Z is for Zen

A few Zen sayings come to mind.

“Eat when hungry; sleep when tired.”  Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.

“Zen is like looking for the spectacles that are sitting on your nose.”  Sometimes truth is so obvious and simple that it is difficult to see.

“Act without agitation; strive without strain.”   Zen summary of how to pursue yoga.

Zen is all about simplicity and clarity. For an example in the world of yoga, consider the work of Indra Devi.  In the 1930s she was Krishnamacharya’s first Western female student.  He was impressed by her and encouraged her to teach.  She spent her life traveling and teaching internationally (she died in 2002 at age 102), including among her pupils celebrities and Hollywood movie stars.  She wrote two books, first Forever Young, Forever Healthy and then Yoga for Americans.  The first book in 1953 describes Devi’s personal yoga journey.  It then summarizes the various types of yoga and proceeds to focus on Hatha yoga.  It describes the practice and benefits of asanas, including the importance of correct breathing and integration of yogic principles into one’s lifestyle.  The book concludes with an illustrated section on 29 asanas.


The second book, written in 1959 to “give a clearer understanding of Yoga,” lays out a simple yoga practice that addresses total body fitness.  Indra Devi selected for this practice 27 asanas plus a few mudras and bandhas.  Using little Sanskrit, she clearly describes and illustrates the practice, including proper breathing. While this particular practice would not be suitable for everybody, it is a fine example of a well-explained practical yoga program that is well within reach of average people who are looking for a complete routine that keeps their minds and bodies healthy with a reasonable investment of time and effort.  The book also briefly discusses energy flow, chakras, and philosophical aspects of yoga such as meditation.  All in all, Yoga for Americans (later retitled and reissued as Yoga for You) is an unpretentious book that conveys the basic approach of hatha yoga, in the context of raja yoga, with a complete absence of jargon and complexity.

A final thought -- Hatha Yoga Pradipika reminds us in a Zen-like way:
"Yoga succeeds by these six: enthusiasm, openness, courage, knowledge of the truth, determination, and solitude."

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