Book Review: Pranayama – The Breath of Yoga

“Yoga has become very popular around the world, but unfortunately this popularity extends only to asana (posture).  It has gone so far that students now use the term yoga to refer to asana only, and pranayama is thought of as something exotic or strange. However, in yogic tradition pranayama has always taken center stage and asana is looked at as preparation or groundwork for pranayama.”


In this way, beloved yoga instructor Gregor Maehle introduces a fundamental paradigm in his third book: Pranayama – The Breath of Yoga.  Through and through, Maehle removes all doubts that pranayama solely concerns breathing for its own sake.  Topics ranging from kundalini raising to doshas typology are presented as the natural effects of careful breath work.  After reading Maehle’s book for the first time I became convinced that it was the complete yet completely accessible account of pranayama I had been searching for.

Clarity is one of its great strengths.  Maehle’s unique voice is well suited to providing an academically satisfying account of breath work without ever sounding verbose.  Moreover, he makes space in his prose to tell stories, provide practical advice, and teach the actual techniques; an astonishing accomplishment for a book of merely 300 pages.  Indeed, having read Pranayama – The Breath of Yoga twice through, I still discover passages which inspire me to develop my own potential as a writer and yogi. Here’s one great example:

“The great siddha Goraksha Natha explained in his Goraksha Shataka that, as long as prana moves, mind moves, and when prana is stilled the mind is stilled as well.  A still mind can be used like a still lake to see one’s own reflection.”

Now on my third pass, each time I open Maehle’s book I feel as if I am transported into a familiar museum exhibit in which sweeping historical records of yoga’s past and promise are presented with marvelous transparency.  Despite my habit of examining a diverse array of books written on the topic pranayama, Maehle’s work happens to be the only one which I compulsively read and reread.  Pranayama – The Breath of Yoga is a must-read for anyone who is looking to get more out of their own pranayama practice, or perhaps develop their own practice in lieu of a guru.

Luckily, YVT is a haven for pranayama aspirants.  I personally plan on practicing a special vinyasa sequence with breathing techniques built-in during my next class.  I hope you can make it!


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