Book Recommendations

Looking for some quality reading material? I’ve got some recommendations; books I’ve read more than once, and refer to frequently. Books I recommend to my students, and wish everyone would read.

First off, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes, it may be a mass-market book by now, but it is a compelling story of a person in transition; dealing with radical spiritual and emotional shifts; AND it involves yoga, travel and food. No downside here; totally clicked with me. I suggest reading it once a year – I’ve read it cover to cover four times; loaned out my original copy; bought it again; loaned that one out, too. Get it. Now.

Feng Shui Your Life, by Jayme Barratt. This book may have pretty pictures, but it is not just about re-arranging your furniture, painting your kitchen, or buying a Buddha statute. It is a book that can give you specific objectives and concrete ways to make inner and outer shifts that will improve your life. The pictures are pretty – but most of us aren’t living that Pottery Barn existence. But with the life you have, you can still use this book to help organize, clean up, clear out and straighten out both your inner and outer self. Great book.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Because eating these days is complicated; Mr. Pollan cuts through the confusion; or adds to it, depending on your point of view. But seriously; if you’ve not devoted some time to thinking about what you eat and/or where it came from – it’s time. This book will help you to make wise choices – which is more difficult than you might think.

Moving Toward Balance, Eight Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee, by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow. Okay, you’re looking for a yoga book – about poses (asana); something that will show you “how to,” give you sequences; help you to develop a home practice. This is my favorite go-to book. Beautiful, detailed photographs; each pose has three variations, depending on your level of expertise, and uses props when needed; and then, of course, there is the beautiful Rodney Yee. His alignment is perfect, and he’s a gorgeous man. Win, win.

Happy Yoga, by Steve Ross. Steve Ross is my original guru; I discovered yoga through Steve Ross on the Oxygen network, with his 6:00 am class called “Inhale.” Sitting on the couch, half-asleep, nursing a baby. Looking at beautiful, happy, flexible people. One day I taped the show; got my butt off the couch; and it completely changed my life. His book is easy to read; accessible; and very easy to skip around as you choose what you are interested in, and pass over what doesn’t yet click with your mind. Great book, light read, fun stories; and plenty of things that will make you think.

The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga, Goswami Kriyananda. Complete disclosure here, Kriyanandaji is my spiritual grandfather; just the sound of his voice puts me in my happy place. This is the book to choose when you are ready to look beyond yoga as a physical practice. Yes, asana will change your life. Ready to embrace the entire eight-limb system? Start here. Brilliant chapters on the yamas and niyamas; great information on pranayama and meditation; get past the initial chapters on cleansing techniques (some sound scary!) and you’ll be on your way.

Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon and David Life. Nobody makes loving God and living a holy, spiritual life seem more hip and current than Jivamukti yoga founders Sharon Gannon and David Life. Great information here for those of you looking for a unique and modern spiritual path.

Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda. Another disclosure here ; Yoganandaji is also my lineage. And I find the complex, formal English that he uses a little tough to wade through – but it is worth it. Follow him as he grows from boy to man to yoga master, living the Kriya yoga tradition. Through success and failure, confusion and certainty, this book is full of inspirational passages, and fascinating glimpses of what it is like to experience the path of the yogi living in the ashram; beautiful tales of life in India; as well as a vision of the beautiful path of the householder. It has earned its place as a classic. Very worthwhile.

The Essential Edgar Cayce, by Mark Thurston, Ph.D. If you at all connect to Jesus Christ, you will be fascinated by the psychic readings of Edgar Cayce. This book gives the basic concepts of the nature of reality, keys to health and healing, and some insights to mystic Christianity as given through the readings of Edgar Cayce. A great launching point into the Cayce material that will help you to discover your interests, and lead you into a deeper understanding.

The Astrology Bible, by Judy Hall. I have a lot of astrology books. And astrology is a deep, multi-layered science. This book is small, easy to read and very complete. Great for beginners, but also offers much to the experienced student of astrology. Concise; attractive; detailed enough, but not overwhelming. Great starting point for your astrology studies.

Sooooo . . . no excuses for sitting in front of the television, or blobbing out on Facebook; this is a fascinating, amazing world; there is so much to learn, so much to experience; and you chose to be here.

Hit the library, the bookstore, or Amazon.com.

You’ve got some studying to do.

Shanti,

Jill

Sacred Images, Sacred Objects

Today is December 19, 2009, and here in Roanoke, Virginia, we were blessed with a beautiful snowstorm. Sixteen inches! Lots of snow, by our standards.

Do you see the photograph? It is from our yard. It is a picture of Saint Francis, Patron Saint of Animals; he resides in our garden. Usually, come wintertime, he resides in our garage, protected from the elements. This year, we forgot to put him away, out of the weather.

Doesn’t he have the most beautiful, peaceful face? Isn’t it interesting that the snow did not cover it?

This does not surprise me. There are many events on record where sacred objects have gone unharmed, even in the most dangerous of circumstances. It brings me back to my days working as the office manager of a restoration construction company. We specialized in fire and water damage.

One Christmas season, we restored a home that had suffered a very serious fire; I remember the project manager showing me photographs of the home. They had a nativity scene displayed on a card table against a wall; the fire and smoke visibly went around the nativity – seriously, you looked at this photograph and could see the smoke go up and around the whole table. It was wild to look at; everything around it destroyed, burned; ruined. The nativity was untouched.

It boggled my mind at the time.

Now, I understand.

Today, as I notice our precious, uncovered Saint Francis miraculously peering out of the snow — inside, in the house, I have been busy — preparing photographs of the Kriya lineage for at least a week. Locating, procuring and printing photographs and pictures of the saints and sages who support me in my practice, so I can display them inside my small meditation space.

These saints and sages, they commune with me daily; in my meditation, my life and in my work. They are conduits for the living Divine energy that flows through me when I teach.

For some reason, it really never occurred to me to place their photos in my meditation space, even though I display their photographs prominently on a shelf in the living room.

Recently Andrea Boyd and Jeffrey Cohen of Jivamukti Yoga Charleston (SC) came to Roanoke to instruct some workshops. Mary Brown, Uttara’s Jivamukti instructor – a true conduit of the Divine, and a very dedicated student of yoga — took on the responsibility of preparing the altar for their workshop.

And oh, it was SO beautiful. See the photograph? Amazing!

Andrea and Jeffrey came and brought additional pictures of their teachers to adorn the altar. I lucked out (truly!) on a spot in the front row; and practiced for two hours before this sacred altar — adorned with fresh flowers, Ganesha (overcomer of obstacles) and photographs of the Jivamukti lineage.

As I pushed my body and mind through practices I thought not capable, I looked into the eyes of Ruth Lauer-Manenti. As I expanded my consciousness, under the expert guidance of Andrea and Jeffrey, Sharon Gannon and David Life peered from small, ornate frames. There was magic in those practices, and in those photographs.

When I have sat at the lotus feet of my beloved Guruji, there have always been photographs of Kriyanandaji and Shellyji on the altar. But only at this workshop did I realize the true power of those images. That is when I decided it was important to integrate them into my meditation space.

I sat before them today in meditation; and the energy shift was palpable.

Christians are careful not to worship graven images; and I understand that concept. We as Americans place the image of the flag everywhere; but not always with respect and understanding.

I saw an American flag doormat in a catalog this Summer – THINK about that symbolism.

Thoug — yes — no one wants to worship the golden idol, the ceramic goddess — UNDERSTAND that images, statues, photographs – they have “shakti” – a real energy; they have power.

During this beautiful period of waiting for the Christ-child; waiting for the Light to return; however you choose to honor the shifting of the season; remember that your photographs, your nativity scenes, your traditions and your totems; the ornaments on your tree; the photographs in your cards, the things that you elevate and honor; they have meaning; they have shakti; they have power.

Give them the respect they so lovingly deserve.

Shanti,

Jill

Truth and Santa Claus

We’re driving in the car the other evening, and my six-year old son says, “Mommy, is Santa Claus real?”

It’s a question that causes every parent to gasp. He’s my youngest, and I want him to believe as long as possible in the magic and mystery that is Santa. It’s pretty amazing how many thoughts ricocheted around in my head before I simply said, “Well, honey, what do you think?”

There was a momentary pause, and he began to laugh. “Well, OF COURSE,” he giggled. “Who do you think brings all that stuff, the Easter Bunny?”

Now, that is funny.

I must say I’ve always felt a little uneasy with the whole Santa Claus-Easter Bunny-Tooth Fairy thing. When my children were really small, I remember thinking how important it was to tell them the truth, to be the one person they could count on to lay down the unflinching reality of life. I didn’t want to cause harm or create fear, or give them information they could not absorb. I only wanted to state the facts as I knew them and saw them, so that they could trust me on every level.

In yoga, the Sanskrit word for truth is “satya.” It is one of the yamas, which in the classic eight-limbed system is the very first step in the yoga journey. “Yama” means control or abstention. And the yamas are very much like the Ten Commandments, except there are five, and they are way more strict.

The yamas are to be followed on three different but interconnected levels: thought, word and deed. You must not only decide and accept what the truth is, you must also speak it and allow your actions to convey that truth. Finally, all three levels must be balanced with the most important yama, non-violence. As Goswami Kriyananda clarifies in his book The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga, “Many people find it difficult to distinguish between truth and untruth. Whatever the ultimate solution is for each individual, the guiding factor should be mindfulness so that there is: (1) No intention to harm. (2) A true understanding of truth in your own mind, speech and actions as it relates to the whole of life.”

This guideline requires that you have a “true understanding of truth.” I struggle with this. What is truth? “Truth is one, but paths are many,” said Swami Satchidananda. Sometimes it seems to me that the path is one, and the truths are many. Maybe the answer comes from investigating truth on a much bigger, cosmic scale.

Which leads me back to the bearded man in the bright red suit.

What to tell the children about Santa? My choice, wise or not, has been to dodge, parry and spin. I’ve been known to say “who, me, Santa? Are you kidding? Do you think I could travel the world and give out toys and still be here in the morning to make you breakfast?”

But I also remind them it is important to believe in things they cannot see and science cannot verify. It is important to think about angels and fairies, magic and mysticism. To remember that because we can see something with our eyes doesn’t make it real and it doesn’t make it permanent.

The most real things in this world – love, faith, God, energy – are invisible to most of us. Believe in the power of that which you cannot see but can feel and sense. That belief alone can be enough to make it so.

But also . . . seek truth.

Shanti,

Jill