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Book Report: enLIGHTened

As the summer starts drawing to a close and the reopening of Karma Kids starts peeking around the corner, I've been craving a slight change in reading material.  It's been a fabulous summer for reading - I've read many of my old Stephen King favorites, a few new King gems, Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho (which...good LORD), John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath....lots of great fiction.

However, fall means the beginning of a busy semester of work and getting back into the full swing of things as a yoga teacher as well as a student.  My summer of 30 Day Challenges and Bikram were great, but I wasn't spending my summer reading the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita or anything.  I felt I needed something more yoga-esque to help get my head in the game.  I also wanted something a little lighter than King, Steinbeck, and Ellis for the train ride to Boston last week!

Appropriately enough, the first book on my random list of yoga-esque books was enLIGHTened:  How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer by Jessica Berger Gross.  I've been wanting to read this book for awhile.  Jessica Berger Gross also writes the Enlightened Motherhood blog for Yoga Journal.com, and her simple, clear writing style is often a huge help and inspiration to me when I'm feeling like I need to turn a blog entry into a novel.

Gross uses the yogic yamas and niyamas (kind of the yogi's 10 Commandments) to illustrate different steps in her weight-loss and "enlightenment" journey.  She doesn't pretend to be a perfect, superhuman, all knowing all meditating yogi, but her life was dramatically changed by yoga and she doesn't shy away from the lessons she learned from it.  One thing I liked about this book is that the philosophy of yoga is treated as the utmost important thing - important over the yoga poses themselves (the asana practice).  The asana serves the philosophy.

I think because I knew a lot of these yogic principles and factoids and Sanskrit terms, I felt this book was a lot more about weight loss than I was expecting.  Yes, obviously, it's right there in the subtitle - the story is "How I lost 40 Pounds."  But after doing so much reading from different places about everything in moderation, it was occasionally jarring to read some of the food philosophies she adheres to.  The most notable is the chapter on fasting/cleansing, and we all know my opinion on that.  I personally don't think it's safe and would never advocate it, but she has the right to her opinion and I realize that people do it all the time without serious incident.  It was interesting to read such a detailed account from someone with a different perspective on it.

Although I'm not on a weight loss journey right now, per se, I have lost a lot of weight and changed my body over the years.  My fitness level and size when I was 19 and 20, for instance, were lightyears behind where I am now.  I do absolutely credit yoga for helping me make better choices and for inspiring me to educate myself about my own health and eating habits.  It was really moving to read someone else's journey with it, and it helped me reacquaint myself with the importance of eating mindfully.  Even though I'm at a healthy size and weight, I do still hold onto some unhealthy habits that have been with me since a kid.  The way this book links a lot of basic yogic principles - truth, purity/cleanliness, and moderation - and links them to the everyday decisions you make in the kitchen, the restaurant, or on any single street in NYC with endless access to all kinds of food, was very thought-provoking and, at times, profound.

She also touches on vegetarianism as a way of exploring ahimsa, or non-violence.  That's a very common interpretation for yogi vegetarians and/or vegans, and I like that she didn't apologize for her views.  She didn't judge meat-eaters, but she makes a compelling case for cutting out (or at least down on) meat consumption.

I'd recommend this book for either a seasoned yogi or even a total yoga newbie - anyone who would be interested in an Eat, Pray, Love-esqe memoir about weight loss and spiritual gain.  It's funny, touching, insightful, and given that I devoured the whole thing in a 4 hour train ride, it's good light reading.

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