Intelligent Yoga is a thoroughly enjoyable book to read and is an interesting mix of biology, anatomy, evolutionary theory, neuro-science, humanism, and of course yoga. But at no times does Peter make it confusing or complicated. It’s an easy to read book, and I don’t mean that in a dumbed-down way.
Peter is frank about his approach to yoga which is ‘intelligent’ in that he is seeking to apply his awareness of his own body to his own movements, being attentive to what he is doing and feeling. He is not afraid to argue that some of the ‘guru-led’ yoga asana developed during the 20th century may be harmful and indeed, one of his central beliefs is that yoga should not harm us. In fact, he advocates using the benefits of yoga (musculo-skeletal, respiratory, well-being) to undo harm that we create in our bodies from un-beneficial habits we have developed in our postures, movements, breathing etc.
We can seek to apply a functional and intelligent approach to yoga by asking ourselves ‘what is the intention of this pose?’ For example, is it a twist or a forward bend? Is it an active or passive pose? Are we clear about its benefits so that we can modify, adapt, enhance, as appropriate? Are we clear about our intentions of practising yoga every time we practise? Through practising yoga intelligentently we can increase our self knowledge, trust and awareness.
After the theory chapters part two of the book moves into the practical applications. Even if you have not attended a workshop with Peter or Lisa McRory (featured on the book’s cover and throughout) you should be able to appreciate the approach through the clear language, helpful diagrams and photos, and also through trying the suggested physical approach yourself.
‘Grounding’ through the bones to release tension before moving is a central aspect of his approach. He also looks at the postures from a human bio-mechanical approach, to make them as beneficial as possible. Another key element of Peter’s approach is not to get hung up on a pose name, shape or our traditional view of what it should look like (see my blog post on his workshop). Instead, he places greater emphasis on creating beneficial pattern movements which are good for our general daily movements i.e. if we want to do a spinal twist, ensure that we are actually doing a spinal twist and are not bringing in other elements, including and maybe especially, unnecessary tension in the muscles or breathing.
The practical section includes side bending, extension (i.e. ‘back bends’), flexion (i.e. forward bends), rotation (i.e. twists), balance and sitting movements/patterns. There are lots of nuggets of ways to doing things slightly differently – experiment and see if it works for you.
To conclude, a couple of quotes from the book:
“We practise basic patterns so we can move freely in life.”
“Yoga is a very powerful way of integrating the mind, the body and the breath, but to do so effectively we need to pay attention to how we have evolved, how we move, breathe and respond to gravity. Only then can our practice become really productive.”