I remember when I saw a request going around on Facebook, for a project called “The Yoga Diaries.” A young woman I didn’t really know was asking for people’s accounts of how yoga has changed their lives. Eventually, this person circulated into my consciousness also as the social media manager for one of my very favorite authors, Stephen Cope. She and I shared some sweet exchanges on Twitter, mostly about our mutual admiration of Stephen and how to get him in front of more and more people. And then, years later, as these things happen, again I saw her pop up on Facebook, now with Forrest Yoga colleagues of mine—for a book launch! The Yoga Diaries: Stories of Transformations Through Yoga had manifest in the world! My friend and colleague and fellow Forrest Yoga Guardian, Colleen Millen was among the contributors. Colleen has been writing for years about using yoga to help her with depression, and is a remarkably thoughtful, caring person. I was happy to see that she contributed! The book’s editor, Jeannie Page, reached out to me personally to ask me to write a review. I was delighted to receive this request, and even more so when I received in the mail a signed copy of the book.
Jeannie’s kindness is all over this project. From the concept itself, to the graceful introduction that Stephen Cope wrote her, and the various wonderful endorsements from yoga luminaries like Ana Forrest and Elena Brower. The book drips with good karma.
The The Yoga Diaries is divided into categories that will help the reader seek out the areas focus that interest them the most. The sections are: physical healing, emotional healing, overcoming adversity, and living your purpose.
In the section Physical Healing there are stories of low bone density, weight loss, lupus, disc herniation, car crash, and stroke. In part 2, “Emotional Healing,” there are accounts of overcoming depression, the suicide attempts of a parent, insomnia with panic attacks and anxiety, trying to live up to your family’s expectations, the early death of a parent, and more. In “Overcoming Adversity” contributors tell about a myriad of tragedies including the murder of a child, surmounting drug addiction, unexpectedly birthing a child with severe disabilities, the divorce of one’s parents, the early death of a parent, becoming blind, and recovering from the kind of injury that robs you of your life’s dream. Finally, in the section “Living Your Purpose,” yogis recount stories of how yoga helped them move from a life and lifestyle that was unfulfilling and unhappy into ones that are filled with happiness and enthusiasm about their day-to-day activities, and the vision of their futures.
There is something here for everyone, and I read many a story that moved me to tears. Among the contributors were people I’ve known for years, like teachers Desiree Rumbaugh and J Brown, but people whose “back stories” I didn’t know. So often these kinds of stories go untold, because they are too personal or too painful or they aren’t really the kind of thing that you share with your yoga students at a random Tuesday evening yoga class, or even with friends at a dinner party. But they are the stories that really have value. In fact, these kinds of stories are invaluable because they tell about how people change. What kind of a price tag can you put on change for the better? This is the promise of yoga, and these stories help us to really establish the value proposition of yoga itself.
This is the kind of book that I might give to a person in my life who is thinking about doing yoga, but doesn’t really know what it is about, or who thinks that you already need to be fit and flexible to go to class. The stories are short: some no more than two pages. The writing skill of each contributor varies widely. Some are accomplished and published authors. Others are writing in their second language. And I think that this format and variety works to the book’s advantage: I envision it as accessible, and even attractive, to a variety of people. The contributors are men and women and of a wide range of ages and from around the world. Jeannie did a wonderful job curating this collection.
If anything my only critique is that the brevity of the stories often left me wanting more. This says more about me, than it does about any shortcoming of the project or the writers, and certainly I understand that Jeannie needed to put a container around the writing. The story of “how to we change, and how did yoga do it?” is a remarkably complex one with a slow story-line that often unfolds over years and decades. It’s a difficult tale to even contemplate telling, and the skill of the writer must be expert level to make it understandable and compelling. This, I think, is what makes Stephen Cope’s writing so very remarkable, and as an understudy and apprentice to him, I certainly hope that we can look forward to more in-depth, detailed projects from Jeannie Page.