I had the opportunity this week to read and review Stephen Sturgess’s Yoga Meditation: Still Your Mind and Awaken Your Inner Spirit and Daniel Odier’s The Doors of Joy. My yoga library shelves are overflowing and mostly half-read, but I take great comfort in having them there to dive in and out of as necessary and as my practice and curiosity demands.
Yoga Meditation is a clear, concise introduction into yogic practices, as well as a how-to guide with step by step instructions and practices broken down by type and length. Stephen Sturgess is firmly rooted in the Kriya Yoga tradition of Paramhansa Yogananda and its teaching of Raja Yoga and Meditation. These teachings are beholden to the practices contained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as well as other Indian subtle energetic teachings, namely those concerning the Chakras. To that end, Sturgess offers a traditional programme of asana, pranayama and meditation to find a form of enlightenment he describes as such:
The underlying aim of the Yoga Meditation practices in this book is a
reversal of the soul’s descent into matter – back to divine oneness in
pure consciousness, as it is only once this has been achieved that we
can experience our true inner stillness and bliss. When your mind is
calm and still, you become aware of your true identity, of the spiritual being within yourself who is beyond the forces of the body, mind and senses. Yoga Meditation is an effort to perceive this presence of cosmic energy and pure consciousness
These concepts, which aren’t necessarily scientific or matter of fact, nor created for a modern world, are presented as clear linear paths with consistent results, something my modern iconoclastic and skeptical tendencies have a problem taking on face value, so I had to work to be open to this very traditional view. Reading and practicing Yoga Meditation’s course of posture work, breath work, meditation and ethical behaviour I found great comfort again in not questioning or debating the pros and cons of tradition, but having a faith of sorts in its possibility for change. Even in so-called secular teaching these centuries old traditions appear through a variety of filters or bastardization depending on your view. So it is important, I think, to understand their origins.
Sturgess’s description and conceptualisation of the practices and teachings are clear, concise, and decidedly non-provocative. For example, he skirts carefully around vegetarianism or sexual abstinence within the yamas and the niyamas of Patanjali. Instead he focuses on what core ideas could be useful to a modern audience, all the while not losing the heart or deeper meaning of the spiritual practices. His use of the chakras, nadis, and other subtle energetic experiences is similarly straightforward.
To sum it up, Sturgess is a bit old school, but that may be a relief for those who cherish tradition, and an important reminder for modern, iconoclastic, eclectic yogis to see where practices come from and if you depart, to do it as a mindful choice.
While Sturgess offers a clear linear path, Doors of Joy offers a much more open-ended inquiry that shuns systematising to an extent. Broken down into nineteen meditations ‘for authentic living’, Daniel Odier gives short meditative essays followed up by practical questions that could last a lifetime of soul-searching work. Odier’s inspiration comes from a variety of Indian teachings, as well as Zen teachings from China and elsewhere. However, he seems beholden to none and quotes and provides anecdotes from a variety of sources. Also, there is little clearly prescribed to do.
A neti pot free path towards enlightenment, indeed. However, this book does not attempt to offer a complete spiritual development system as Sturgess does, but rather a tool to deeply question patterns of behaviour and belief. To find one’s own way of practicing and becoming curious about how one interacts with the world. Odier offers a non-dogmatic framework to question one’s relationship with joy, the mind, the body. Questions like ‘what is my strongest desire?’ and ‘what is real?’ offer a broad framework into which smaller more precise questionings and tasks are offered to start creating one’s own relationship with the world and all its joys and struggles.
Where Sturgess was traditional, Odier believes in the ‘iconoclastic deconditioning of any belief system.’ Both however are working towards the same end and are valuable to all parties. Great reads I will return to.