Critical Thinking is Critical to Spiritual Pursuit
Carol Horton; doctor of philosophy, social scientist, research consultant and academic is no stranger to critical thinking.
But she was an innocent and cerebral guest in her own body until she brought that body to yoga class intent on adding something new to her fitness regime. What ensued was an enthusiastic quest for uncovering the history, the mystery and the totality of yoga. When an inquisitive scholar scrutinizes a mystery it is bound to be more than a superficial embrace. As superficiality is contradictory to yoga, it does not seem incongruous to me that an intellectual found herself absorbed in every aspect of the enigmatic phenomenon called yoga. However Yoga Ph.D. begins with the premise that this was an unlikely or at least unexpected coupling. As complex a subject as yoga and its effect is, perhaps the irony is not that an academic embraces yoga but that anyone with less than an intellectual interest is willing to pursue it at all.
In a mere 150 pages, 8 short chapters and three sections; Historical Reflections, Personal Reflections and Sociological Reflections, the author manages to paint a comprehensive and succinct picture of the history of yoga, offer a well told tale of an accidental pilgrimage into a mysterious practice, and contribute to the notion that there are no longer yoga people but people who do yoga and these people have created a definition of what modern yoga is.
I met Carol Horton through her blogging where I was often the commentator responding with apocalyptic and jaded observations; yeah people are weird, so what. But she is the rare bird who is not rattled but buoyed by a challenge.
Her cool demeanor and ability to take on any controversy without vitriol is unusual. It is not surprising that what may appear to be just another yoga book amongst many is not. It is social commentary, history, politics and America in the context of an autobiography that is meticulously documented and informs with remarkable clarity as she organizes her thoughts for the reader’s greatest benefit. Horton plumbs the depths of the subject of yoga with an objective and calm approach while revealing her own journey with a dispassionate tone that will resonate with a wide audience.
I read the book as a galley before it went to press. Carol published the compilation 21st Century Yoga first and by the time I’d read and reviewed that I was a bit weary of the yoga discussion in general and took a break from thinking about yoga except where it was me doing it or teaching it. When Ph.D. was later published I set out to read it again for the sake of a review but life got in the way and it sits on a great stack of deliciously anticipated reading by my bed. It has occurred to me that a book reviewed long after it has been read is a brilliant idea. After all, when it comes to a scholastic work (which I consider this to be) it’s not in the reading but the retention that one fully comprehends the meaning of the written word.
The take away from Yoga Ph.D. is this: Here is a concise and tidy history of modern yoga. Beyond that is a well told tale of a person who finds another dimension to herself. Finally and perhaps most relevant is that this is a book that opens a discussion of modern yoga and the humanity that embraces it.
Where some embrace the popular notion of the poet Rumi that there is a field beyond right and wrong where we should meet, this author believes that yoga has the potential to, if not level, then even the playing field.
In the last few decades it is common for what once seemed unlikely candidates to become yoga enthusiasts Where yoga was once a pursuit of the fringe, eccentrics and earnest young rebels it is now the exercise program of choice for countless professionals; CEOs, doctors, lawyers, engineers as well as the playground for people from all walks of life, all manner of profession. Many great and curious minds have been blown by body/mind experiences that expose previously conceived concrete reality as no longer absolute.
What makes Horton’s experience singular is that she wrote about it, gave it context, history, and a long view that includes the implications of how society affects and alters the things it claims as its own. A study of modern yoga reveals that who does yoga eventually will define what yoga is. An individual stamps and creates the practice once the practice has left its mark. With Yoga Ph.D., Carol Horton leaves her mark.