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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 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.

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.