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Listen Up
For Rodney Yee, yoga is about hearing the body and responding

As he demonstrates this Triangle Pose, Rodney Yee writes, "Feel how the triangular foundation of your legs generates energy up through your spine and out through the spreading wings of your arms."
Yoga is not about stretching; in fact, a stiff person might even have some advantages over a very flexible one. Yoga is not about physical fitness, though that may be a side benefit. Yoga poses aren't meant to be held and achieved, but continually explored.

After nearly 20 years of teaching yoga and producing 15 videos, Rodney Yee challenges what he says are some of its most common misconceptions in his first book, "Yoga: The Poetry of the Body" ($21.95, Thomas Dunne Books).

It's most obviously a practice guide for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike, with 400 photos accompanying eight full practices — Playful, Falling, Grounding, Alignment, Breath, Resistance, Relaxation and Movement — tied to 45 basic yoga poses. But it stands out more in the recent onslaught of yoga books for its adjoining texts.

Each segment begins with "Considering the Practice," an overview of key aspects of the upcoming moves as well as poetry from Walt Whitman, Gary Snyder, Pablo Neruda and others. It ends with "Reconsidering the Practice," thoughts on taking those lessons into everyday life, such as: "So next time you find yourself in a conversation, play with the changing alignment of your body, leaning toward or away from the person to the left or to the right, and feel how the whole conversation changes because of the alignment of your body."

Perhaps even more engaging are the conversations between Yee and co-author Nina Zolotow, a student of his and writer whose one-sentence "short stories" are sprinkled throughout the book. They taped hours of discussions on why they do yoga, whether there's a right and wrong way, developing a home practice, etc. While other students may relate to Zolotow confessing — to her teacher! — that she doesn't feel emotionally balanced in spite of her yoga practice, they may be surprised when Yee shows some emotion of his own: in a section on "The End of Suffering," when Zolotow presses for examples as Yee describes when his wife briefly left him, and in "Meeting Resistance," when he acknowledges fears that he may be repeating with his own children the somewhat distant relationship his father has with him.

Another aspect of resistance is why Yee believes inflexible folks might have a type of advantage when doing yoga.

"It isn't about how far you can put your foot around yourself," Yee told me recently by phone. "Yoga is really about the union of the mind, body and breath." When a stiff person faces the resistance of tight muscles, the mind is automatically engaged; a flexible person might find getting into poses so easy the mind can wander.

With more experienced students, Yee also cautions against aiming to master a move. "It's not the perfection of a pose but an ongoing listening, with a response. It's a dialogue with your body, a dialogue with your mind, a dialogue with your breath."

In a sitting posture, for example, he said, "I might feel like I might have sort of found the center of my posture. But if I keep looking, there's always still something to adjust. Maybe I'm not breathing into my lower back, and that might be from tensing my lower back — because I'm trying to sit up too straight."

Some other recent books that caught my eye:

"Sound Mind, Sound Body" by David Kirsch ($27.95, Rodale) features a six-week "fitness transformation" based on "sound" confidence, training, eating, thinking and living. Training programs vary according to body shape (apple, pear, stick, round, fit); weight-lifting includes three options: muscle building, shaping/toning and cardio sculpting; and the diet keeps in mind the glycemic index.

"The Wedding Workout" by Tracy Effinger and Suzanne Rowen ($19.95, Contemporary Books) offers "body makeover" exercise plans for 6, 12, 18 and 24 weeks as well as guidelines for matching body types to wedding-dress styles and reducing stress as the big day approaches.

"Fitness for Travelers" by Suzanne Schlosberg ($14, Houghton Mifflin) includes tips for adopting a "road workout" mindset, cardio workouts when your hotel has no gym, hotel-room and tubing strength exercises, a travel workout log, useful Web sites for equipment and exercise sites, and a list of the nearest gyms to 41 North American airports.

"The Quest for Peace, Love and a 24" Waist" by Deborah Low ($13.95, Bonneville Books) encourages women to challenge their beliefs about weight loss, reconnect with what's important to them, identify what brings them joy, peace, excitement and love, and make "SMART goals": specific, measurable, adaptable, realistic and have a time frame.

"Feel Good Naked" by Laure Redmond ($24.95, Fair Winds Press) features "10 no-diet secrets to a fabulous body," including drinking plenty of water, scheduling in writing three fitness appointments with yourself each week, stopping eating in front of the television, breathing consciously for five minutes each day and writing yourself a love letter once a month.

"How Aromatherapy Works" by Michael Alexander ($85, Whole Spectrum Arts and Publications) is Volume 1 — "Principal Mechanisms in Olfaction" — in an ambitious technical overview of essential oils, including their history, source and production, physical and chemical properties, biochemical and pharmacological effects, mechanisms of action and absorption, and therapeutic and other effects.

The second edition of "The Pocket Personal Trainer" by Gay Riley ($12, Lipo-Visuals) is a neat 4-by-6-inch spiral-bound manual with tips on healthful eating and lifestyle, meal planning, dining out and motivation, along with a daily log for meals and workouts.

"You Too Can Be a Fitness Model" by Clark Martram ($14.95, Hatherleigh Press) starts with getting honest appraisals of your physique, face and camera appeal, then walks through putting together and sending portfolios and following up, photo shoots and self-promotion, plus chapters written by photographers, modeling agencies, magazine and television contacts and other models.

"The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness" by Stewart Smith ($15.95, Hatherleigh Press) features beginning and advanced 12-week programs — calisthenics, running, swimming, rope climbing — developed to prepare for the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.

"The Walker Within" ($22.95, The Lyons Press) contains 45 motivational and inspirational stories culled from the back-page column of Walking magazine.

Molly Martin is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. She can be reached via 206-464-8243, or P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.

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