Black Lotus Books Inc.

REVIEW Yoga Touchstone

see for review and Yoga Journal, June 2005.

Dark Pollen from a Black Lotus

Review by Jim Clark

Yoga Touchstone by N Sjoman and H V Dattatreya.

This book deals with the metaphysics of yoga in the context of our current social reality, our understanding of the historical legacy and that most mysterious complex, the body. It develops this topic using Sjoman’s rare skill and insight into Sanskrit texts and with the humor characteristic of his earlier work.  Sjoman’s first book, The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace, was focused mainly on the historical lineage of the yoga tradition as a whole, and the contemporary yoga asana practice tradition.  This one suggests we rethink the categories, the presuppositions, that we function under.

The essays in this book address the difficulty of working within a spiritual discipline here and now.  They deal with what we can sift from the past from a sophisticated and learned view of that past.  They intimate precisely what we can see of that past and then take us further, in a new direction, into our own perceptions tempered by the body.  They eschew the dogmatic lineal approach.  The interpretation of Patanjali’s descriptive definition of asanas is fresh and meaningful.  It brings this basic sutra to life.  The interpretation and implications are directly relevant to any serious yoga discipline; indeed, they are a revelation.  The essays acknowledge the pressures from our own social system that bear down upon us and warp perception.  The essays insist we be aware of our presuppositions.

This book critiques the standard model, the anatomical/medicinal view of the body.  It brings in other views of the body, ancient and modern, and relates them to the practitioner of yoga.  It delves into the distinction between the postural muscles and the movement muscles, giving specific examples, and then relates these to areas of the brain, to basic drives that are at the root of the human condition. The book reveals how this distinction must be basic to all yoga, to all spiritual disciplines that seek to determine the nature of the self.  It determines movement as the main meditational support or vehicle, with its access to emotion, understanding and the deeper recesses of the body-mind complex.  It shows how this understanding must have been at the centre of the traditional knowledge complex in Patanjali’s  sutra that has been interpreted only as a meaningless generality. The book opens the door for discussing asanas in terms of the meridian lines or the lines of energy that flow through the body.  This shifts the discussion from standard anatomy and devotion to a whole other level of awareness.

The twelve essays are not easily digestible.  They contain insights that need to be reflected upon.  The material does not come from theory but from yoga practice.  The words are colored.  They ask us to consider what we take for granted; they ask us to reflect upon what we are really doing every time we move let alone when we devote ourselves to this ancient art of yoga.  We cannot act beyond the bounds of our belief and what we believe is not necessarily evident.  The statement “yoga is known from yoga…”  from Vyasa’s commentary becomes the working model.

The photographs in the book, of Sri Dattatreya, ninety four in all, are exquisite.  They were taken in various places around the world; places as diverse as temples (Somanthpur and Halebid), the royal samadhis of the Wodeyar kings, the forests and lakes of Sweden.  They are different from anything else in yoga.

A physical transcendence emanates from these photos, a splendor that has endured for thousands of years.  Their quiet stillness indicates total absorption as distinct from projection and glamour.  They are not performance. They are a privileged glimpse into another world.   As someone commented, “the picture says it all”.  The pictures harmonize perfectly with the essays in the book.  They play off one another.

This is, without doubt, one of the most meaningful and refreshing books on yoga I have encountered.  The title is quite appropriate – Yoga Touchstone.  This book should serve as a touchstone for practitioners of yoga, philosophers and academics.  It is a rich offering.  The book, scheduled for October 2004 is the first publication
by Black Lotus Books Inc.

REVIEW Yoga Touchstone

Review by Gert van Leeuwen, Bharata Yoga

Yoga Touchstone takes us beyond the illiterate sniping about this yoga or that yoga.  It applies to all yoga.  It comes from insight into the essence of yoga.  It is not a book of conclusions, directions or narratives - it reveals a pathway into a tenuous old growth forest.  It is not an easy read. It mirrors Sjoman and Dattatreya's teaching that offers insights that apply to all yoga.  This book, taking an entirely different point of view from The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace, gives us resources, like the first book did, to enable us to save ourselves from the fantasy and fanaticism of institutionalization, economic and religious, simmering in yoga today.

REVIEW Yoga Touchstone

Wijnand Geraerts, Professor of Neurobiology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This book asks us to be silent and to observe, in stillness, the whole mystery of movement right back to the initial desire to move.  It asks us to play the body mechanisms of movement off against our cultural posturing.  Aspects of this insight, achieved by introspection from yoga, and used here also for the interpretation of ancient texts, seem to be corroborated by present-day neuroscience.  An instance: research on the visual system tells us that this system presents us with an illusory rather than real picture of the world.  Many of the mechanisms of movement are the subject of neuroscientists and psychologists, and reveal complex integral patterns spoken of in Yoga Touchstone.

This is a hands on book.  It places this insight into our own hands and gives us the opportunity to bring invisible personal desires into view within our own personal movement complex thus giving us an instance of choice in our own destiny.