✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

Tag Archives: hampton roads publishing

The Art of Breathing, by Danny Penman

The Art of Breathing: How to Become at Peace with Yourself and the World, by Danny Penman
Hampton Roads Publishing, 1642970425, 128 pages, May 2022

Breathing may just seem like the simplest thing in the world – something that doesn’t even cross our minds on a daily basis, it just happens to us. Naturally, The Art of Breathing: How to Become at Peace with Yourself and the World by Danny Penman PhD has much more to say on the subject. If breathing is really an art, it must be an ability which we can develop and deepen to reach a far greater depth than the usual automatic bodily process we’re so familiar with. Penman’s depth of experience and expertise as a meditation teacher and award-winning author certainly delivers on that promise. 

Going hand-in-hand with developing breathwork is the practice of mindfulness, which has become such a prevalent subject in recent times. As these topics have gradually diffused into western culture, and as more and more books, courses, and retreats emerge every year, how does an individual book stand out amid the crowd? Penman’s answer is to match the form to the content, which is certainly the most striking aspect of this little book.

The Art of Breathing doesn’t seek to simply impart information and techniques, like so many other books on these subjects do. Instead, the design of the books is a delightful journey through visual space as well as the realm of ideas. You almost can’t find a page without some sort of illustration, alternative layout, or background image that draws in your senses and evokes the presence of the natural world while you learn how to harness the power of your breath.

Some texts on meditation and mindfulness can be a little dry, like an instruction manual that has great results promised at the end, but Penman’s book takes an entirely different approach. As the title suggests, mindfulness practices are not meant to be solely therapeutic but also aesthetic. The quality of your experience is at least as important as the less-stressed, calm, and present state of mind you wish to gain. The immersion in imagery, which often involves plants, animals, and other scenes from Nature, helps to ground the reader in the world rather than removing awareness to the abstract mental realm.

As many practitioners of mindfulness, meditation, yoga, etc. would tell you, deliberately striving to achieve a specific result is more likely to be a hindrance than a help.

“The aim of mindfulness is not to intentionally clear the mind of thoughts. It is to understand how the mind works. To see how it unwittingly ties itself into knots to create anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and exhaustion.”1

Instead, Penman writes that mindfulness provides you with a place where one’s thoughts and emotions may be observed like the rise and fall of the waves, and in those spaces between lies a realm of expanding insight.

One of the specific features of this book that stands out is the design of the meditations and other exercises presented throughout the chapters. You might be familiar with meditations in other books that are paragraphs of text instructing you what to do. But if you aren’t a long-practicing meditator, those kinds of instructions can be difficult to hold in mind – especially while you’re supposed to be paying less attention to what the mind is saying. Not an ideal method for this sort of practice, unless you happen to have a picture-perfect memory. This is another place where Penman’s dedication to an aesthetic quality of presentation manages to shine forth.

In addition to offering audio versions of the meditation exercises on his website, Penman solves the problem of “too much text” by using flow charts set against the background of a great tree, full of tangled branches. It’s so easy to imagine a nest of birds hiding just out of sight while your eyes move over these pages, reinforcing the strong connection with the natural world that the author is encouraging us to remember. While engaging in these practices, it is a simple matter to glance at the next bubble in the flowchart to see the next step of the exercise. I found this incredibly helpful at keeping my attention focused on the exercise, moving from one step to the next without having to search for the place I’d left off.

The artistic style and layout isn’t the only aesthetic feature of this book either. Mindfulness practices can sometimes get stuck in the meditation-phase, where it seems like the only way that this quality of experience develops is by just focusing on the breath. But there’s so much more than breathing in Penman’s work.

For instance, you’ll find a Fruit Meditation, which takes mindfulness out of the breathwork realm for a moment and into the full range of the senses. Through deliberate exploration of a piece of fruit in all its sensory aspects, the exercise heightens your attention to all the little details packed into the simple activity of eating. Experiencing the manifold presence of a piece of fruit is an awakening to the quality of our sensations that our usual habits and attitudes might be ignoring.

This emphasis helps us move beyond the mindfulness found in meditation exercises and brings it out into the everyday world – a bridge that many books find difficult to cross. Penman is also unafraid to challenge common practices and conceptions about mindfulness and meditation. He argues, for example, that many people – especially beginners – would find cross-legged, lotus position meditation difficult and distracting.

Instead of trying to force yourself to sit in the “proper” position, where the discomfort of the body may hinder your ability to relax into a mindful state, Penman suggests that all you need is a Chair, a Body, some Air, your Mind, and that’s it! Although developing different positions and postures may be great in the long-run, your practice shouldn’t be held back on that account.

Overall, The Art of Breathing receives a big, two-thumbs-up recommendation. Although much of the content about breathwork, mindfulness, and meditation can be obtained from many other sources, Penman’s book stands out in its artistic presentation. This gives the work a sense of wholeness and integrity, which helps immerse the reader more deeply and immediately in the quality of awareness that is the subject of the book. And while it’s a short book – you can easily read the whole thing in an hour – its wisdom and exercises are so easy to return to that you’ll want to find it a prominent space on your shelf.

Super Tarot, by Sasha Fenton

Super Tarot: Interpret the Cards Like a Pro, by Sasha Fenton
Hampton Roads Publishing, 164970197, 176 pages, February 2021

Sasha Fenton’s Super Tarot: Interpret the Cards Like a Pro is an instructive paperback that seems to be gaining popularity as I write this! It features a rather encouraging forward, written by Theresa “the Tarot Lady” Reed. There’s not much else to add about the forward, as it is only 2 ½ pages long, but it does complement the rest of the book nicely. I found myself excited to turn the page toward the book’s 1st chapter, even though I already comfortably involve tarot reading in my own personal practices!

Of course, we all can always learn more, and improve our skills for everything we do, but honing my own skills in tarot specifically is why I picked up Super Tarot, and boy, did Sasha Fenton deliver! Fenton, a professional astrologer, palmist, and tarot card reader since 1974,  is also a well established instructive writer on divination, and Super Tarot adds another to the over 100 books in her already massive repertoire. I’m only focusing on one of her books for now, though, and that’s Super Tarot

The very first (honestly refreshing might I add) thing I noticed about this book is the feeling of almost casual friendliness that shone through page after page. Fenton seems more like a friend giving advice than an author telling you what to do. I liked the overall positivity of finding several examples of what you should do as well, rather than seeing the negative counterpart of  teaching what you shouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and value the importance of warning beginners of the potential downsides one may face, but as someone with mental disabilities, having more than one different example helps me to better understand the abstract concepts I can struggle with.

Speaking of several examples of things to do, I learned an interesting spread from this book that I somehow hadn’t come across before. I know I’m no expert on tarot reading myself, but I had already gotten comfortable enough with the Past, Present, and Future spread to not really have many questions of how to advance it, but this book sure did give me an answer that turned out to be something I found Incredibly useful! I was nearly complacent in drawing just one card for each of the elements in the title of the Past, Present, and Future tarot reading, all totaling a count of three cards. From Super Tarot, on page 112, I found a spread that actually involves drawing two cards for each of the past, present, and future elements, totaling in a 6 card spread.

Right then, I put the book down for a few minutes, and picked up my tarot cards! The 6-card spread resulted in a far more accurate, and informative reading than I had ever gotten from pulling just 3 cards, and that might seem obvious, but remember, I was already comfortable with the amount of information I’d gotten with the way I was already doing the Past, Present, and Future spread, so to have even more to work with was amazing to me. I already feel more confident in my own reading abilities by just practicing one exercise from Super Tarot.

Simple as my own discovery may seem, Super Tarot is not geared towards beginners. Fenton forgoes the usual “what is,” and history chapters for only a few beginner tips, and a brief review of the Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, and card suits, before jumping right into her more advanced instructions on interpretation and skill building. If one would like to gain a more comprehensive beginning look at tarot from this author, Fenton herself directs the readers of Super Tarot to a different book of her works: “My book, Fortune Telling By Tarot Cards, is designed for beginners.”1

That doesn’t stop Fenton from continuing her reputation for writing in a clear style that’s easy to understand with Super Tarot, however. This book is filled with comprehensible, useful infographics that depict clear examples as well. While it’s not a new idea, there is still a bit of book mechanics information to note: In the suit’s description of Super Tarot, Fenton uses Pages, and Coins to describe the cards of those ranks. Respectively, other common names used to refer to those cards are Princes/Princesses, and Pentacles.

Overall, and as a person with disabilities that cause me to struggle with the abstract symbolism and emotional concepts that make up the very essence of tarot card reading, Super Tarot has helped me immeasurably. Author Sasha Fenton’s down to earth tone, and clear instructions with different examples to follow them from will stay with me, as I feel more confident than ever in my understanding of the interpretation of tarot card readings.

I enthusiastically recommend Super Tarot to any who might struggle with the same issues I do, or those who simply want to strengthen their grasp on tarot reading for any reason. You might even close the book with the inspiration to offer your own readings as a service for some extra cash! As for me though, the knowledge and confidence I’ve gained by reading this book, has allowed me the motivation to broaden, and personalize  my personal tarot divination practice by creating my own unique card spreads. If you need me, I’ll be shuffling my cards!

The Goddess Book, by Nancy Blair

The Goddess Book: A celebration of witches, queens, healers, and crones, by Nancy Blair and illustrated by Thalia Took
Hampton Roads Publishing, 1642970203, 234 pages, April 2021

It’s not every day that I have the opportunity to invite 52 friends into my home, but that’s what happened when Nancy Blair’s book, The Goddess Book arrived at my doorstep. As I happily opened the door to retrieve the book, so too did I gladly open myself up to welcoming these goddesses into my life to share their wisdom with me. As Nancy writes in the Preface, “our Goddess heritage and her story, the greatest story never told, brought me home.”1 She continues:

“Goddess spirituality brought me home: to my Self, to the innate wisdom of my body, to our living Earth body, and the body of women’s wisdom long repressed. The return of the Goddess is a rising tide that cannot be held back.”2

I was attracted to the book as I wanted to participate in the celebration of witches, queens, healers, and crones — pretty great company if you ask me. I liked that Nancy worked with the Goddesses in a seasonal way, 13 Goddesses for each season. I read the book in its entirety, but then I focused on the Goddesses of Spring as that is the current season where I live.

I’ll keep this book out the entire year, and I plan on working with one Goddess a week based on the season to allow for a deeper relationship with each. I am really enjoying being introduced to Goddesses with whom I wasn’t aware of such as Vila (Spring), Oshun (Summer), Ungnyeo (Fall), and Aida Wedo (Winter). I also welcomed reconnecting with some of my favorites such as Tara (Spring), Selena (Summer), Baba Yago (Fall), and Brigit (Winter). 

The book has a very brief introduction for each season before profiling the 13 Goddesses. There is a short description of the Goddess followed by an exercise to work with the Goddess and a related affirmation.

Thalia Took’s illustrations remind me of beautifully colored woodcuts that greatly enhance the writings. As the author is also an artist, I thought it a great testimony to Took’s talent that Nancy chose her to illustrate the book rather than doing so herself. I absolutely loved the illustrations, some favorites were the multi-breasted Diana of Ephesus, Inanna bejeweled in stars and the moon, and Willendorf, the first time I’ve seen her portrayed in a two-dimensional with a face rather than the tiny sculpture of which I’m most familiar. 

Nancy is an artist and published author (Amulets of the Goddess: Oracle of Ancient Wisdom) who imparts a Mother Earth-based familiarity with these Goddesses in an approachable way. With Demeter, for example, we meet the Goddess whose Roman name, Cere, is where the word cereal is derived. One is encouraged to “invite Demeter to feast with you as Autumn’s light grows thin.”3 The three-line accompanying affirmation focuses on healthy food and nourishment. The illustration of Demeter shows a woman with long blonde hair resembling corn, cloaked in green.

We meet Sophia in the Winter season. As Holy Wisdom, she will “lead you to your true destiny.”4 In the Affirmation we hold “inner wisdom as my road map.”5 She is illustrated as with the almond-shaped eyes reminiscent of a Byzantine image. The yoke of her cloak is covered in similarly almond-shaped stones that mirror her eyes. 

Danu, the Great Goddess, appears in Spring. We see her in profile, rooted leaves forming her hair. All in green, her upper body and face are covered in the spirals that are most identified with Celtic art as she is the “Great Mother Goddess, from whom all Irish gods descend.”6 The affirmation calls us to embrace our power.

Summer introduces us to Yemaya, Goddess of the Sea. A dark-skinned woman, she is cloaked in a patterned batik fabric. Shells adorn her upper arm, neck, and ears. She is a “mother spirit: matron spirit of women, especially pregnant women.”7 Call on Yemaya to “release you from old beliefs, thoughts, or feelings that seem to enslave you and keep you estranged from your sacred Self.”8

As I said, this book will be a reference for all the seasons to connect with the many different Goddesses who support us on our path. The Goddess Book packs a lot of information and offers empowering affirmations. I recommend using this as a guidebook, inviting these Goddesses to become your companions as you move through your life and the wheel of the year. Meditate on them, embrace them, and accept the guidance they are providing. Blair and Took have done a wonderful job of depicting the many facets of the great Goddess and bringing them all to life.