This skilled voice requires hearing in the yoga debate: what are we doing, why are we doing, where are we going. Peter Blackaby has over 30 years of experience in practicing yoga – he trained and qualified as an Iyengar yoga teacher in 1984 but what he teaches now is a long way from that style. He began to have doubts (I often have a greater interest in the doubts than dogmas). He studied osteopathy in the late 1980s and became influenced by teachers like Mary Stewart and John Stirk who are more in the lineage of Vanda Scaravelli.
This book is beautifully presented with photographs, anatomical drawings and images of skeletal structures showing lines of stress. It is a real relief to see models who have grey hairs and ‘normal’ bodies in a yoga book. There is not a tropical beach in sight. However, the publishers have made it almost too beautiful – on the verge of becoming a coffee table book when its intention is to be a practical guide. And ironically for a book that emphasizes integrity, the spine of my copy broke after the first reading (somewhat of a blow considering the book costs £25) – this potentially leaves pages dropping out. I thought that spine was fundamental and practice all-important…
While I appreciate the points made in this book, I feel there is a danger of people taking this as the dogma of ‘floppy yoga’ - another imposed box that is supposed to fit all. There are standing poses with feet wide as though at least on train tracks and rarely a straight leg in sight. As a balance it’s important to remember there are plenty of long-term practitioners who are engaging their limbs with energetic enthusiasm – and have maintained healthy bodies and minds over many years. This approach of physical practice within systems like Ashtanga and Iyengar works for many people – definitely not everyone, very probably not most but certainly some.
Consistently Blackaby challenges our derived notions. I enjoyed his novel characterization of our anatomy: “We must recognise the body as a series of pumps, pipes and pouches that channel, contain and squeeze their watery fluids from place to place.” That said, there are lots of detailed anatomical explanations that I struggled to understand. Admittedly, anatomy is not an area of speciality for me. However, it is one of the reasons that I read this book. The prose could have been tighter: often editing plays a vital role in presentation (I know this well having been ruthlessly edited myself).
In terms of thematic content I welcomed Blackaby’s emphasis on our changeable nature and implications thereof: “Our environment is not constant, it is ever changing. Part of the success of the human species is its ability to survive in a changing environment… if we sit hunched over a computer day after day the muscles in the back regularly lengthen while the ones in the front shorten…” And then sometimes his belief in responding to the moment serves to raise a debate, such as with his notion that yoga’s venerable history is in fact constricting: “Many other modern systems of body education, such as Feldenkrais, Body-Mind Centering and the Alexander Technique have developed without the albatross of yoga’s lineage. They have also had the freedom to develop and evolve in response to new understanding in biomechanics and physiology…”
In any case, the book does win a prize for its great title. And if you are open for discussion, ‘Intelligent Yoga’ is a book that I recommend.
Intelligent Yoga: re-educating mind and body, Peter Blackaby, Outhouse Publishing Ltd, June 2012
Norman began practicing yoga in the early 1990s after many years of life lived on the margins and he has been teaching since 2001. His practice and teaching embrace both ashtanga yoga and yin yoga as well as mindfulness meditation. He teaches classes and workshops in London and likes to express opinions on a range of different subjects - for more details and to check out the writings page go to www.yogawithnorman.co.uk.