Michael Stone: A Yogi's Reader's Guide for Beyond the Mat

Michael Stone (1974–2017) was a prominent and innovative Buddhist teacher, yogi, psychotherapist, and author. He was the founder and director of the Centre of Gravity Sangha, a community of yoga and Buddhist practitioners based in Toronto, and he taught widely and had a large international following. For more information visit michaelstoneteaching.com.

In his own words...

The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali

A New Translation with Commentary

translated by Chip Hartranft

In 2003 when Chip Hartranft translated the Yoga-Sutra attributed to Patanjali, it was immediately apparent he had a deep practice. I e-mailed him, and within weeks I was sitting in his living room hearing his views on meditation, working with endless habits, yoga’s relationship to Buddhism, and how the mind and body are both the ground for awakening. We developed a friendship that continues today, and whenever I’m writing about Patanjali, the supposed author of the Yoga-Sutra, I’m always hearing Chip’s voice in the background.

Meditation is tricky. Since the nature of the mind is to continually manufacture stories about our experience, we need some technique to see beneath narrative and drop into what the yogis call “samadhi.” On a practical level we need to learn how to work with inner beliefs and emotional grooves that keep us repeating stale ideas and actions.

Each sentence in Chip’s concise translation of the Yoga-Sutra has everything to do with the intricacies of practice. His retranslation of key words like karma, samadhi, and purusha take yoga’s core concepts into the realm of practical technique. He reshapes Patanjali’s teaching to be less philosophical and more psychological. “Patanjali is not philosophy,” Chip told me in his living room after the book was published, “it’s not about grand ideas. Patanajli teaches how to work with suffering and bring it to an end. Patanjali is not a philosopher.” I agree. Patanjali is an exacting psychologist.

If I had one translation of Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra, this would be it. However, I have many. I have studied this text for years. But when I look on my shelf, this edition is the one with sticky notes, dog-ears, worn pages, pencil scribbles, and of course, Chip’s signature.

The Mirror of Yoga

Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind

by Richard Freeman

I admire Richard Freeman. I have studied with Richard for fifteen years, and I’ve learned more in his presence than I have in any class, workshop, or book. Richard has made an extraordinary teaching career of reading the breath for signals, the nervous system for unevenness, and the body for habits that are no longer efficient. And he is eccentric. Together, these qualities make Richard the most important yoga teacher of this century.

His book, The Mirror of Yoga, draws out the inner dimension of yoga postures with the wit and gusto of someone proficient in both practice and philosophy. This book ranges from backbends to Sanskrit terminology, Samkya philosophy to tantric subtlety, Indian mythology to obvious ways of bringing practice into life. There is no area of inner depth that Richard misses. His intellect is as sharp as it is flexible. He is well-studied too. In these days when people manufacture their own brands of yoga, or oversimplify the inner work of mature practice, Richard’s guidance is essential.

Rereading The Mirror of Yoga as I was preparing to write this article reminded me it’s time to go visit Richard again. This book will reshape your practice as it continually inspires mine. I’m on my fourth reading.

Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind

A Guide to Personal Reintegration

by A. G. Mohan

I first learned of A. G. Mohan from Chip Hartranft, who himself studied with him. Mohan’s book Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind arrived at my door while I was recovering from a flu. Every morning, I rolled out my yoga mat, lit a candle, and followed his course of attention to breathing. Following his instruction, even from underneath a fever and chills, I was able to find the part of the breath that was gentle and at ease.

I’ve always translated the term yoga as “intimacy.” All healing comes through intimacy. As Mohan expertly describes the foundation of yoga practice as breathing, I can’t help but think he is teaching about the nature of intimacy and healing. If we become intimate with the breath, even in times of turbulence and pain, we can make contact with an inner peace that rides on the current of breathing. This kind of sage advice is something we hear often, but Mohan adds actual practices that we can undertake to settle the nervous system, regain strength in the immune system, and wake up the intelligence of the body.

Mohan manages to make something as ordinary and taken-for-granted as the breath wholly new and fresh. This is also a good manual for yoga teachers who, in their continuing education, may forget that the breath is not just the foundation of yoga postures, but the intimate ground of our lives.

Yoga for a World Out of Balance

Teachings on Ethics and Social Action

by Michael Stone

After I published my first book, The Inner Tradition of Yoga, I felt something was missing. The book dealt thoroughly with the subtle working of the mind, the quiet caverns of our body, and the deep mechanisms of chit-chat that keep us distracted from what really matters. These inner teachings are important and under-articulated, but we also live in a world where suffering is not just inside us. Our rivers are suffering, and so are fish, forests, farmers, and economies. I was burning with the need to say something about the way yoga could be brought into our lives to heal the suffering in our relationships, economy, and environment.

The first teachings of yoga are the foundations of ethics (yama) and nonviolence in particular. In Yoga for a World Out of Balance, I put yoga ethics to work on contemporary issues, from psychology to economics. I replace the old idea—that yoga is about transcendence—with the notion that yoga is a practice of intimacy with what’s actually going on here and now. And where there is suffering, yoga shows up. This means yoga practice can help us with social issues as well as our own personal imbalances.

Awake in the World

Teachings from Yoga and Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life

by Michael Stone

After Yoga for a World Out of Balance was released, I taught all over the world in yoga circles, universities, hospitals, activist communities, and monasteries. Five years of talks were transcribed and published as Awake in the World. Together with many students and friends, I began the work of planting the seeds of yoga in this culture, at this time.