Embodying the Yoga Sutra – new review

We are so enthusiastic about Ranju Roy and David Charlton’s new book that we’re posting another review of it, this one by TSYP member Helena del Pino

There are relatively few English language publications covering the teachings of our tradition apart from the iconic text by TKV Desikachar himself, The Heart of Yoga. American texts tend to emphasise what to practise and mostly do not capture the depth of the teachings we have inherited in the UK. In a relatively barren land, then, long-term ‘viniyoga’ practitioners Ranju Roy and David Charlton have brought a significant work to publication. They have achieved something remarkable in offering us a readable and well referenced text which is reliable in its information and analysis while also being relevant to readers at varying stages on their Yoga journey. 

The title of the book is a bold statement of principle that stakes out our ground. We neither practise nor teach eclectic Yoga but we seek to learn to embody the freedom teachings of Patanjali. This is a simple but radical truth within our tradition although the Yoga Sutra remains a largely unknown text within the wider yoga community. The authors then go on to show us how all we do is rooted in a systematic practical philosophy.

There are two crucial and incredibly helpful aspects of this work which voice clearly the fundamental approach to yoga that we share. First is the explanation of why we do not offer a style of yoga but an approach to personal discipline which effects a transformation of suffering in the direction of kaivalya – freedom (nicely translated by the authors using words such as disentanglement and lack of enmeshment). The second aspect is a long-awaited printed explanation of the approach to practice planning we all work to so as to ensure appropriate and skilful adaptation for the student. There are lucid explanations of the essential matters of stages of life, aims of practice, types of practice, life purposes, preparation, SKLIBS, counterpose etc. Correct Sanskrit terminology is used, and the authors have succeeded in the difficult task of holding together the depth of the Sanskrit meanings with comprehensible English explanation.

This could have been a dense book, but it has a spaciousness and lightness that means it can be read from cover to cover as one continuous text. However, its structure and clever typesetting lend it to being dipped into for opportunistic insight or a specific section being selected for inspiration.

A significant aspect of the text that will be new to many members of TSYP is the way in which the authors’ understanding of yoga in the Krishnamacharya tradition through TKV Desikachar has been developed by the now deceased Danish Teacher, Peter Hersnack, who was a long-term student of Desikachar. His understanding of the practical interaction of three concepts – support, direction and space – is brought in to reveal an intelligent development of bhavana within our practice and our life.  

Our yoga tradition is held within the tension of the parampara, which helps to keep the teachings authentic and reliable, and the innate dynamic application (and therefore development) of the teachings to changing times. In this highly recommended publication Ranju and Dave show us what a creative place this is to inhabit. This is a book we all should have at the front of our yoga bookshelf.

Embodying the Yoga Sutra, by Ranju Roy and David Charlton, is published by Pinter and Martin. Price £20 (excluding P&P £3.50). If you are in the UK you can order it from: embodyingtheyogasutra.com

Leave a Comment