my perspective as a yoga teacher, I didn't appreciate how the routines would bounce you up and down: you do some standing poses, then some seated poses, then you stand up again, then you get back down to the floor. That sort of thing is more difficult for beginners or those with limited mobility, and it's also contrary to my understanding of the purpose of practicing yoga (but then again, practicing yoga to prepare the mind and body for meditation is different from practicing yoga to prepare the body for hot sex, so really there is a different purpose here). Finally, the writing style is really sensationalist - I think they must have had a rule in place to make sure they used the word "sexy" at least twice per page. That's the sort of thing that drives me nuts.

But, all that aside, the content here is really very good. The section on poses is great because it's quite thorough and it does tell you exactly what part of the body you're working in each pose and how that helps you in bed. The authors don't shy away from detail. In some cases the authors have altered the traditional pose, but it's clear to me (as a yoga teacher, anyway) why they've done it and what the sexual benefit of doing the pose a different way would be. They've incorporated moves from pilates and dance, but the ones I've tried so far are easy and clearly have some bedroom benefits. The routines get you up and down and up and down, but they're otherwise well structured to be full body workouts. Finally, the "sexy secretary" sections, which modify poses so they can be done from a desk chair, are brilliant. I'll be photocopying these and surreptitiously doing them at the office.

The sexysexy language, while troubling, is the maple syrup on the vegetables: the idea that yoga isn't just good for your sex life, it's good for you as a person. The authors don't leave out the emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits of doing yoga. In fact, when they list the reasons why yoga improves your sex life, the very first thing on the list is compassion, the ability to love and be loved. The language used sounds shallow, but the core message is not, and I really think the authors want to reach a wide range of readers and improve their lives. I liked the book a lot and would recommend it to anyone with a working knowledge of yoga who can take the sexysexy talk with a grain of salt and move on to the practical stuff.
supercheesegirl: (books - reading girl)
I first read these books years and years ago when I was maybe in middle school, and so I was excited to spot the reissued omnibus editions and return to Homana.

I was disappointed to find Alix so incredibly annoying in Shapechangers - I guess when I first read the books she seemed like an exciting heroine, but now she's... just irritating. Why are all the male characters in love with her, exactly? I also noticed this time around that Shapechangers really reads like a first novel. The dialogue is stilted - for example, when anyone says something she doesn't understand or doesn't like, Alix always responds, "What do you say?" which just sounds dumb, and becomes worse with the repetition. "What do you mean" or "what are you talking about" would sound more natural. There are other examples too. Many plot points are also implausible - that a group of people facing extinction and very concerned with bloodlines would consider marrying a woman to her half brother is ridiculous. Roberson says herself in the introduction that she's considered going back and rewriting this book, and I understand why, but I also understand that it has to stand on its own as a representation of who she was at the time and as a first novel. I'm just glad she wrote the others.

Song of Homana lived up to my memories, and like Roberson, I think this book is far better than the first in terms of plotting; the dialogue is better by leaps and bounds than that of the first book too, and we learn a lot more about Cheysuli philosophy and the world outside Homana. The only thing that bugged me is the series of horrible things that happen to every single major character by the end of the book. Awful things, premature aging and death and rape. And I can remember that this goes on in the later books - I was feeling bad for the children born in this book because of what they're going to grow up to suffer later. When I was younger I think I loved the drama of it, the feel of the giant plot arc of the prophecy and fate, but I'm not sure how I feel about it now. You can't love these characters because you'll only get your heart broke. I do plan to pick up the later books in the series, but maybe not for a while.

(Also, can I make a comment about the cover? Anyone who's read the first chapter of the first book can tell that the Cheysuli are a Native American sort of people - even I knew this when I first read the book at 12 or so. They wear leather pants and use bows and arrows and have magical animal spirit guides, and they're specifically described as having dark skin. So why does the dude pictured on the cover have to be so incredibly white? I mean, check this guy out. Racial fail, DAW!)

supercheesegirl: (books - Matisse reading lady)
On this reread, I was most entertained by Mrs. Pollifax avoiding her Bulgarian tourist guide. Poor woman! You can't keep Mrs. Pollifax confined, she's going OUT.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
The Bhagavad Gita is one of India's best known scriptures. It tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior on the eve of battle who has lost heart and become uncertain as to his duty. Arjuna turns to his spiritual guide, Krishna, for answers to all the key questions of life, questions about wisdom and service and spirituality. The battle that Arjuna is about to fight is the perfect metaphor for life and the interior battle we all fight to live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. The Gita, in essence, is a manual for how to live.

For my yoga teacher training, we were asked to read a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. On the back cover, Easwaran's version is described as "reliable" and "readable", and this is definitely true. Easwaran opens the book with an introduction to the Gita, setting the scene, and then each chapter of the Gita opens with a brief introduction that explicates the content of that chapter. This makes the story easy to follow, and really helps in understanding the context of Arjuna's and Krishna's conversation. The endmatter of the book includes a section of notes (typically, helpful insights on issues of translation), as well as a glossary of Sanskrit terms and an index. Easwaran's version really focuses on making the Gita accessible for the reader, so this version is a great place to start if you're reading the Gita for the first time.


supercheesegirl: (Default)

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