The Inner Tradition of Yoga: A Guide to Yoga Philosophy for the Contemporary Practitioner
by Michael Stone
Shambhala Publications, 2018
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A wise, accesible guide that makes the spiritual and ethical teachings of the yogic tradition immediately relatable to our practice on the mat–and in our everyday relationships and activities. Now revised and updated.
At the root of yoga practice there is a vast and intriguing philosophy that teaches the ethics of nonviolence, patience, honesty, and respect. Innovative teacher Michael Stone draws from numerous disciplines–including Buddhism and psychotherapy–to provide an in-depth, completely clear explanation of yogic philosophy, along with teachings on how to bring our understanding of yoga theory to deeper levels through our practice on the mat–and through our relationships with others. Yoga, says Stone, is a practice that helps us be more present with the actual, fluid life we are living right now–and there is no yoga without the conditions of your life. This book describes how to work with those conditions and how to fully appreciate yoga as a practice of being intimate with moment-to-moment reality.
I had the opportunity to review this book through NetGalley. It’s the revised 2018 edition which I think is important to distinguish from the 2014 edition which I have not read.
A lot of yoga theory and philosophy books are dry. They make reading sluggish and challenging. Stone’s book is no different. It’s a great reference if you need to brush up on your Sutras of PataÃ±jali though.Â Just like with B.K.S. Iyengar’s The Light on the Yoga Sutras ofÂ PataÃ±jali, there will be passages that speak to the reader worthy of highlighting sections and lessons.
Michael Freeman’s foreword best explains Stone’s motivation behind the revision:
“We are encouraged to ask ourselves simple questions that might clarify our relationship with modern yoga. Does your yoga practice superficially cover up our miseries and distract us from the deeper work of the heart?”
TW: Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Pattabhi Jois for short, is referenced throughout Stone’s book. He’s the founder of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. Yoga, like religions or educational systems, can get hung up on lineage. Saying you went to the Ashtanga Institute in Mysore is akin to Harvard or Yale. However, like with anything that is a system there is competition, in-fighting, controversy, and decisions that have to be made about whether it’s the right one for you. Pattabhi Jois has been outed by past students (now that he’s deceased) as a sexual abuser and that male students were instructed to abuse female students through whatever they consider adjustments.
This is something I feel as a reviewer that needs to be pointed out because of the prevalence of rape culture in all forms of content we consume. I can honestly say that in any yoga class I’ve ever had and in teacher training which was predominantly women, an adjustment is when a teacher places one or both hands to gently help with alignment or to further the stretch as long as it feels good. It should never feel abusive, hurt, nor violate a student. Touching beyond that is only when there’s a familial level of comfort or in what’s now called acro-yoga which is like circus performer actions with partners.
None of Pattabhi Jois’ illicit behavior was in the book from what I could tell in my non-sequential way of reading this.
Therefore, the inclusion of references to Pattabhi Jois is something you should know and you should understand why he and his legacy are controversial. Should you still decide to read Michael Stone’s book, I present more feedback.
Stone’s book is exceptionally well-organized. It opens with his presentation on vidyÄ or seeing reality as it is. This is something important in today’s worldview where it’s challenging to avoid taking on the whole emotions of everyone who is suffering whether that’s anger, sadness, or fear. This segues into a chapter on suffering which is a natural placement for it.
The meat of the contents include: the eight limbs of yoga, the yamas, the niyamas, the five klesas (emotional poisons), the five kosas (energetic sheaths), samskaras (old scars or baggage), prana (energy and breath), citta (consciousness), and finally death and dying.
Stone makes a clear point throughout that yoga is not about avoiding suffering (“avoidance” is one of the klesas). Yoga is about opening yourself up to your full experience in each moment and that has to include the suffering too.
“Maybe the worst suffering is when we don’t know how to be with suffering.” Chapter 2, Embrace Suffering
Another area of emphasis is that yoga is about removing the ego. You don’t practiceÂ yoga per se; you would live yoga. You have two choices if you are stuck in a pattern of un-awakeness: establish new habits or break old ones.
I didn’t get through this book in sequence. I bounced around looking for what I was interested in on a particular day and it was okay reading. There are some helpful quotes and clarifications about yoga being from the heart rather than the way it presented socially and publicly today as a fitness trend to get thin, toned, and flexible. Flexibility applies not only to soft tissue, but to your self awareness. However, as I said upfront, it’s dry reading. It’s not a book I highly recommend unless you want the most complete collection of yoga structure books possible.