BOOK REVIEW - The Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga Philosophy

The Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga PhilosophyThe Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga Philosophy by Stuart Ray Sarbacker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a tiny book that packs a punch. True to the minimalist aspects of yoga, Sarbucker and Kimple (SK), were able to succinctly, yet thoroughly give a modern and academic account of astangayoga - the traditional 8 limbs of yoga.

About a year back, a good friend and fellow yogi asked me if I knew of any good books that explained the 8 limbs. I have a yoga library and she had borrowed a few books before. Though I had some great books on the various limbs individually, I didn’t have a single book I could recommend that concisely gave the topic justice.

Then this book was released - 2015.

I didn’t get my hands on it until 2016 - but it is to date my favorite yoga philosophy book.

Yogis of India’s past and present have offered their commentary on astangayoga, but many have done so with language steeped in absolutist and dogmatic orthodoxy. Yogic literature is not alone to blame for this. Most religious or prescriptive literatures that are pre-scientific had no need to qualify their claims. Often the more bombastic their language, the more sympathetic the audience. While many of yoga’s classical claims have been confirmed true by modern scientific research, many have not. And since we now live in a time where writing is more supported by reason then dogma, the best writing today contains bold claims backed by solid evidence, and all other claims tempered by relative qualifiers. The reason why this is my new favorite yoga philosophy books is because SK explore and unpack the goldmine that is astangayoga; yet they do so honestly with the use of appropriate qualifiers. For example, SK mention “the principle cause of attachment and misery in the world is said to be …” (76) You’ll have to read the book for yourself to see how this sentence ends, but you can see by their use of “is said to be…,” SK are able to discuss a bold claim without asking the reader to take sides with them. This approach makes the reader feel respected - and that is why it is my new favorite.

Another reason why I love this book is because it makes abundantly clear throughout that the path of astangayoga is one that requires a habitual dedication to practice. For example, SK write “the more ardent and intense the level of practice, the closer the practitioner is to his or her goal.” (11) Also, “sense control is a matter of habit, and the more it is practiced, the more it will be established and regular.” (54) It is my experience that the benefits of yoga don’t come about by having the best yoga equipment, or the largest yoga library, or the finest collection of yoga clothes, or by having memberships to all the best studios and yoga websites, or by writing yoga book reviews. Yoga's many benefits are reaped only through practice - and this focus on practice is the supporting evidence to any of yoga's bold claims. Skeptical? Practice - and then get back to me.

My only critiques of this book are structural. I think a bit more time could have been spent discussing the Yamas and Niyamas perhaps with an example or two. Also I felt the last section of the book dragged on compared to some of the other sections.

I would recommend this book to any yogi looking to better understand the 8-limbed path. I also think it would make an excellent text for students in Yoga Teacher Training.

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