Book Review: Moving Toward Balance: Eight Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee
Review by David Yarian, Ph.D.
Rodney Yee has become the ubiquitous poster boy for the burgeoning yoga movement. I see his face (and enviable body) on magazine covers, video boxes and calendars every time I go to Wild Oats. He is on Oprah; and he travels around the world teaching yoga workshops.
But Rodney Yee is much more than a pretty face; in Moving Toward Balance he has created a comprehensive and thoughtful structure for a profound and transformative yoga practice. The book is designed around an eight-week series of "classes" -- but could well be the guidebook for a lifetime of yoga. Hundreds of photographs of Rodney in all the poses and variations offer the student the opportunity to see what a pose should look like -- and better yet, feel like in one's body.
I've taken a number of weekend workshops with Rodney over the last fifteen years, and Sandi and I traveled to Bali with him on a two-week yoga vacation (for our honeymoon!). So I've experienced many hours of Rodney's teaching firsthand, and I am struck by how much this book embodies that teaching.
One of the amazing things about Rodney's workshops is his attention to detail; somewhere in the book he remarks that he can tell by looking at his students who is doing a daily yoga practice and who is not. His subtle adjustments and challenges lead his students to go deeper into the pose, and to make the pose one's own. I once asked Rodney how he developed his teaching style, his ability to attend to so many people at once. (Usually within a morning, he has learned the first names of all the 50-75 people in a workshop.) He told me that his teaching skills were honed through years of waiting tables, during his college days. He became adept at paying attention to a lot of people's needs at once!
The book moves through a fairly standard sequence of asanas, or poses, describing variations and subtle points of adjustment with meticulous detail. Rodney also emphasizes meditation and pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises, as important components of a well-rounded practice.
While Rodney's book is firmly grounded in the physical and postural principles of yoga, it seems he is after something even deeper: the soul of a practice, the ways in which yoga becomes a vehicle for transformation. Each chapter introduces several new poses, and particular attention is focused on describing some of the emotional components of these poses.
For example, in Chapter 3, Opening Into Vulnerability, Rodney introduces backbends and the other poses which open the chest. He says, "The backbends open the door to your heart chakra, which is the emotional center of your entire body... Opening the door to your heart chakra means having both a willingness to connect to your emotional center -- to feel intense movements of joy and happiness as well as despair and grief -- and a willingness to connect to the outside world from your emotional body." (p. 124)
In Moving Toward Balance, Rodney Yee provides the fundamentals of a serious and committed yoga practice; and he invites the practitioner to allow the ancient asanas to work their magic on the spirit as well as the body. The practitioner is encouraged to be fully present, alive to all the sensations of the body and the breath; to use the stretches and twists of the postures to enliven and challenge the body to release into greater flexibility and strength, without strain or effort; to allow the feelings of vulnerability, receptivity and curiosity to be present in the practice; to face the unknowns of the experience, listening deeply for the inner cues which will guide the process of transformation, so that the practice becomes a continual process of moving towards balance.
Balance is an apt word to use for this practice; and the book's title alludes to the reality that it is never fully, once-and-for-all attained. Rather, seeking balance is an active and ongoing process.
This book is a wonderful guide and mentor to this lifelong journey. Beginning yoga practitioners as well as more advanced students may benefit from this book.