Portrait of a Yogi

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When he was two years old, he was learning basic yoga poses. As a young boy, he took home titles in yoga competitions throughout India and abroad. In his teens, he traveled with his father to some of the oldest temples in South India to examine asanas carved in the temples' stone. While there he discovered poses unseen and not practiced by modern yogis—twists and backbends that are otherworldly for most. Yogananth Andiappan, today a popular Hong Kong yoga teacher and yoga therapist, has spent years perfecting these ancient poses and has artfully captured them in his first book, Yoga from the Heart.

The full-color coffee-table book showcases 400 asanas, all demonstrated by the superbly athletic 25-year-old. Half the postures, Andiappan claims, have never been photographed before. Some poses, such as Lord Shiva's Terrific Dance Pose—discovered by Andiappan while researching temples with his father, Asana Andiappan, a yoga therapist and famed researcher—have a distinctly statuesque quality. Others are variations on familiar poses that Yogananth developed in his own practice, which is based on the sixth-century sage Thirumoolar's Thirumandiram—a 3,000-verse poem about yoga, Tantra, and Hindu philosophy.

Leafing through Yoga from the Heart, you may feel Andiappan's practice is out of reach. In gleaming studio-lit images he portrays the amazing, beautiful, and strange heights of yogic flexibility. But take a few moments to simply delight in the artistry of the poses. Sure, you may not be able to balance on the tips of your elbows with your chin resting in your hands the way Andiappan demonstrates in his variation of Vrschikasana (Scorpion Pose). But you may be able to do a far simpler version with the same expression of peace and pleasure.

"The art of yoga is not just posing in an attractive way, but it is about the deeper connection with one's body, breath, mind, and spirit," says Andiappan. "Even a person who does it with a stiff body can bring out the artistic expression if they have full dedication of body, mind, and soul."

The book gives no instructions for getting into these complicated poses. In fact, there's little text in the 200 pages, save for posture names listed in seven languages for a global audience.

Together, Andiappan and his father have brought to life many poses from the stone carvings at temples throughout South India. Part of their task has been naming these "new" poses, mostly after sages and famous yogis. The father-and-son team say that Thirumoolar estimated that there are 8.4 million asanas—one for every creature in the universe—and they hope to discover as many as possible in their lifetimes.

While Andiappan's practice may be unattainable for many readers, his attitude of delight and discovery in the body's potential is accessible to all. In Yoga from the Heart, Andiappan has created an album of inspiration for yogis of all practices and levels.

You can find Yoga from the Heart at amazon.com.