Book reviews

Book Review: The Breathing Book

Title : The Breathing Book – Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work
Author- Donna Farhi
Format : Paperback
Pages: 237
Availability : Widely available – amazon

Donna Farhi is a renowned yoga teacher and teacher trainer. Her experience and skill have made her a popular guest teacher and retreat leader throughout the world. She has authored four books including Yoga, Mind, Body and Spirit, Teaching Yoga, Bringing Your Yoga to Life and The Breathing Book. The Breathing Book is a bit different from other books on breathing. As Farhi explains, it is not a “how-to-do”manual but rather, a “how-to-undo”manual. We spend our lives constantly striving to achieve and accomplish, always trying to catch up (Farhi refers to this as the “hurry up bug”) We convince ourselves that we will take the time to relax later, always later. We are always “trying hard” in our lives. This is not the correct approach to breathing. Instead of trying hard to learn a specific technique of breathing, she suggests that we instead we learn to identify and remove the obstacles which obstruct our essential breath. It is more about uncovering and rediscovering than about learning something new.

Breathing seems simple. After all, we do it as soon as we are born. We breathe when we are sleeping. As simple an act as it may seem, breathing has a direct impact on every aspect of our physical and mental well-being. The quality of breath is essential to the quality of life. True, no one has to teach a baby how to breathe, but somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we have forgotten how to breathe correctly. And now, as adults, we must unlearn our unhealthy breath holding patterns and rediscover what we knew as small children.
The book begins with a number of exercises ranging from ten to thirty minutes. But these aren’t typical exercises. Farhi refers to them as inquiries – inquiries that the reader makes of his own body. First he must become conscious of the connection between breath and movement. Next he learns to become conscious of his own breathing patterns and identify any obstacles obstructing his natural breath. These inquiries are executed alone or with a partner, standing, sitting, supine, squatting…The book follows with a brief anatomy lesson, describing the primary respiratory muscles and the secondary respiratory muscles, and the role of the three diaphragms (thoracic, pelvic and vocal) in the act of breathing. A restriction in any of these diaphragms will prevent quality breathing. Farhi next describes common breath holding patterns: including reverse breathing, where the belly moves in on the inhalation and not, as it should, on the exhalation; chest breathing, where the abdomen is in a state of constant contracting, preventing the thoracic diaphragm from its downward journey; collapsed breathing; hyperventilation: throat holding; and breath grabbing; and frozen breathing. These holding patterns must be unlearnt.
Farhi proposes a number of gentle yoga stretches to relax the body and stretch the tight muscles that restrict the body from moving as it should during a full breath. She also includes several restorative yoga poses. These poses are designed to relax the body. Achieving deep relaxation allows the reader to “follow the lure of the breath”, not grabbing, but letting the breath come naturally and enjoying it. Farhi also includes a few traditional yoga breathing techniques, including Kapalabhati,,considered a cleansing breath in yoga, and alternate nostril breathing. She also includes breathing through a straw (breathacizer, anyone?). She provides some fun alternatives to breathing through a straw, including bubble blowing, chanting, singing or blowing through a musical instrument. Farhi also includes a number of exercises to be performed with one’s partner.
In the last part of the book, Farhi includes practice guides for specific problems, from asthma, to eating disorders to pain relief.

The Breathing Book is as much about mindfulness and living in the present moment as it is about breathing. As noted above, it is not a book that teaches us a correct way to breathe, but causes us to question ourselves, our bodies and how our lifestyle affects and perturbs our breathing and consequently, our well-being. It is not a book that provides answers, but one that asks questions. It is up to the reader to find his own answers. How does he breathe? What are the obstacles? How can he remove those obstacles?
Is this book for you? Perhaps I can help you answer that question by describing by my own experience. Performing some of the preliminary inquiries when I first purchased this book a few years ago led me to realize that I was holding my breath. A lot. We are supposed to have a natural pause at the end of every inhalation and exhalation, but we are not supposed to actually hold our breath for more than a few seconds. Additionally, I was holding my stomach in most of the time. Contracting one’s abdominals at all times prevents the diaphragm from descending as it should. This has a host of negative effects. I realized how difficult it was (and still is) for me to actually relax my stomach. Society conditions us to pull our stomach in, (perhaps to appear thinner?). I am able to relax my stomach muscles while performing breathing exercises in the privacy of my home, but not while I am out and about. ( Lest any of you feel “judgey”, come back and talk to me after you’ve had four kids!) A few years ago, I thought I had herniated a disk. I was determined to heal it on my own by holding my back very straight to give the disk the chance to heal and the herniation to be reabsorbed. Consequently, I held my back very straight, engaging my abdominals at all times. After about a month, I started experiencing nausea regularly. I assumed I had developed acid reflux . Both my parents and my brother suffer from it. I sadly resigned myself to giving up acid foods, chocolate, basically everything I love. Soon after, I experienced chest pain. For about five minutes, I actually thought I was having a heart attack. I don’t have any risk factors, but my father has heart disease. After a bit of research, I started doing some breathing exercises and relaxing my abdominal muscles. And lo and behold, all of my nausea and chest pains disappeared and have never returned since. I have resumed eating my beloved chocolate and drinking my green chai tea. Since that time, I have questioned everyone I encountered who suffered from a herniated disk and inquired as to whether they also had digestion problems. Almost everyone responded in the affirmative.

I will not say whether this book is for you, but I would suggest that you take a few moments to examine your own breathing. Does it flow freely and naturally or do you find yourself gasping for breath. Do you shoulders rise when you inhale? If so, it is possible that you are a chest breather, which causes you to use your secondary respiratory muscles, the scalene, trapezius, sternocleidomastoid and pecs as your prime movers, instead of the primary respiratory muscles, diaphragm, intercostals and abdominals. This can cause tension, neck and shoulder pain, headaches… My father, who as I mentioned has heart disease, is a chest breather. Just saying…. If you find that you are not breathing well, than this book could help you. The Breathing Book, unlike some of the other books on breathing that I have read, is not an intimidating read reserved for yogis and teachers. It is a book to keep by your nightstand, to reach for when you have a few minutes for the inquiries, a book to give to your eighty year old mother or your chronically stressed best friend. IS it for you? Well, you decide…

Book reviews

Book Review: Trail Guide to the Body

Title: Trail Guide to the Body: A Hands-on Guide to Locating Muscles, Bones and More
Author: Andrew Biel
Published: Fourth edition, 2010. However, there is a fifth edition, published in 2014. More on this later.
Format: Spiral-bound
Pages: 433, including indexes
Availability : widely available (purchased on Amazon)
Photos: No photos, but hundreds of color illustrations. Certain copies include a dvd. Purchasers of the fifth edition have a number of digital resources available to them.
Other related items available but not included: student workbook, flashcards, field guide, powerpoint, audio guide.
Description: Andrew Biel is a licensed massage therapist. According to his editorial description, he has served on the faculties of massage therapy colleges and taught cadaver studies. He is President of Books of Discovery, which is described on the Books of Discovery website as “an educational multimedia company, specializing in user-friendly musculoskeletal, palpatory, anatomy, and kinesiology tools for the manual therapy fields.” Trail Guide to the Body (let’s just call it “Trail Guide” for short) was first published in 1977 and has since been reissued several times. I am reviewing the fourth edition because that is the one I happen to own. The fifth edition, published last year, apparently includes an index of trigger point locations and pain patterns of over 100 muscles, which sounds quite interesting. If anyone has the newer addition, please let us know what you think. Trail Guide is recommended reading for certain state and federal licensing tests administered by various massage therapy boards and associations.
Trail Guide, like most anatomy books, begins in Chapter 1, Navigating the Body, by explaining and describing the different regions of the body, planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, transverse), the different types of movement, i.e. extension , rotation, etc. (later described for each region of the body) and the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, nervous, and lymphatic systems. The rest of the book is broken down into six chapters, one for each body region – Shoulder & Arms, Forearm & hand, Spine & Thorax, Head, Neck & Face, Pelvis & Thigh and finally, Leg & Foot. Each chapter begins with topographical views. As the author states, knowing the “lay of the land” is important before embarking on any journey. Following are the subsections “Exploring the Skin & Fascia”, which guide the reader through mini explorations meant to be performed with a partner. Next are detailed illustrations of the bones and bony landmarks, called “trail markers”. The book provides several bony landmark trails in each chapter, the idea being that the reader will come to a much clearer understanding of the different structures of the human body and how these structures are connected if he is provided with a “trail”, hence the name of the book. Each page contains numerous illustrations, with step by step instructions for finding one’s way across the trail. After the bones subsection, each chapter proceeds to describe the muscles in each region – their actions, origin, insertion and nerve innervations, together with step-by-step palpitation instructions. Often the page contains a bubble description “When Do You Use Your ….”. The author provides examples that are easy for the reader to understand. For example, you use your suboccipitals when shampooing and your trapezius when holding a phone between your shoulder and ear.
Review: Trail Guide is a wonderful resource for manual therapists and movement experts such as pilates teachers. Although pilates teachers do not need to “talk anatomy” to their students, it is essential for them to have an understanding of the body’s structure and how these structures are connected and to be able to identify what they are seeing in their students. The book is very easy to understand. The illustrations are extremely clear (color helps – a lot) and the language used is quite simple and informal. The book also includes a pronunciation guide. For those of you who want to to know if, for example, the word “tubercle” is pronounced tu ber kl or tu ber kl, it is the former. At times, there is a hint of humor in the text. For example “ants and bees, both revered for their intelligence and diligence, have roughly 250 and 900 nerve cells, respectively, in their entire bodies. Humans, who do not always demonstrate such qualities, have an estimated 10,000,000,000 nerve cells in the brain alone.” The book is best read with a partner because it is intended to provide not only a visual but also sensory understanding of the body. However, even without a partner, at least for the purposes of a pilates teacher, it is very easy understand and having a partner, although preferable, is not essential. Unfortunately, no one in my family wanted to be the object of my palpitory studies (I wonder why). .
To Buy or Borrow: to buy.
Additional Information : a new book by the same author entitled “Trail Guide to Movement – Building the Body in Motion” is now available.

Book reviews

Book Review: Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates

Title : The Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates
Author: Brooke Siler and the Editors of Women’s Health
Publisher: Rodale
Year: 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 426
Availability: Widely available on amazon, etc.
Description and Review:
Brooke Siler is the founder of the extremely successful studio, re:AB Pilates, in New York City, a bestselling author (The Pilates Body, The Pilates Body Kit, Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge and her most recent book, The Pilates Health Big Book of Pilates). She has also created several pilates dvds. Before I review her most recent book, I feel that I should admit to being a little biased. My interest in pilates was first sparked after reading an article about pilates in Vogue Magazine in the 80’s that featured Brooke and actress/model Michelle Hicks. The Pilates Body was my first pilates book purchase, long before I had ever taken a pilates class. I also have Brooke’s other books. Because I have something of a pilates and wellness book obsession, I logically bought The Big Book of Pilates as soon as it became available. I was skeptical however, that it could possibly contain anything new. After all, there are now thousands of pilates books on the market (an amazon search yields 6,858 results ; while some of those may be repeats, that is still a lot of books). Well, I was wrong. I was excited to find new inspiration, particularly for my home workouts. Sometimes, however, life gets in the way, even of pilates. Last year, I bought a house, sold a house and moved my family of six and all our stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. More stuff than a family of six and possibly a developing country should have, including a hell of a lot of books. And so my home workouts suffered and my library was in a state of disarray. But now that things have settled down and that I been able to go through the book in greater detail. I am once again excited about it.
This book is called the Big Book of Pilates with reason. Not so imposing in size, it its 426 pages are absolutely crammed with information, a surprising amount of information. There are over 263 exercises in the book, at least according the cover. Now I confess that I did not go count them all individually (you are welcome to do so ), but I am willing to believe it. The first few chapters are devoted to a description of pilates, a brief biography of Joseph Pilates, an explanation of pilates terms, safety considerations, a question and answer section (Brooke answers the question that every pilates teacher inevitably gets asked – “what is the difference between pilates and yoga,” as well as others, such as whether pregnant or injured people do pilates, what to wear, etc.). I even learned that Joseph Pilates’ niece, Mary Pilates, pronounces the name “Pilates” differently than what I thought to be the correct pronunciation. The book contains photos of the large and small pilates apparatuses (Gratz) and a section on the piIates “elders”, as they have come to be known, with the ones that everyone knows, Romana, Carola, Kathy Grant, Ron Fletcher, Jay Grimes, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen and Mary Pilates, but also Bruce King and Bob Seed. It also includes a ten page section on nutrition entitled Pilates for Your Plate. The writing style is informal and motivating. The format is also designed to motivate, nice glossy pages, hundreds of beautiful color photos, detailed instructions, with diagrams and arrows and other comments accompanying the photos
The mat series is divided into three levels, not the classic three levels that we may be used to seeing, but instead something rather similar to how a teacher would structure a class. Each level has a starter section, a main section and suggested endings, including work on the wall, standing exercises, arm weights exercises. Included are also instructions on transitions and some fresh takes on the classic exercises, such as squat thrusts, jump through to the hundred transition, up-stretch combo. There is even a special section on pushups and planks, which includes a lot of fun variations, such as spider planks, plank jacks, and elephant planks. Each level ends with a page showing the entire sequence for quick reference. The pushup section is followed by a section entitled archival starters and endings and includes some standing and balance work.
Chapter 7 of the book brings us to the home studio section of the book. This part shows us how we can use props to create a complete and inexpensive home studio. The props include the magic circle, arm weights, toe corrector, elastic bands, ankle straps, handles, steps, large ball and medium ball. There is also a homemade toe corrector and something interesting called a tensatoner, (which I have, unfortunately been unable to locate on the internet). Elastic bands and a door stopper, can, for example, be used to replicate many of the reformer and cadillac based exercises, including the arm series, rowing, kneeling arm springs, swakate and many, many others. Following the band section is the ball section. Lest the purists start to grumble, Brooke clearly states that the balls are not part of the classical pilates system; in fact, her exact words are “let me say loud and clear that there was never such a thing as a Pilates ball.” However, as she demonstrates, there are many fun ways to integrate the balls into an at-home pilates workout if one doesn’t have a reformer or Cadillac, chairs or barrels on hand. All of the exercises shown are takes on the classical exercises, including the push-through and the rollback from the cadillac, the saw from the mat, the swan from the ladder barrel and the swimming from the spine corrector, as well as several others. The triad ball stands in for the small barrel in several exercises, such as the helicopter and the bicycle. Stackable steps are used in place of the chairs for exercises such as footwork, going up and pushups. The aforementioned tensatoner is used in place of a foot corrector, can also stand in for a magic circle and is also used with the steps in the wunda-chair-like exercises. Finally, there is also a section devoted to the magic circle.
Following the props section is a chapter called Pilates by Posture that briefly summarizes the most common postural problems (i.e. flatback, Kyphotic-lordotic posture, swayback and scoliosis) and recommends exercises to correct them. Next, the book includes a chapter, Pin-Point Pilates which targets particular areas of the body, abs, back, , glutes, arms, thighs, legs, and feet. Following Pin-Point Pilates is Pilates by Purpose, where the reader takes a quick test to choose a fitness goal, cardio, and calorie burn, breathing and endurance, flexibility and mobility and strength and stability. Each goal has a suggested workout plan. The subsequent chapter is entitled Pilates by Pursuit, and includes the exercises most appropriate for running, swimming and cycling. The last chapter, Pilates RX, suggests exercises to ease chronic aches in the back, neck, knees and shoulders. Finally, there are two pages devoted to resources: continuing education, online classes, clothing, books, dvds and accessories.
To borrow or to buy: definitely buy. As I mentioned above, I bought this book because I loved Brooke Siler’s previous books. I was certain, however, that, with the multitude of pilates books now available, this would be a rehash of the same old information. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong, a rare thing (just kidding. It is only rare for me to admit to being wrong). Not only would I recommend The Big Book of Pilates to my students who cannot come in more than once a week or who are off on vacation for months at a time (as the French are known to do in the summer), but I would also recommend it to teachers for their own at-home workouts, for newbie teachers to help them structure their classes and even to veteran teachers to freshen and spice up their work. The book has so much information that there really is something for everyone.