An Introduction to Yoga
An Introduction to Yoga

This anthology is a thorough introduction to classic literature for those who have not yet experienced these literary masterworks. For those who have known and loved these works in the past, this is an invitation to reunite with old friends in a fresh new format.

From Shakespeare s finesse to Oscar Wilde s wit, this unique collection brings together works as diverse and influential as The Pilgrim s Progress and Othello. As an anthology that invites readers to immerse themselves in the masterpieces of the literary giants, it is must-have addition to any library.

Annie Besant was an early feminist, a theosophist and colleague of Helen Blavatsky, a socialist, a supporter of Indian self-rule, and a proponent of yoga and the Vedas. This short book is quite literally an introduction to the science of yoga, as she calls it, and if read carefully and slowly, it’s extremely illuminating.

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I’ve been a student of yoga since the 70s. I was given a first edition of this book decades ago but read it through too rapidly, not really absorbing much at the time. This Kindle edition, for all its typos, gave me a better grasp of what Besant is trying to explain in generally simple terms, although she is guilty of intellectual and mystical obscurity at times.

 

There are thousands of books about Yoga out there and you could spend your entire life and a dozen or so reincarnations reading them all. But if you give this one your full attention, you’ll soon grasp what it’s all about. And then you can determine whether you want to learn more.


Reviews of Introduction to Yoga

Review 1: An introduction to yoga as orthodox Indian Philosophy, not as a system of fitness

Given what the word “yoga” brings to mind these days, I’ll first note that this isn’t the book for one who’s looking to improve a stiff downward dog, or even an errant kapalbhati breath. There’s no mention of such physical practices. This is a philosophy book–or theosophy if you want to get technical about it.
Besant’s definition of yoga makes this clear, “Yoga is the rational application of the laws of the unfolding of consciousness, self-applied in an individual case.” The book is actually a series of lectures by Besant delivered in 1907 at the 32nd anniversary of the Theosophical Society.

If it were being released today it might be called “An Introduction to Yogic Philosophy” or “An Introduction to Jnana Yoga” to avoid confusion. Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, as opposed to Karma Yoga (the yoga of action) or Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion,) and it’s Jnana Yoga that’s the focus of this work.

 

I was ignorant of who Annie Besant was when I read this book. I’d heard of the Theosophical Society, but mainly in the context of being an organization that Jiddu Krishnamurti had been a prominent member of, but then had a falling out with.

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(Given my respect for—and alignment with– the ideas of Krishnamurti, I must admit that this biased me a bit against the Society.) If you’re not familiar with Theosophy, the name probably gave you a big clue about what it’s all about. The “theos” (as in theology) refers to the divine or godly, and “sophia” (as in philosophy) means wisdom or knowledge.

So theosophy is knowledge of the divine and it suggests that a mystical path to knowing god can be achieved. I mention all this so that the reader will be aware that this isn’t “what is yoga?” through the eyes of a Hindu or a yogi as much as it is “what is yoga?” framed by a Theosophist. (That’s not to imply any objectionable biases in the book, just in the interest of full disclosure.)

 

Having clarified what the book isn’t, it’s now time to turn to what the book is. It’s divided into four lectures. The first is entitled “The Nature of Yoga” and revolves around the questions of what is consciousness, what is divine, and how do they interrelate.

 

The second lecture puts yoga into context as one of the six Indian schools of Philosophy, mostly comparing and contrasting yoga to Samkhya and Vedanta—the schools that yoga is most closely linked to. The third lecture considers yoga as an applied science. The final lecture discusses the practice of yoga.

Again this is the practice of Jnana Yoga, and not yoga as it’s practiced today. Besides some discussion of diet and vague statements about how to purify the physical body, there’s no discussion of practices other than Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation.)

 

In more specific detail, the book addresses the following topics: the 4 states of consciousness, the 3 aspects of consciousness, the 5 stages of the mind, the 3 gunas, the 5 functions of pain, and the 7 obstacles to yogic progress.

 

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I don’t mean to make it sound like the book is entirely a listopia, but the author is very organized—and, to be fair, a lot of these lists are passed on from ancient works. Given this book is the product is 19th century English, its readability is tolerable—especially considering the complex and abstract concepts under consideration.

That said, there’s no attempt to put the abstractions in more concrete terms by way of narrative techniques or the like.

 

I’d recommend this book for those who are interested in Yoga as a philosophy. If you’re interested in the philosophy of the Theosophists, all the better. Again, it’s not of much value for an individual who wants to know about yoga as an approach to fitness, or even someone who wants a balanced view of the eight limbs of yoga.

 

This book skips straight to the last three limbs, i.e. dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi (union with the divine, liberation from the karmic cycle, etc.) In that way it’s an advanced text, and the term “Introduction” in the title may be more deceptive than the word “Yoga.”

Review 2: Want to know more about Yoga? Read this book!

I just started my Yoga journey and doing yoga daily and I wanted to learn more about the history of Yoga to be able to have a deeper understanding of the practice and the Yoga way of life. This is a great book that answered my yoga questions and more!
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Review 3: This is not posture or exercise yoga

This book is exactly what I was looking for – an explanation of yoga practice for the western learner in straightforward language. It helps to have basic background knowledge of Hindu yogic practices (I read “Autobiography of a Yogi” before this and I think it was helpful in understanding some of the concepts).
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