Book Club – The Heart of Practice, Understanding Yoga From the Inside

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The Heart of Practice: Understanding Yoga From the Inside by Orit Sen-Gupta

This little book captures my two passions : yoga and Zen Buddhism. The book is divided into chapters on breath, asana, meditating, teaching and dying. The practical chapters resonated with me the most, particuarly the ones on asana, pranayama and sitting. Sen-Gupta’s tone is gentle, her touch light. This is not a manual of instructions, just a book of thoughts by someone who is on The Path, and her views are valuable and considered.

The chapter on death and dying was unexpected and interesting to consider how the ideas in Zen and yoga can apply to end of life situations. Sen-Gupta describes in depth the process of her own father’s death, in an honest and heart-felt way. She also talks about Liat, a new student at one of Sen-Gupta’s yoga classes, who was diagnosed with cancer and how she used yogic practices to pass from life to death. I’d not given much thought to how these Eastern philosophies deal with death and dying, and this was really thought-provoking.

However, there were some things in the book that I stumbled on, such as some slight inconsistencies when Sen-Gupta talks about meditation, such as “practice is the reward”. Zen Master Dogen said that the practice of meditation should be ‘nothing special’, done just for the sake of doing it, rather than for any reward in itself, although I could appreciate the sentiment.

Sen-Gupta does make some sweeping statements, such as “In India most people are religious and express their devotion to God”. I struggled with these, as no citation or supporting evidence is given. There were also some confusing mixing of ideologies which were not clear to me, “When we just sit, everything is kosher”. I appreciate that Sen-Gupta lives in Israel, but no explanation was offered to clarify this.

All in all, this is a helpful book to anyone interested in yoga and zazen, but read with a critical mind.

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One response »

  1. Dear Zengirl,
    Thank you for your review.
    Just a few thoughts. When Sen-Gupta says ‘practice is the reward’, I think she means, in light of Dogen’s teachings, that there is no outside reward to practice, practice is the means and ends, so, it is the reward of itself.
    And just to clarify – ‘everything is kosher’ just means ‘everything is ok, everything is just fine, everything is allowed’… whatever happens when we sit, happens, and it’s ok.
    Yours,
    Gidi, Israel

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