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Author Archives: Zak Kotlow

About Zak Kotlow

Zak has two master's degrees in philosophy, from Brandeis University and University of California Santa Barbara. He is currently the lead editor for Dungeons in a Box, and he spends much of his time in the realm of fantasy crafting new plots and ensuring the adventure is in mechanical balance. When he's not DMing, he also enjoys hiking, studying eastern philosophy, and playing board games.

Rituals of the Soul, by Kori Hahn

Rituals of the Soul: Using the 8 Ancient Principles of Yoga to Create a Modern & Meaningful Life, by Kori Hahn
New World Library, 978-1608687527, 240 pages, October 2021

There are times when you start reading yet another book about yoga and you think to yourself: “Is it worth my time? Is this one going to just be like all the others?” Sadly, that is sometimes the case: the book provides the same information, just wrapped up in slightly different packaging. But this is definitely NOT the case for Rituals of the Soul: Using the 8 Ancient Principles of Yoga to Create a Modern & Meaningful Life by Kori Hahn! I was absolutely delighted to surf my way through this book (Kori loves ocean metaphors and is an avid surfer), and I think other readers will find it an incredible guide on their spiritual journey.

As you move through the pages, it’s quite clear that Kori’s book (her first!) is a labor of love and comes directly from the soul – which is exactly what the book is all about. More than achieving an intellectual understanding of yoga – or solely enhancing the physical exercises that the western world associates with this practice – Rituals of the Soul was created to help readers completely transform their lives. The book proves to be both an excellent source of information about the holistic practice of yoga, as well as a fantastic aid to help the reader develop a blend of spiritual exercises attuned to the unique path of their own soul.

The main current that Kori presents to us is that connecting with our intuition is the key to manifesting the dreams that flow from our deepest source – the soul. However, this book is not just about how to manifest the values given to us by society (or even our biology): financial security, success, notoriety, pleasure, etc. All of these things may come with realizing the dreams of our soul, but these are not the goal. Nor, Kori tells us straight-up, is this dream manifestation itself the purpose of yoga. “Your dream isn’t the ultimate goal. It’s merely a tool for soul growth through the eight-step yoga process.”1

It is exactly this sort of direct message that sets Rituals of the Soul apart from other books. Kori is not trying to “sell” her readers on an idea or set of beliefs. She is describing a path – a way of journeying, not simply a route – that she has found for herself, and is lovingly sharing of herself in the hope that others discover their own way of spiritual growth. Thus, what she is doing throughout the book is providing a set of techniques aimed at helping the reader become better at listening to the messages of their soul. In doing this, the reader can discover the way of spiritual growth that is unique to their own soul’s journey.

Even as I am writing this review, I feel a closeness with Kori that I don’t get from reading many other authors – something I didn’t even realize until I noticed myself referring to her on a first-name basis. At the same time that Kori is sharing her yogic knowledge, she is also sharing her own story: the lived experiences that were pivotal to her coming to the realizations she is now passing on to us. Rather than a lofty guru who is speaking from a place of mastery, Kori’s narrative sections demonstrate how much of an “average human being” she is, and how her life transformed through the deep yogic practice she presents in the book.

Rituals of the Soul has a very simple structure: one chapter each for the introduction and conclusion, and one chapter on each one of the eight steps in the yoga process. Again, Kori excels with her simplicity and directness! The eight steps of yoga that serve as the foundation of her approach are based upon principles she has distilled from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, an ancient text discussing the principles of yoga. I was surprised to learn that almost none of the Sutras deals directly with the physical practice of yoga – most of them pertain to the other, more expansive aspects of the yoga process.

This very idea is another one of Kori’s main points: most people who practice yoga in the modern world are barely scratching the surface. The postures and breath work that constitute most yoga classes, while beneficial, are ultimately meant to serve as tools for opening ourselves to our intuition – the primary means by which our soul can guide us towards growth. When all eight steps of the yoga process are integrated into one’s life, they build upon and reinforce one another, enabling the practitioner to live the dreams of their soul.

I am also deeply impressed with the thoughtful way that Kori structures her chapters. In the opening section of each one, she uses a story from her life to help create a backdrop for the more in-depth discussion of the topic. I like this strategy because it makes the principle immediately relatable to human life, and also demonstrates the principle put into practice.

After her discussion of the principles, Kori then provides clear, concrete methods for how to integrate that principle into your own spiritual practice. This could be different styles of meditation, postures, or exercises to open yourself to the whispers of your intuition. She presents these merely as examples, encouraging you to find the methods that speak most to you, and provides a step-by-step guide of how to build a spiritual practice that you can gradually incorporate into your life.

Kori’s ability to speak from a place of understanding is one of the shining features of Rituals of the Soul. She is able to offer you her wisdom and guidance in a structured, yet flexible, system – helping you to develop a style of spiritual practice that you actually can integrate into your daily life. This is not to say that doing so will be an easy journey – souls experience growing pains too – but Kori delivers a very down to earth presentation and approach that leaves you feeling much more confident in your ability to expand your spiritual journey.

All in all, I think this is an excellent book for readers who want to feel a connection with a guru, but may not be able to take up an in-person practice at the moment. Or even if you do have a spiritual teacher, Kori’s book would be a great supplement to their instruction. As Kori points out, your soul chose to be incarnated here and now for a reason, and cultivating the disciplines that allow you to better listen to its subtle messages can unveil a life of amazing possibilities. Even if you already know a thing or two about yoga and/or have spiritual practices of your own, her spirit comes through loud and clear in the book and can help further ignite your passion to follow the dreams of your soul.

The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound, by David Elkington

The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Science of the Divine, David Elkington
Inner Traditions, 432 pages, 1644111659, April 2021

In The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Science of the Divine, David Elkington has put forward a truly fascinating work about the role that sound plays in our spiritual experiences. This is a work of deep scholarship and intense study of locations around the world which are considered sacred sites to those who built them. Far from considering humanity’s ancient ancestors as primitive, this book highlights the absolutely breathtaking precision and purpose in the design of ancient monuments such as the pyramids at Giza, gothic cathedrals in Europe, and Newgrange in Ireland.

Elkington’s general thesis is that the hero — an exemplar of the capacity to grow, gain wisdom, and come to self-awareness — is a state of mind, and the development of this mental state can be aided by sacred sites. His theory has its foundation in the fairly recent discoveries about the resonant frequencies of Earth and its atmosphere. I was amazed to learn that regions below and above the ground each tend to resonate at different extremely low frequencies, and that these frequencies can also correspond to the frequencies generated by the brain: alpha, theta, and delta waves.

The idea that Elkington proceeds to develop is that many sacred sites were meticulously constructed to, under the right conditions, amplify the natural frequencies of the Earth so as to alter the brain wave patterns of anyone at that location. Through the structure’s architectural design, building materials, and geographic location, these sacred sites were built to tune in,  literally, to the energy of the world around us.

This very scientific approach to describing how we and our ancestors could come into harmony with what is greater than ourselves helps this book to feel extremely grounded compared to some other texts that discuss the experience of divine oneness. To me, the book is a fantastic bridge between scientific and spiritual approaches to how we can understand what “the hero” represents, both for our ancestors and for us today.

One of the revelatory ideas Elkington discusses which really struck me was that sacred sites are not merely historical monuments. When much of the western world has become removed from connection with the Earth and the older cultures who were so connected to the energy of the planet, we are likely to view structures like the Egyptian pyramids as symbols of some important person, group, event, etc. That is, someone or some group really wanted to leave a lasting legacy. This latter idea is much closer to our own, modern way of viewing the world. But one of the crucial ideas in this book is that these sacred sites did – and still do! – function to leave an impression upon the people visiting them: a much more potent impression than a mere symbol.

What amazed me still further about Elkington’s theory is that the spiritual impact of these sites is not made solely by visiting the structure, but through participation with it. By speaking, singing, or chanting words or phrases of power from the culture which constructed the site – the name of a god or hero, for example – the acoustic properties of the structure would amplify and enhance the sounds, building up to the mind-altering resonant frequencies. The overall idea that active participation is necessary for spiritual growth is exactly right, and is exemplified by these sacred sites.

Moving into the middle of the book, Elkington seems to take a long detour, delving into the meaning and significance of “the hero” in mythology. Interestingly, he focuses quite a bit on Jesus Christ as a hero figure rather than a historical/religious persona. Why, you might ask? Well, Elkington sets up Jesus as a heroic figure because he proposes that the Jesus we know from Christianity is just one example of someone who embodied the kind of heroic consciousness that is promoted by the sacred sites. Although I was aware that the story of Jesus shares a lot of commonalities with figures from other mythological traditions, this was my first time encountering the notion that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is more akin to a title (similar to how ‘Buddha’ is a title) rather than an individual name.

Elkington delves heavily into the history and relationships of various ancient languages that have helped shape this title. Admittedly, this section of the book came off as a little tedious and matter-of-fact at times. The author makes all of these linguistic connections and cross-references between ancient Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, and more – often leaving me to wonder whether these developments of language actually occurred. Elkington does provide many sources and citations throughout the book, especially in this chapter, but without reading the source material or possessing deep knowledge of these ancient languages, I was somewhat skeptical of the plenitude of linguistic transformations being presented. Do these connections actually exist, or are they being presented to fit the theory?

However, I was reassured when, at the end of his linguistic explorations, Elkington himself admits to casting a skeptical eye at the mountain of linguistic data he’d uncovered. Although it would still take a great deal of research to substantiate all the bits and pieces of his work, I felt better knowing the author expressed his own doubts about his findings. Ultimately, however, the trail of linguistic breadcrumbs reaches the conclusion that Jesus (again, not the historical-religious figure) and Christianity itself dates back to the Egyptian Old Kingdom! Linking this to what Elkington discusses about sacred sites, he says “We have forgotten the power of that name, only limiting it to a kind of modified superstition, but now we can show, we can demonstrate beyond doubt that the name actually does work as a name of power, this is the name of God.”1

Elkington continues developing this startling discovery throughout the book, tying together the importance of the sacred sites, words of power, and the shifts in consciousness that may result from their combination. The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound is quite dense, and I wish I could expound more upon all the intriguing inquiries and discoveries it contains. As a fair warning, some of this book may be a little difficult to get through, depending upon the reader’s interests and attention span. But in my estimation, it is a truly unique and eye-opening book – a journey well worth the time and dedication.

Ancestor Spirit Oracle Cards, by Jade-Sky

Ancestor Spirit Oracle Cards, by Jade-Sky and illustrated by Belinda Morris
Blue Angel Publishing, 0648746805, 43 cards, 104 pages, May 2021

Opening a new oracle deck is always an exciting experience, as you never know exactly what you’re going to find inside. I’ve used shamanically-themed decks in the past, so I thought I had a rough idea about what I would find inside the Ancestor Spirit Oracle Cards by Jade-Sky and illustrated by Belinda Morris. I was expecting cards themed with different types of elemental energy, sacred sites, and spirit animals, but what I found instead blew me away.

The first thing I saw was the card-backs: a beautiful image of a living bonfire flame dancing on a black background. Very cool. With simply the flames in the midst of darkness, it makes me think that this twisting fire could come from anywhere (or any when) and gives me a sense of connection with anyone who’s ever sat or danced around such a blaze.

When I turned the deck over and started thumbing through the cards, I was surprised to see that each card was designed with people or artifacts from cultures all over the world! Each card depicts a unique group, distinguished by their varieties of clothing, jewelry, architecture, and personal features: from Amazonian tribal groups, to Tibetan monks, to medieval Scotts.

From the get-go, it was clear that Jade-Sky and Morris must have done a ton of research about the vast array of cultures and ethnicities, whether contemporary or historical, that are depicted throughout the deck. The images are packed with detail and, I surmise, meticulously curated to be faithful to the astounding breadth of humanity found within the deck. Of course, I could not always immediately tell what group or culture was on display in the card, but that’s just one of the many incentives to open the guidebook!

In addition to the wonderfully-painted images, each card has a short phrase indicating its meaning (and the name which you’ll use to look up the card in the guidebook), as well as three keywords in a smaller font below. For instance, the card “BEGIN WRITING NOW” has the keywords “Create – Express – Inspire,” while the card “HONOUR THE DEITIES AROUND YOU” has the keywords “Prayers – Offerings – Help.”

There are a couple things that this style of card text does which sets it apart from many other decks you might encounter. First, I love how the card names aren’t just a single word. The short phrases are much more evocative and provide a little more direction for what you can focus on, and do this in a very grounded way. Second, the name and keywords do not dominate the card, allowing for all the beautiful details of the image to speak for themselves. I found this overall card design a delightful mix of aesthetics and guidance.

Opening the guidebook, the Contents section is very straight-forward, with no clutter on the pages and a clear alphabetical list of the 43 card meanings. No need to fuss with a numbering system here! The short introduction provides insight into Jade Sky’s design philosophy, and I particularly like the idea that “Every culture of the world is grounded in its own wisdom, knowledge and tradition.”1 Again, this indicates the depth of research and understanding that went into the design of each card, as the card’s meaning is intimately tied to the wisdom of the depicted culture. 

After the brief guidance about how to use these cards and three sample card layouts (consisting of one, three, and seven cards), the guidebook dives right into the card meanings. The entry for each card spans about two pages. A small, black-and-white photo of the card appears at the start of each entry, so you could make your way through the guidebook on its own to get a whole sense of the deck if you wish (though you’d be missing out on all the colorful detail of the actual cards!).

Each card entry also has three sections. First, a description of the culture depicted in the card and why that culture was chosen to be paired with the meaning of the card. This historical and cultural information doesn’t seek to overwhelm you, and gives you a great jumping-off point if you want to proceed to do more in-depth research for yourself.

Yet, these informative sections are still packed with cool tidbits: for instance, “GO WITH THE FLOW” shows Kai Viti (natives of the Fiji islands) sharing Yaqona (kava). The Fijians often share this drink during “island time,” where they just relax, tell stories, and otherwise enjoy one-another’s company. I felt the energy of the card perfectly matched the sense of ease and camaraderie I could see being shared among the people in the scene.

The next section of the card entry, Ancestor’s Speak, is a more direct message about the meaning of your card. What I especially found helpful here was that these ancestors aren’t merely speaking at me – they’re asking questions to provoke me to stop, think, and meditate upon the meaning of the card.

Divinatory Meaning, the final section, encourages you to engage your senses and feelings related to the meaning of the card. Jade-Sky invites you to participate in an activity or pay attention to your environment in a particular way so that you can observe how you are responding in the present moment, or find ways of deepening your connection to the aspects of the world indicated by the card.

What I liked most about the interplay between the two sections (Ancestor’s Speak and Divinatory Meaning) is how one encourages you to listen and learn from the wisdom of the ancestors while the other is focused on spurring you to action – a harmonized blend of receptivity and activity.

Overall, this is an oracle deck I would wholeheartedly recommend to everyone. While some decks can be a little more niche or thematic such that they may not resonate with everyone, Ancestor Spirit Oracle Cards is truly universal because it speaks to the common element of anyone who might pick it up – our humanity. No matter where you live or your cultural heritage, this deck can help you connect to all people from across time and space. The more I use and contemplate the cards, and the deck as a whole, the more I see how wonderfully holistic it is, with every element of the deck playing a role in its unity.

Heal Yourself and the World with Tai-chi, by Bob Klein

Heal Yourself and the World with Tai-chi: How to make your life powerful and become a healer, by Bob Klein
Artistic Video, 189219869X, 428 pages, January 2021

Reading Bob Klein’s Heal Yourself and the World with Tai-chi: How to make your life powerful and become a healer was truly an epic voyage. At just over four hundred pages of pure text, this book is an ocean of experience and wisdom that can help the reader come to a deeper, harmonious resonance with themselves and, by extension, the rest of the world.

As Klein advises, simply reading this book cannot bring you the healing understanding indicated in the title. That can only be gained through an embodied practice. However, as a motivational aid and discussion of the fundamental principles of Tai-chi, his book is a perfect starting point for those (like myself) who are intellectually interested in the practice, but have yet to take the first physical steps on this path.

Klein presents a fascinating tour of the guiding principles of Tai-chi and zookinesis with a writing style that is both easy to comprehend and full of profound insight. His constant use of metaphor and analogy often grounds his exposition through humor, and allows him to clearly communicate ideas that might otherwise be quite “heady” and abstract. For instance he writes:

“The image you use to influence the body should be passive – like hitting a gong and letting the sound do the work of reaching everyone’s ear. . . Once you hit the gong, you don’t need to then run over to everyone and push them toward the dining room.”1

This style is a perfect reflection of one of Klein’s main points throughout the book: that modern human beings have become terribly divorced from embodied experience. Our awareness is all too often solely localized to our heads: our mind as opposed to our body.

Again, this is why reading the book isn’t ultimately going to impart the transformative knowledge that Klein talks about. Alongside the book, he recommends using videos (if not attending classes) to develop the expanded awareness necessary to heal oneself and the world.

However, Klein also notes that only taking classes or learning the Tai-chi forms may not yield this embodied awareness either, as he laments that many contemporary teachers possess only a shallow understanding of Tai-chi’s power. Similar to the typical yoga classes that you find nowadays, they are all form and no substance: simply an exercise for the body.

This is one of the main reasons why I found Heal Yourself and the World with Tai-chi so stimulating: it is a companion text to the practice which allows one to find the deeper power of Tai-chi when a suitable teacher/class isn’t available. In our time of remote/online classes – rather than traditional, in-person mentorship of the past – Klein’s book is perfect for marrying a purely form-based practice to the deeper wisdom of your “body-mind.”

This book is most definitely not an instruction manual for the Tai-chi forms, so if that’s your only interest, Klein’s book is probably not for you. Nor is it solely a discussion of the practice of Tai-chi itself. There is an incredible breadth to the topics in the book, and it often feels more like a spiritual treatise than a text about the practice. But this is in no way a bad thing, and is precisely the reason that the book is an ideal supplement for the physical practice of Tai-chi. 

The winding flow of Klein’s style carries you along from one topic to the next, weaving an integrated philosophical narrative while always bringing you back to the grounded, embodied discussion of the practice. If you are a reader who likes short, contained sections with lots of page-breaks and subject headers, you might have a little difficulty moving through this book. But I think that Klein’s way of writing perfectly reflects many of the principles that Tai-chi helps you to learn. The book itself exemplifies these ideas through its holistic presentation and through its demonstration of the interconnectedness of its various topics.

Sometimes you might get the sense that the text is a little repetitive, but I never found this to detract from the book. In fact, rather than being directly repetitive, I think it’s more that Klein takes you on circuitous detours in his exploration of a given topic. So, when he returns to the original point, this is what might give the impression of “I’ve been here before.” However, you have come back to the idea with new insights, metaphors, and explanations that were gained in the interim. I love the organic feel that this writing style lends to the book – it feels like Klein is guiding you through explorations of a living landscape rather than leading you down a dry, flat road.

Again, this reflects another principle emphasized by Tai-chi: awareness that is not one-dimensional. We are obsessed with linearity in the modern age: straight roads, squared-off architecture, rational/scientific modes of thought. While none of these might be “bad” per se, the accumulation of linearity in our lives gets us stuck outside the rhythms and patterns of Nature. Klein presents the intriguing point that flat walking surfaces, such as our floors and sidewalks, contributes to one’s awareness staying confined to the head, rather than being distributed throughout the whole body.

We don’t have to be aware of our environment (and can “get things done” in our minds) because the ground is so predictable – and yet, we might trip over the slightest imperfection. The unfortunate consequence is that, while convenient in some ways, traveling across linear ground removes us from being aware – being present – to the here and now.

Although many of the principles that Klein discusses will be familiar to those familiar with Taoism and other spiritual traditions originating in Asia, I think the aspects of Heal Yourself and the World with Tai-chi that sets it apart from other books are two-fold. First, Klein’s self-exemplary style – the form of the text is aligned with its content – and second, his emphasis on embodied practice rather than purely intellectual understanding. These two features allow this book to truly stand out as an enjoyable journey over Klein’s ocean of wisdom.

Artio and Artaois, by Andrew Anderson

Pagan Portals – Artio and Artaois: A Journey Toward the Celtic Bear Gods, by Andrew Anderson
Moon Books, 1789044626, 120 pages, July 2021

When I picked up Pagan Portals – Artio and Artaois: A Journey Toward the Celtic Bear Gods by Andrew Anderson, I really had no idea what the book would be like. This was my first time reading a book from the Pagan Portals series, so I didn’t know what I’d find inside. Mythology, spirituality, anthropology, history? It turns out this new book in this series hits all of those at once!

Anderson invites the reader to ride along on his intriguing journey to discover the identity and importance of this pair of Celtic bear deities. This pilgrimage begins as an investigation of a protective ursine spirit guarding his home and ends with the conclusion that this divine duo may be some of the eldest deities worshipped by mankind!

Anderson’s journey begins with a synchronicity: seeing Artio’s name and image in a social media post. This became significant soon after, when Anderson sent out a general plea for a higher power to help protect his home. He saw a vision of a great, spectral she-bear (later identified as Artio) standing guard above his house. Spurred by this spectacular manifestation, Anderson felt an immediate connection to this deity and decided to begin a pilgrimage of discovery to learn more about Her.

Initial research revealed precious little about the she-bear goddess, but Anderson followed the bear’s historical pawprints into mainland Europe: from Luxembourg to Germany to Switzerland. In Bern, Anderson found the most compelling piece of evidence: a sculpture dedicated to Artio amid a town with a long – and still-standing tradition of venerating bears. It was here where Anderson really begins to put the pieces together, using keen observation and insight to bring this investigation to life for the reader. His evocative description of Artio’s sculpture and meditation on the bear’s presence and energy drew me right in, as if personally introducing me to the goddess.

Anderson does brilliant work of incorporating research from other scholars into his discussion, but also uses their ideas as launching points for his own, perceptive insights about Artio. Regarding the sculpture in Bern – which includes not only the bear, but a tree and a woman holding a basket of fruit as well – he disagrees with many scholars that the tree is merely a symbol of the bear’s forest habitat. Anderson argues instead the tree has a deeper significance: there is a connection between it and the she-bear as symbols of rebirth. He writes:

“The tree is very stylized, not identifiable as any particular genus of tree and seems to have a somewhat phallic acorn pointing over the bear’s back. . . taken together, the bear, the human, the fruit and the tree present a powerful image of rebirth and plenty, a dedication to an extremely powerful protective mother. . .”1

One of the most surprising and fascinating sections of the book comes from mythological connections that Anderson investigates, particularly with regard to Artaois, Artio’s masculine counterpart. Continuing to trace the history of bear imagery into the United Kingdom, Anderson’s research suggests that past rulers associated themselves with bears in order to stylize themselves after the legendary King Arthur. Indeed, the characterization of Artaois seems to share many similarities with the great king: a protector of his people, a mighty warrior, and a craftsman. Even the linguistic connection between ‘Arthur’ and ‘artos,’ the Welsh root for “bear,” makes one think it’s quite likely that the spirit of Arthur has its root in the divine nature of the bear god.

I absolutely love this weaving of the spiritual and mythic worlds that Anderson presents. Although the question is left open as to how much the worship of Artaois influenced the tales of King Arthur – and Anderson thinks we should definitely not just conflate the two – the question itself invited me into the realm of archetypal thinking. I found myself engaged with questions of how our ancestors might have migrated over time from worshipping these ursine gods to idealizing a human figure, as both represent the positive qualities we desire from the masculine side of a great ruler.

These thoughts flowed right into the next chapter of the book, where Anderson takes what he has learned about Artio and Artaois and begins to search many other cultures of the world for the significance of bears. I was shocked to learn that bear worship – or, at the very least, sacred respect for these creatures – is among the most ancient forms of human reverence. Artio, the she-bear, may indeed be one of the most primordial representations of the Great Mother!

In the final chapters of the book, Anderson finds that even bears in popular media: such as the film, Brave, and the video game, Smite. I loved his inclusion of the contemporary media portrayal of bears, as it is very enticing for me to now go and look at these sources with fresh eyes, paying attention to how they capture the spirit of these ancient bear deities. And for those interested in taking up a spiritual practice focused on bears, Anderson provides several suggestions for creating your own rituals – including the ancient rite of the Bear Feast!

I highly recommend Artio and Artaois to anyone wishing to learn more about bears – not only the animals themselves, but also the relationship that humankind has had to these creatures throughout our history and beyond. It’s also important to note that bear populations have vastly declined in recent centuries, especially due to habitat destruction for human expansion. Throughout the book, Anderson firmly encourages the reader to consider our connection with these magnificent creatures so that we might help to restore them to a place of high honor and treat them with the reverence that our ancestors had once offered.

Cool Sex, by Diana Richardson and Wendy Doeleman

Cool Sex: An Essential Young Adult Guide to Loving, Mindful Sex, by Diana Richardson and Wendy Doeleman
O-Books, 1789043514, 128 pages, December 2020

When picking up Cool Sex: An Essential Young Adult Guide to Loving, Mindful Sex by Diana Richardson and Wendy Doeleman, I really didn’t know what to expect. In what way was this book going to approach the idea of sex being cool? What I found was a fascinating examination of a sexual style that is (apparently) foreign to most sexually active people. I admit, I certainly had no knowledge of what the authors were about to present.

I was quickly drawn in by the meaning of “cool sex,” which Richardson and Doelman contrast with “hot sex.” Hot sex is the too-often dominant style of sex, characterized by fast, vigorous, and highly-stimulating activity that is intended to reach a peak orgasm. It is goal-oriented for one or both partners. This type of sex, while very exciting, is usually accompanied by a drop in energy after sex, and can also give rise to feelings of loneliness and depression.

Cool sex, on the other hand, is sex that is focused on awareness of the present moment: it has no goal. Instead, cool sex is about relaxing and opening the body to the flow of sexual energy between you and your partner. Through the techniques and mindful practice that Richardson and Doeleman describe, sex can become much more intimate, connected, and loving for everyone involved.

“[Y]our attention is directed inside your body, feeling any subtle or delicate good feelings inside of you. And you keep on feeling yourself – moment by moment. It is very much a meditation and mindfulness practice.”1

The authors describe the origins of cool sex, such as the tantric traditions in India, and present cool sex as a form of neo-tantra, where sexual activity is an aspect of spirituality. But the goal of the book is not just to offer a fresh perspective on ancient methods and ideas around sex. Richardson and Doeleman seek to help disabuse their readers of the idea that sex should/must be hot and goal-oriented (all the time).

While there is nothing inherently wrong with hot sex, the authors urge that exploring sex through relaxation and awareness can reveal new depths of sensitivity and result in wholly different forms of ecstasy — forms which heighten your creative, kundalini energy rather than diminish it through release (orgasm).

One of the most interesting points in the application of cool sex to both men and women is that each sex has a positive and negative energetic pole. These poles exist in different areas for males and females. By learning how to lovingly increase the flow of energy between these poles on yourself and your partner, your connection deepens. The authors provide plenty of advice and instructions about how to gently tend to these poles for relaxation and preparation for sex. I found these suggestions immeasurably helpful helping to create a relaxing and loving state, regardless of whether we ended up having sex.

Along with a deeper energetic and physical connection, cool sex also increases emotional openness between partners. Richardson and Doeleman also emphasize that the mindfulness of cool sex can help work through emotional tension, as partners will be more attuned to their own feelings and needs, as well as more receptive to the other person. Specific methods suggested in the book may also be useful for healing old emotional wounds, stored as tension in the genital region. But again, cool sex isn’t about having a goal (even the goal of healing) to accomplish. Cool sex is about being present to your sensations/feelings and allowing sexual energy to flow between partners.

Throughout the book, the authors regularly use testimonial quotes from interviews with people who’ve used these practices. Although making the switch to cool sex can take time and may not be super exciting at the start, these testimonials help to reassure the reader that allowing this practice to unfold in its own time yields amazing, deeply loving experiences. These quotes help the reader easily identify with other people who’d never considered an alternative to hot sex before, but are now reaping the benefits of these practices.

Overall, this book is a pleasure to read. The writing flowed nicely and each chapter is broken down into several sections to make the contents clear and digestible. Although Cool Sex could be a jumping-off point for someone interested in learning more about tantra, it is a unique guide that stands on its own. The authors do a great job of showing us an alternative to the common style of hot sex and providing a diverse range of meditations, techniques, and simple advice to help us all cool sex down and relax into ecstasy.


My husband (Zak from above) and I intended to write our own parts to do this review jointly, but I think he’s succinctly summed up the premise of Cool Sex. Rather than go into details, I am going to add in my own bit about how beneficial this book has been for our relationship.

I think cool sex is something I had been seeking for a while, but didn’t even know was a thing. Yes, it’s fun to get hot and heavy at a moment’s notice, but early on in my sexual journey, I realized how fleeting that moment was — often over within a quarter of an hour. I longed for a way to connect for longer periods of time in a more intimate way now that I’ve married a man I truly adore. The ability to sustain our passion and connect sexually in a way that feels genuine is a true gift that Cool Sex has provided us with.

My favorite thing about the book was the suggestions the authors make for stimulating energy flow between my husband and me. They discuss the polarity of male and female bodies. Generally, women have a positive pole at their breasts and negative pole at their yoni. For men, the positive pole is the perineum and the negative pole is the chest. Realizing this, we’ve been able to better guide the energy in our love-making to align with this polarity, and it feels really good so far!

To be honest, previously my breasts often were never the focal point during sex, but now they have taken center-stage. Much to my delight, based on the information about how the heart is the source of a female’s outward energy, I’ve discovered a whole new relationship with my breasts. I now notice them throughout the day, intentionally stimulate them with kindness and love, and sense into how this connection affects my energy. This has been truly life changing!

Practicing cool sex together has been a fun, exploratory experience for my husband and I because it makes us more aware of how we’re cultivating and sharing our sexual energy. When things start getting hot, we can slow it down with laughter when we realize and then fall back into a more sensual rhythm.

This practice really makes it feel like the love-making is coming from within, rather than guided by external expectations of how sex should be based on cultural portrayals of it. It’s nice to not feel the pressure to sexually perform, and rather have the opportunity to sink in and enjoy the moment. I think this is the secret I’ve been looking for all along!

I think many people would greatly benefit from reading Cool Sex and integrating the practices into their love-making. (I will note that it seems primarily intended for cis-heterosexual couples, but the principles of cool sex are applicable in all sexual relationships.) So far, integrating the information presented has certainly has cultivated new layers of intimacy in our relationship, and we are only at the start of this practice. I look forward to slowing it down even more as we become more comfortable with cool sex. I’m in it for the long-haul with my hubby anyway, so we might as well savor every last drop together, and this book teaches the sexual techniques to do just that. 🙂

The Lotus and the Bud, by Christopher Kilham

The Lotus and the Bud: Cannabis, Consciousness, and Yoga Practice, by Christopher S. Kilham
Park Street Press, 192 pages, 1620559404, January 2021

The Lotus and the Bud: Cannabis, Consciousness, and Yoga Practice by Christopher S. Kilham is a wonderful guide to deepening one’s explorations into the expanded states of consciousness offered through yoga practice. Unlike most texts on the practice of yoga, however, this one provides knowledge, methods, and advice about how to awaken one’s kundalini energy by combining yogic discipline with the mindful use of cannabis.

Kilham draws upon his decades of yoga practice and the accumulated experiences of his travels around the world to present a comprehensive look at how ganja – his preferred term for this plant medicine – is a perfect companion for fostering growth in the connection between mind, body, and spirit.

I heartily recommend this book for anyone seeking to cultivate an intimate, free-flowing connection with the Universe: to experience the unity of all that is. Yet, while The Lotus and the Bud is incredibly digestible and easy to read, its content is not intended for someone simply looking to spice up their yoga practice. The techniques and wisdom that Kilham offers are geared toward a holistic shift in one’s life.

“In my fifty years of daily practice, I have come to regard yoga as a cosmic current of pure wisdom consciousness that runs through human history. . . Yoga does not choose us because we are special in any manner, but simply suitable for the task of carrying illumination forward.”1

What Kilham presents in The Lotus and the Bud is not merely for the sake of relieving pain, strengthening the body, or calming the mind. Although the practices found in the book can accomplish these ends to a superb degree, the true power of the techniques lies in realizing ultimate oneness with the Universe, and revealing that truth through our daily lives.

He emphatically urges the reader that stepping onto the yoga mat means bringing your whole self to the party: coming to your practice with sincerity, respect, and determination. This naturally entails that you should never infuse with ganja to the extent that you lose the focus and intent of your practice. Being thoroughly baked is good for a cake, not so much for a yogi.

In the first section of the book, and scattered throughout the rest of the text, is an account of Kilham’s own yogic journey, including the insights he learned along the way from teachers, gurus, and his experiences with psychoactive substances and plant medicines. One of the most interesting aspects of this introduction to Kilham’s story is how he navigated the (sometimes treacherous) waters of gurus when he was a young man, learning to discern true teachers from self-serving frauds.

Here, and throughout The Lotus and the Bud, the reader will find many amusing and intriguing quotes about cannabis and its use. These quotes come from people spanning all of history, as well as the present day: from music icons, to U. S. presidents, to Middle Eastern folklore and mythology. My favorite is from Stephen Gray:

“When someone first smokes cannabis, and the conditions are right, something remarkable and concerning happens. . . The user is suddenly thrust upon a world of wonder, relaxation, humor, passion, creativity, and perhaps even gnosis.”2

The book winds its way through the history, cultural milieu, and spiritual significance of yoga and cannabis, each with its own dedicated section. Kilham provides a succinct overview of the chakras and the general essence of yogic practice. His purpose is not to provide a full treatise on yoga and its practice, but he does well in establishing the groundwork so that even a yoga novitiate can understand the guiding principles. In a similar vein, Kilham presents a brief, multicultural account of cannabis, its use throughout history, and defends its validity as a medicinal herb.

What I enjoyed most about these informative sections is the frequent inclusion of mythology. In fact, the reader will learn that, in Hindu culture, yoga and cannabis have one and the same origin – the god Siva. Even in ancient times, these people recognized that yoga and ganja were a match made in heaven, both presented as gifts to humanity so that we might experience “absorption into limitless and unfathomable spirit.”3

As with any mythological viewpoint, one doesn’t need to share a literal belief about the origin of these gifts, but I think it creates a beautiful link between past and present, especially after cannabis was so fiercely attacked and regulated in more recent eras. Our recent (re)discovery of the beneficial nature of ganja, in particular, and its potent combination with yoga is rightly seen as a continuation of physical, mental, and spiritual explorations that have gone on throughout human history.

Kilham also is also very good at weaving in the current scientific investigations and discoveries with the historical narrative of ganja. The recent findings about the body’s endocannabinoid system reveal that it has the ability to affect almost every other system and organ. Kilham observes that infusing ganja into yoga practice allows one to better tune in to the flow of energy within the body. Since the endocannabinoid system assists in holistic regulation of the body, Kilham thinks its functions correspond to the activity of the energetic body: notably, the chakra energy centers.

The second half of the book contains more direct guidance from Kilham about the proper attitudes and helpful techniques that will make the most of your ganja-yoga experience. One piece of advice that I’d never heard before was to focus on feeling rather than visualizing during yoga. Although visualization can be helpful in expanding your awareness of the body’s energetic flow, Kilham’s experience suggests that feeling into what’s taking place in your corporeal form is a path of direct access to your energetic state. He also covers the gamut of methods for infusing with cannabis, and presents good reasons why some are better for this practice than others.

Finally, Kilham goes through a fair number of yoga asanas, meditation, and relaxation techniques that he recommends specifically for expanding your kundalini energy. For each of these, he provides clear and simple instructions as well as a list of mental and physical benefits.

In all, I found The Lotus and the Bud as a surprisingly comprehensive dive into the beautiful and beneficial relationship between ganja and yoga. Kilham brings a bounty of learning to the table, using both academic research and life experience to convey the wisdom found in the marriage between the lotus and the bud. Although it will take time and dedication to unlock the full splendor of Siva’s gifts, the journey sounds well-worth the effort.

Temporal Experience of Flow

Introduction – Different Experiences of Time

We are all familiar with phrases like “Time flies when you’re having fun,” or the feeling that some activity (e.g. a boring class or meeting) seems like it’s taking forever to finish. These are examples of our subjective perspective of time and how it seems to speed up or slow down under different circumstances. Although these experiences sound odd when compared to the “everyday” perception of time as a uniform succession of events, the feeling that time is sped up or slowed down is undoubtedly common and relatable.

While I do not intend to set down a complete explanation of this phenomenon, I propose that we might be able to understand such experiences by applying a metaphor. Specifically, we could consider our experience of time – especially, the perceived rate at which it “flows” – to be like the effects of time dilation. Perhaps this description is not merely metaphorical, but I leave that judgement up to the reader.

Time Dilation – Just the Basics

I am no expert in physics, and don’t purport to have mastery over the concepts involved, which is why I choose to present this as a metaphorical explanation rather than a straight-forward application of scientific principles. For those who are less familiar with time dilation, the basic idea is there is a difference in the time measured by two observers as a result of a difference in velocity (or gravitational potential) relative to one another. So, if person A is moving at a higher speed compared to person B, it will seem to person A that more time elapsed for person B than the time that elapsed for person A themselves.

Put another way, person A’s watch will record that less time has passed than the time recorded by person B’s watch. However, this effect is miniscule in the context of relative velocities that we are familiar with in everyday life. For this effect to be noticeable in the hard scientific sense, person A would need to be moving at incredible speeds – near or equal to the speed of light.1

The Symbolic Nature of Time

For our purposes here, we’ll not be concerned with what two clocks tell us about the passage of time. Clocks measure time only in the sense that human society has established a certain metric (a system of measurement) and we compare what our personal clocks say (our phone, watch, grandfather clock) to that “objective” metric. That is to say, clocks only measure other clocks. Naturally, through scientific discoveries, we’ve come up with more and more precise ways to calibrate our clocks to one another (e.g. using the rate of decay of atoms).

Yet, achieving higher degrees of precision does not avoid the fundamental point that time – as something that can be measured – is not a feature of the Universe. It is, instead, a symbolic, representational system imposed by humans to effectively coordinate our activities. We can, of course, choose natural phenomena to serve as the basis of that metric (e.g. the decay of atoms, the speed of light, the rotation of the earth, etc.), but the chosen metric is only a reference point for clocks. In no case have we established anything about the flow of time as something we experience.

The Flow State

Let’s return to the opening idea that our experience of the passage of time varies in different contexts. One of the most demonstrative examples of this idea is the “flow experience,” a particular state of consciousness described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.2 Again, I will not dig deeply into this intriguing phenomena, but only provide a brief overview of the idea (though I encourage readers to pursue the topic on their own!). In its simplest form, the flow state is characterized by being completely engrossed in your current activity – to the extent that you lose conscious awareness of pretty much everything else: other people, bodily needs, and time.

The person in flow (unintentionally) merges their awareness with their actions to such an extent that self-reflective consciousness is no longer present. Put another way, your attention becomes so focused on the activity that none of your attention is available to put toward other activities, thoughts, or concerns. The do-er and the activity being done become one and the same, with the action-reaction interplay becoming nearly simultaneous and indistinguishable. What’s more, the experience of flow is also described as being intrinsically rewarding – the subjective value of engaging in the activity is potentially limitless.

This analysis of the flow state comes from a psychological lens: what’s going on in the individual’s conscious experience. However, what does this psychological state tell us about the relationship between the person in flow and the world around them? Csíkszentmihályi describes the state of flow as an “optimal” experience. True or not, I’m interested to see what this psychological state indicates about one’s state of being. As an aside, we should not overlook that the experience of flow can’t be reported while it is occurring, as reporting on the state of consciousness would be a self-reflective activity (and thus, the person would no longer be in the flow state). The experience of flow can only be described after the fact, which always comes with complications: memory can be a fickle thing.

Vibration

Returning to the main thread, what is the link between time dilation and flow, or any other instance in which our sense of time doesn’t conform to the “typical” experience of time? My suggestion is that it all has to do with vibration. There are several senses to this word, whether we want to talk about physical phenomena – the vibration of particles and energy – or the more “New-Agey” way we might talk about a person, event, or experience having a higher/lower vibration. I intend to use ‘vibration’ in both senses – after all, words don’t always have to be used with a single, explicit meaning (something we tend to forget as modern English speakers)3. What’s more, the latter sense of the word is at least partially derived from the scientific usage, so the two meanings already have a linguistic connection.

However, the non-scientific meaning of ‘vibration’ also comes from ideas in Indian philosophy and spirituality; Om from Hindu/Vedic and Buddhist traditions is the symbol of cosmic vibration, signifying the fundamental essence of reality. That the entire Universe (and therefore persons, events, etc.) is a confluence of vibrations is a notion that was around long before any scientific ideas about particles and energy. All that to say, let’s not get ourselves stuck by clinging to one, explicit meaning of ‘vibration.’ The core idea that I want to draw on is that our individual experience is in some way constituted by vibrations: our physical bodies could be described as vibrating “wavicles” of energy that are embedded in the larger field of wavicles that is the Cosmos.

Conscious Experience as a Frame of Reference

So, let’s start putting all the pieces together. To reiterate: time dilation occurs when the measurement of time from one frame of reference (or, perspective) does not correspond to the measurement of time in a second frame of reference – this is due to the difference in velocity between the two frames of reference. The difference in velocity usually has to be quite large for this effect to be noticeable when we are measuring time with clocks. But perhaps this does not have to be the case if we consider our frames of reference to be a person’s experience of time: i.e. their individual perspective as a locus of experience.

Thus, if my immediate/direct experience establishes a particular frame of reference, then time dilation could occur when comparing my experience to that of another person.  Either experience could include awareness of time as it is being measured by a clock. Whether this description is strictly metaphorical, or we wish to expand our concept of time dilation to include differing experiences of time, this idea seems to have some fascinating implications. 

Flow: Psychological and Metaphysical

In particular, let’s consider what this could indicate about the state of flow. Earlier I noted that the flow state describes a particular mode of conscious experience. But I suggest that we can expand on that idea. This state of consciousness could be a reflection of the individual’s overall state of being – a metaphysical state – a general idea which is not uncommon to many spiritual, mystical, or philosophical traditions, especially those originating in Asia. The Vedic and Buddhist traditions originating from India, Taoism from China, and many of their offshoots such as Zen all make use of the idea that, in some sense, reality is a manifestation of consciousness.

This metaphysical state is where vibration comes in. When in flow, the person experiences a unity between their actions and the responses from their environment. Put in terms of vibration, the individual as a pattern of vibration has completely merged with the vibration of the Cosmos. The “two” patterns of vibration have merged so seamlessly that the distinction between “the person” and “the environment/Universe” disappears. This description probably sounds familiar to those who’ve studied Taoism, Zen, and other mystic traditions. This is no accident, as the flow state seems to be a (western) psychological perspective of the kind of pure awareness often ascribed to mystical states of consciousness: satori, nirvana, and the like. As such, I cannot claim to be saying anything new or revelatory with regard to flow as a state of consciousness. But I do hope to offer an insight on the shift in temporal experience which seems to occur in such states.

Conclusion – In the Flow State, We See Time Dilate

The final move I wish to make is the suggestion that we can combine the idea of a perspectival frame of reference and this metaphysical state of flow. If we accept the suggestion that a person’s experiential perspective can serve as a frame of reference, we can then ask: what happens when that frame of reference merges with the frame of reference of the (local) Universe?

If the individual’s vibration is in complete harmony with the surrounding vibration of the Cosmos, I suggest that there would be little (or no) experience of time as we would normally describe it: a linear sequence of changes, or something to that effect. In a typical state of consciousness, we are aware of the changes that occur around us – changes considered separate from the consciousness that is aware of them. But when one’s vibration is in tune with the vibration of the Cosmos, consciousness is no longer tracking changes as something happening apart from, or Other than, itself. With this harmony of vibration, there is no resistance to change: no restriction to the flow of the Universe.

Meanwhile, for someone outside the state of flow, consciousness keeps itself involved with tracking the changes in case something “goes wrong” and must be altered, fixed, or corrected. This sort of thinking creates resistance, and so, from that frame of reference, an experience of sequential/linear time.


Thus, the person in the flow state experiences no resistance – their “actions” are indistinguishable from the ever-flowing changes of the Universe. Their experience of time (if it can be called an experience of time at all!) is of the ever-manifesting present, the NOW, the Tao. 4

Yoga by the Stars, by Jilly Shipway

Yoga by the Stars: Practices & Meditations Inspired by the Zodiac, by Jilly Shipway
Llewellyn Publications, 0738763866, 272 pages, December 2020

When I was looking for something to shake up and add new dimensions to my yoga routine, I couldn’t have done better than to pick up Yoga By The Stars: Practices & Meditations Inspired by the Zodiac by Jilly Shipway. Although my knowledge of astrology isn’t expansive, I found Shipway’s book to be both accessible and inspiring. I love how she marries yoga practices tailored to each sign of the zodiac with meditative practices, prompts, and reflective exercises – all of which coalesce into a holistic dive through the “archetypal personalities” represented by the star signs.

Yoga By The Stars is broken into two main parts. In Part 1, Shipway outlines her general approach and provides some background information on both yoga and astrology. Part 2 consists of the twelve monthly practices corresponding to the signs of the zodiac, starting with Aries and moving through the rest of the astrological year.

Although one might expect to find only a unique yoga routine in each chapter of Part 2, I was overwhelmed by the wealth of ideas and practices in these sections. It is clear that Shipway put great care and thought into devising both the yoga sequences, the series of meditation prompts, and exploratory exercises for each month of the zodiac.

From the get-go in Part 1, Shipway assures the reader that no prior knowledge of astrology is necessary to explore the practices offered in Yoga By The Stars. Nor does one need to be an advanced yogi to complete the routines found in the book, though at least some experience with yoga asanas (poses) is definitely a plus.

Shipway proposes that undertaking a practice mixing astrological energy with yoga, one can embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-knowledge through observing how each of these archetypal personalities manifest within us, connecting us mind, body, and spirit to the vast cosmos.

She distinguishes herself from other astrologers in that she does not present an astrological yoga practice for the purpose of prediction, but treats the zodiac “as twelve archetypal personalities who are universally recognized and resonate with something deep in our own psyche.”1

One of the most integrative aspects of Shipway’s process is how she attunes the yoga practice to the cycles of the stars and seasons. Although the practices in Yoga By The Stars can be undertaken at any time during the year, she recommends using the practice of each sign during its time in the yearly cycle. This method will help us to align ourselves with the energy of that sign and, as a result, explore that aspect of ourselves which resonates with that archetypal personality.

Shipway also offers affirmations that can be used before, during, or after the yoga routine – or really, anytime one wants to while the Sun transits the particular sign of the zodiac. Furthermore, the meditation questions the author provides at the end of every chapter offer great ways to tune in to the perspective offered by each sign. Through contemplating or journaling about these questions, one can engage in both plumbing the depths of self-knowledge and engaging with the perspective offered by the sign.

Delving into Part 2 of the text, I found that using mantras during the yoga practice helped focus my attention and help tune my breath to my mind and body. I especially loved Shipway’s affirmation for the Pisces practice: In – A flower blossoms. Out – With each breath.2 She counsels the reader to use this meditation with the breath cycle to create the experience of continual renewal.

Each line of the mantra is a beginning as well as an ending, easing the yogi into a rhythmic cycle of breath and focused concentration. When implementing this in my own yoga practice, the continual use of the zodiac mantras, which I did for both Aquarius and Pisces season, helped me tap in and flow with the movements more deeply and easily than in much of my normal yoga regimen. I also felt a great sense of connection to the astrological energy of the moment as well, heightening my attunement to the current season.

Those already familiar with astrology, especially as a spiritual practice, know that attunement to the cycles of Nature is a critical method to harmonize oneself with the flow of the Cosmos. In addition to the guidance and exercises the author provides, Yoga By The Stars also contains little gems of wisdom interspersed throughout each chapter. This gave me the sense that Shipway truly embodies her craft, inspiring the reader to move beyond yoga as simply a kind of exercise to embracing its spiritual depths.

“Yoga is a rainbow bridge uniting heaven and earth. It celebrates an embodied spirituality lived out in cycles. The Sun rises, the Sun sets, and the next morning rises again.”3

Unfortunately, I have yet to complete an entire yoga cycle around the zodiac before having to write this review. I could have gone through and tried each of the yoga sequences for the different signs a couple times, but this did not feel quite right. Each yoga set, along with the accompanying meditation questions, invites one to really dig in deep to the energy of each sign. Moving too quickly between one sign and the next makes it difficult to truly connect with and embody each archetypal personality, so I’ve only done the sequences I’ve had the book for thus far.

Although practicing a yoga sequence from any book can be difficult, Shipway made it as easy as possible. Each asana of a sequence is thoroughly described and accompanied by simple stick-figure illustrations to guide the reader. Moreover, she summarizes each sequence in the form of a list as well as the complete series of illustrations. This was immensely helpful in thoroughly learning the yoga routine without having to flip through the book in the midst of practice. And once I’d gotten down the basic sequence after doing it daily for about a week, I was easily able to incorporate variations depending upon what I was feeling that day.

What really solidified the experience and growth in understanding the archetypal personalities was drawing upon the meditation prompts when I was away from the yoga mat. Whether it was before bed or at some random point during the day, one of the month’s prompts would breeze across my mind. Although I did not always have time to consciously contemplate the question, I knew that some part of my psyche was working through the idea and, thus, helping to ground me in the mindset of the month’s sign.

Overall, I cannot give enough praise to Shipway’s Yoga By The Stars! Writing a book to teach yoga sequences is difficult enough on its own, let alone integrating the practice with thought-provoking and inspiring astrological concepts. Shipway’s writing is inviting and easy to follow, with enough detail when needed, but not so much that it overwhelms the reader or turns into a treatise. Her masterful combination of yoga and meditation exercises is perfect for anyone interested in expanding their practice both on and off the mat. And even though the book is beginner-friendly, readers with advanced knowledge of astrology and/or yoga will find something unique and enlightening in Shipway’s  merging of the two practices.