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by David Shannahoff-Khalsa
W. W. Norton, 2010
Review by Alex Jenson on Jan 25th 2011
This is a one-off kind of book which does not fall neatly into any specific category.
It is an uneasy blend of practical manual, psycho-social history, academic postulating and spiritual call-to-arms, laced with a dash of the writer's own individual outlook on power, authority and the machinations of modern psychiatry. I doubt there is any book quite like this, and if there is, I am sure that it would struggle to be as bold, complex and intriguing as Dr. David S. Shannahoff-Khalsa's work.
It is the antithesis of most books you would find in the high street 'self-help' section, although I was left with the nagging question of who exactly it might appeal to. This question arose because the title is slightly misleading and does not really do justice to the quality, range and depth of material found within. This is a book that contains practical yoga exercises to help people diagnosed with all variants of personality disorders, from the mildly depressed to the deeply narcissistic. It lays out, in convincing detail, with the aid of photographs, practical yoga exercises for sufferers of all conditions. However, it is in fact, much, much more than a mere 'exercise manual'.
It contains a well researched history of psychiatry. There is lots of social context history with regard to all the categories of mental ill health, tracing the evolution of psychopathy and the categorizations that have developed to help clinicians diagnose all variants of mental ill health. There are a lot of sections bursting with facts and figures, backed up by reference to various worldwide studies -- this is minutiae for researchers who are looking for information that will bolster their own theories and arguments and is not of any real interest to a general reader.
The narrative is part spiritual and polemical, because the author is clearly in tune with and a deep believer in the power of spiritual healing -- but he is not averse to firing off the odd potshot at the establishment -- example being a very funny passage where he writes about the definition of delusional disorder and suggests that those in authority may be more prone to this than anyone. He does not back this up with reference to anyone in particular, but it's an interesting idea and it highlights the unconventionality of this book.
Kundalini yoga will please academics in the mental Heath field, practitioners in mental Health, postgraduates and psychology/nursing undergraduates looking for accessible material. There is some use of technical and academic language in places, but on the whole, this does not impede the reading experience.
I don't believe that Kundalini Yoga would be that interesting to the general reader, or even someone with a more-than-passing interest in mental health issues, unless you have a strong interest in human behaviour and psychology. The author's insights into the human condition are convincing and incisive. This is someone who has spent a lot of years working in the front line, and he knows exactly what he is talking about, even if he is coming at you from a radically different perspective.
The case studies are very interesting and highlight the problem of diagnosis in a real world environment. The author references many of his own patients, and as well as showing how the yoga techniques he 'prescribed' have aided their mental recovery, he also does a good job of sketching out the patient history -- the hows and whys behind their diagnoses. This is intuitively good writing. The author understands his audience's need for a deeper context, for some explanation and exploration of the illnesses he confronts. But the reader is also left with no doubt that this author abhors the use of labeling. He is a humanist who tackles the malfunctions of the human spirit by raising an awareness of the 'spiritual' realm of experience. As someone who had never really given this much consideration before, I have to say that he sold it to me. I have attempted many of the most difficult yoga routines outlined in the book and I have started to use these on an almost daily basis. The results so far have been very encouraging. While I am not really in a position to comment on the effectiveness of all the yoga protocols for dealing with the full range of psychiatric conditions, at the very least, this is an eye-opening book.
In his exploration of the yogic protocols, Khalsa presents 27 yogic personality definitions with positive, negative and neutral states of each. The techniques are presented in great detail, with easy-to-follow instructions and I would encourage anybody who has not found answers from modern psychiatry to take a closer look at this book.
As the author says in one passage, "Modern academic psychiatry is very good at defining what traits we do not want to develop, but it does very little to emphasize what traits we can and should develop."
A truly original book, all the more convincing because it comes from someone who is practicing what he preaches, in the real world, with plenty of evidence to suggest that what he espouses, has positive outcomes for a cross-section of people who have been suffering with chronic psychiatric problems.
© 2011 Alex Jenson
Alex Jenson writes about himself: "I have just successfully completed my training to teach English as a second Language. I am a published author and poet, a film school screenwriting graduate. I am working on my first feature length screenplay. I was born in the north of England. I am a big sports fan and I love running and playing football."