Written by Marlynn Wei, MD and James Groves, MD, The Harvard Medical School’s Guide to Yoga pretty much had me at “hello.” To be honest, I get a little excited about anything published by Harvard because, well, it’s Harvard, and I assume it just has to be good. I’m also a bit starry eyed about linking yoga with medical research. So I cracked the book open….
The book can be characterized as a heartfelt east meet west. Both Wei and Groves have a personal connection to the yoga practice and compelling personal stories. Wei found yoga to find relief from her taxing job as a psychiatrist (and she also applies yoga in her work with her patients) and Groves (interestingly!) found yoga in his fifties. The book is a beautiful mix of scientific rigor and practical application with just enough yoga mysticism to feel authentic and sincere.
The book spans a wide range of foundational topics and I think would be a good addition to your library as a reference text. You’ll find:
- the science of yoga (YAY!)
- types of yoga
- history and philosophy
- subtle body systems
- injury prevention
- guides for practice
- yoga for specific health concerns
Throughout the book, the good doctors include references to correlating medical research (when appropriate) that provide research based evidence for the positive benefits of the techniques. Again – YAY! For those of you seeking to understand why yoga works, having access to this supporting research is enlightening and gratifying. If I’m going to be very, very picky, I will add that it’s good to be skeptical of blanket statements that are only supported by one or two studies. (One research study does not a fact make, no matter how good it sounds.) I would also add that I would have loved for more specific physiological benefits to be included for individual asana.
Overall, if you are nerdy yogi, this book is an excellent read and resource. I personally love to have a “why” for the “what” when I’m teaching, and having a little science at your fingertips is useful when you’re luring more practical-minded students into the practice. Wei and Groves bridge the gap between western medicine and eastern practice with sincerity, clarity, and grace.