Pick Your Yoga Practice by Meagan McCrary – A Book Review

I was recently contacted by New World Library publishers to do another review of a yoga text for them. Because I have had a good experience in the past with their works, I agreed. What follows is that review. I would have also made this a book giveaway, as I typically do with all promotional books reviewed, but I spilled an entire cup of coffee on the book, so sadly no one wants it now!

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The book is titled Pick Your Yoga Practice and is by Meagan McCrary. While there are chapters about the general principles of yoga and yoga philosophy, the primary focus is on describing a variety of yoga styles, so that the reader can find the one that best fits his/her own needs and preferences.

There are 7 yoga styles, each with its own chapter, discussed in detail in the book. They are Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Integral, Kripalu, Bikram, and Jivamukti. An additional chapter considers “the best of the rest” and includes Acroyoga, Anusara, and Forrest, among others.

While there are a few small points here and there that I would alter (regarding the yoga styles about which I am individually most familiar), I believe McCrary does a good job of providing a basic sense of the styles of yoga she covers in this book. Readers are provided with the information necessary to guide their exploration of different types of yoga.

I would not recommend trying to read this text back to back, as I did, because things start to become very confusing, very quickly. Instead, it seems to me that the best way to approach it would be to being with informational/philosophical chapters, and then move to the “Styles at a Glance” chart provided in the front of the book. After selecting a potential style, the reader could then read that chapter carefully, perhaps sample that style with a class or video, and then move on to others that sound appealing. Basically, I would suggest this as more of a reference guide than a book to simply read.

I was interested (troubled?) to note the absence of Yin yoga of any type in the text (even in the “best of the rest” chapter). All of the styles of yoga here are asana focused and are yang based. Those looking for a restorative or yin practice will find little here.  Similarly, non-hatha yoga is considered very little (primarily only in relation to the Integral style). Bhakti yoga gets one paragraph there and a mention in a chart on page 8, as do raja, karma, jnana, and japa. While I understand the choice, I think that it might have been wise to somehow indicate in the title or subtitle that this is a book about hatha yoga, not so much the rest.

Generally, while I have some small issues with the book, I think McCrary has done an excellent job of providing a reference guide for hatha yoga styles that could be very useful for those beginning a hatha practice or looking to branch out into other styles. I don’t hesitate to recommend it.

Namaste.

Chronic Pain and Yoga – A Few Facts

Note: WordPress doesn’t like it if I try to put quotation marks in a title, but understand that by “facts” I mean generally agreed upon beliefs about reality.

Recently, I taught a 3 week series about yoga and chronic pain.  I posted last week about the conversation we had regarding the relationship between chronic pain and the klesas.  What follows in this post are some of the basic points we considered in the first week about the connection between chronic pain and yoga.


About pain

  • Pain has a function – when we experience sensation that is perceived as pain, the body ramps up the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares us to fight or flee.  This is utterly functional in some situations (you are being chased by an angry rabid badger), but less when the threat is your everyday bodily experience.
  • 75-90 million Americans are believed to experience chronic pain.
  • Chronic pain is the # 1 complaint of older Americans (1/5 on painkillers regularly).
  • Woman have higher rates of chronic pain, but they seek help more and respond more quickly to interventions.
  • Men have (or report) lower rates, but they get worse before seeking help and are less likely to seek multiple ways to manage pain.
  • Estrogen seems to somehow be related to pain, with some studies suggesting it might increase our ability to “recognize” pain.
  • Studies suggest that chronic pain may decrease the immune response, effectively causing those who are in pain to also become ill more frequently.
  • When one has chronic pain, the process of neuropasticity (nervous system “learning” to respond to a stimuli more effectively) creates a wind-up effect whereby the body increases the intensity of pain signals and responds to smaller/lesser stimuli more strongly.
  • Additionally,  when pain is ongoing, the brain actually undergoes neuronal changes that permanently change pain response. This creates a situation where boundaries between sensation, stress, pain become blurred.

Common co-morbid issues with chronic pain

  • Insomnia/sleep disturbance (over 65% of people with chronic pain report sleep problems)
  • Lower endorphins (meaning less feeling of happiness, peacefulness)
  • Depression
  • Allodynia – pain from stimuli not normally painful
  • Side effects from pain medications – addiction, nausea, constipation, respiratory depression

Yoga can help!

Benefits of meditation

  • Through meditation, we learn to engage in svadyaya (self study) and are better able to see the difference between suffering and  pain.
  • Mindful meditation helps us increase awareness of all physical sensation, including feelings of comfort and ease which are always being experienced by some part of the body, even if it’s just the little toe on the left foot.
  • Meditation appears to increase activation of left prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain associated with happiness and equanimity.
  • Meditation has been shown to reduces transmission of pain signals from thalamus to higher brain centers.
  • Because meditation can change our response to sensation, and because of the idea of neuroplasticity, we can teach the brain a new response to sensation.

Benefits of pranayama

  • Deep and regular breathing increases parasympathetic nerve response, thus reducing the sympathetic response and shifting the body away from flight/flight.
  • Pranayama can increased oxygenation.  Decreased oxygenation of the body is a problem for individuals experiencing stress, like chronic pain.
  • Pranayama brings our focus to the breath over pain or other body sensations, and this can provide space for meditation and calm.  As we are able to get some distance from pain, we might be able to understand our responses better.

Benefits of asana

  • Exercise, including asana, lowers stress. Since stress creates muscle spasms and increases pain, it follows that exercise can decrease pain.
  • Asana promotes flexibility in muscle, reducing pain due to tightness.
  • Asana can strengthen muscles, providing better support for joints.
  • Attention to alignment in asana helps us reduce pain due to compression/alignment issues.
  • Exercise creates an increase in endorphins, and thereby happiness, equanimity, and pain relief.
  • Regular exercise improves sleep.
  • Asana practice can change our relationship with sensation, such that we don’t automatically evaluate all uncomfortable sensations as pain.
  • Ongoing work with asana can help us to revise our understanding of body, seeing what it is capable of doing and how amazing it is, rather than focusing on what it can’t do or how bad it feels.

Go yoga!