________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003


I Love Yoga: A Source Book for Teens.

Ellen Schwartz. Illustrated by Ben Hodson.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2003.
122 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 0-88776-598-X.

Subject Heading:
Yoga, Hatha-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-12 / Ages 10-17.

Review by Julie Chychota.

***½ / 4

Reviewed from prepublication copy.


Q: What is yoga?

A: Yoga is exercises. Yoga is breathing. Yoga is relaxation. Yoga is meditation.

How can yoga be all of those things?

Imagine that you’re making a cake. You mix together butter and sugar, beat in eggs, and then blend in flour and milk. Each ingredient is essential. If you leave out the flour, you won’t have much of a cake.

The same is true of yoga. Although many people think that yoga is just a set of movements, it also includes breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. All three parts are equally important. Like the ingredients of a cake, they work together to produce the desired result - in this case, health and calmness, rather than dessert!

To extend author Ellen Schwartz’s own metaphor of “yoga as a four-course meal,” I Love Yoga: A Source Book for Teens appetizingly presents a veritable feast guaranteed to satisfy the hunger of curiosity. Schwartz initially assuages a reader’s thirst for knowledge in the three chapters that identify the components and branches of yoga, its benefits, and its origins. She then moves on to address what she conceives of as the “hors d’oeuvres,” or warm-up exercises, the “salad” of breathing exercises, the “main course” of the poses, also known as asanas, and relaxation exercises for dessert. The book consistently serves up a generous quantity of explicit, step-by-step instructions for 23 poses, along with explanations of how each pose benefits the human body.

     With the exception of illustrator Ben Hodson’s drawings of young people who demonstrate the various asanas, which accompany the “main course,” I Love Yoga is replete with curvilinear and geometric designs that serve primarily as garnishes. For instance, intricately detailed emblems are located opposite the first page of each chapter. Equally conspicuous are the floral designs that run down the left hand side of even-numbered pages, and down the right hand side of odd-numbered pages. These designs convey a sense of unity (a particular pattern is unique to its chapter), as well as an illusion of fluid and continuous motion that corresponds to the smooth transitions within and between chapters.

     Despite its five thousand-year-old history in India, yoga is a relatively recent development in the Western world. It first became popular in North America in the 1960s, and although it has maintained a steady presence ever since, yoga is currently enjoying a marked resurgence in popularity among young adults. To a certain extent, this trend may reflect the fact that many celebrities now attribute their flexibility, strength, and balance to yoga, including Tobey Maguire, Madonna, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Cathy Freeman, Mark Messier, and the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, to name just a few.

     Whether one considers I Love Yoga to be “a source book for teens,” as the cover’s subtitle proposes, or “a guide for kids and teens,” as the subtitle both on title page and verso advises, there is no denying that the text relates to young adults at a level that they can comprehend. To this end, Schwartz frequently employs analogies to clarify information that may be perplexing to the novice. Early on, she relies upon the ancient comparison of the various branches of yoga to the branches of a tree: although every branch is attached to the same trunk, yet each one “reaches for the sun at a slightly different angle.” Elsewhere, Schwartz likens a yoga program to a pair of running shoes, in that readers must “shop around” to find the most comfortable fit. Then, too, numerous headings and sub-headings incorporated at regular intervals break up the text into smaller, snack-sized word clusters, as do the occasional shaded text boxes that contain yoga tips, definitions, background information, and trivia.

     Stylistically, teen and pre-teen alike will relish the author’s relaxed, conversational tone. The fifth chapter, especially, contributes to that tone. In “You Have to be Hindu and Other Misconceptions,” Schwartz diplomatically conveys what yoga is and is not by turning the text into a question and answer forum hosted by “Dear Yoga Dude,” yoga’s equivalent of “Dear Abby.” The author also laces the text with “sound bites,” that is, quotations from yoga practitioners ranging in age from ten through twenty. These real words from real generational peers offer adolescent readers very personal perspectives on participating in yoga.

     Other morsels to sample include a compilation of “Resources” (nine books, six Web sites, and two magazines), and a “Glossary” that assists the reader in pronouncing some of the more difficult words and phrases in the text. A special section indexes the asanas in alphabetical order by their English signifiers, but includes their Sanskrit names and pronunciations also. For individuals with limited physical movement, this book offers adaptations of a few exercises and directions to resources for further consultation. The author repeatedly cautions readers not to over-exert themselves, not to attempt to devour the whole of yoga at one sitting, so to speak, but rather to exercise (in) moderation. After all, yoga is not about competing with and comparing oneself to others; instead, it is about continually improving oneself.

     Unlike the plethora of yoga books available at online booksellers (Chapters.Indigo.ca alone itemizes approximately 200), which appear to be written for adults or small children, I Love Yoga fills that special marketing niche inhabited by ‘tweens and teens'. It is published in the United States as well as in Canada, and, although it caters to Canadian and American tastes, its examples do contain a dash of global flavor. I Love Yoga: A Source Book for Teens is a well-conceptualized, comprehensive menu of yoga basics that makes for pleasant recreational reading.

Highly Recommended.

Julie Chychota is presently on contract as a Marker/Grader with the Faculty of Management, University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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