American Yoga: The Paths and Practices of America’s Greatest Yoga Masters by Carrie Schneider


By Phil Catalfo  |  

Barnes & Noble Books; www.bn.com.

Something that would have seemed preposterously far-fetched not so long ago has happened: A mainstream American retailer has published a distinctive, interesting, even heartwarming book on yoga. Barnes & Noble has issued a large-format, handsomely illustrated compendium profiling 24 notable teachers, most presenting a favorite pose in some detail. It is at once authoritative, useful, and beautiful.

Carrie Schneider, who is a yoga teacher herself, interviewed all the instructors about their lives, careers, and featured postures, and offers their insights into the poses alongside their accounts of coming to yoga, advancing their practices, and becoming teachers. The instructional material is capably demonstrated by a cadre of models (and each teacher demonstrates the finished posture), but the teachers’ sensibilities come alive both in Schneider’s text and in the telling visual history provided by rare historical photos: Dharma Mittra in class with his guru in 1966, David Life being initiated as a sannyasin by Swami Nirmalananda in 1989, and (my personal favorite) a 1949 Life magazine photo of Ramana Maharshi followers, the image that inspired a young Lilias Folan toward the yogic path.

Many popular teachers are here, demonstrating familiar poses—John Friend (Half Moon), Judith Hanson Lasater (Extended Triangle), Richard Freeman (Intense Stretch), Patricia Walden (Revolved Head-to-Knee), and many more—as are some lesser-known teachers and techniques (like Swami Srinivasananda and Kapalabhati Pranayama, or “shining skull breath expansion”). This thoroughly winning effort may indicate a paradigm shift in American culture. How long will it be, we may well ask, before Wal-Mart begins offering in-store seminars on aparigraha (greedlessness)?