The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice

T. K. V. Desikachar, Inner Traditions International

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The name, T.K.V. Desikachar, is significant in the world of hatha yoga in the West. The famed teacher Krishnamacharya is his father, and B.K.S. Iyengar is his uncle.

The book begins with an “interview” with Desikachar. The questions are about Krishnamacharya’s philosophy and method of teaching yoga. It is revealing to read how his (and Desikachar’s) approach to teaching and hatha style is quite different from that of his two famous students, Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. Readers who have no emotional connection to Krishnamacharya, or just want to know asanas, may have little interest in this background. However for yoga teachers, it is quite informative on asana teaching styles, goals for asana practice, and interpretation of yoga.

The most useful and satisfying parts of the book are the following chapters that are about developing a personal practice: Foundations of Yoga Practice, The Principles of Asana Practice, The Careful Construction of a Yoga Practice, and Asana Variations. Here you do learn how to understand an asana and the importance of developing a personal asana practice. Many out-of-the-box asana adaptations indicate deep understanding about body movements. The approach in this book is gentle and therapeutic. It is not about challenging asanapractice. The therapeutic aspect, a welcome change, is usually lacking in yoga practitioners and most mainstream yoga books. Four general practice sequences at the end of the book are a good start. The reader senses right away that this is the author’s comfort zone and area of expertise.

Then come the chapters on what is the “heart of yoga,” Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The author considers the sutras to be the most important text on yoga. Given that, the brief commentary after each sutra is so simplified that it lacks depth. For us, there is more confusion regarding the relationship between hatha and raja yoga than clarity. The writing did not convey the same level of comfort or expertise as the asana chapters.

In conclusion, The Heart of Yoga, is an excellent resource for developing a personal practice with appropriate modifications. However, for the heart of yoga described by Patanjali, we recommend two other books reviewed on this website. For a simple, conversational commentary, Raja Yoga: Conquering the Internal Nature by Swami Vivekananda is a good choice. It is easy to read. For a serious reader looking for an in-depth and more academic commentary, we recommend Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

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