In this blog I am going to review the Words of Wisdom book by Ram Dass. I am a big fan of Ram Dass and find that he has a wonderful way of concisely explaining sometimes complex philosophical concepts. This book has a sub title which sums up its content perfectly. “Quotations from one of the world’s foremost spiritual teachers.”
Ram Dass occupies a unique position in the field of spirituality having been a former Professor of Psychology. He bring this authority to his explanation and description of a range of spiritual traditions. To learn more about Ram Dass, you can’t go wrong with his autobiography Being Ram Dass. I wrote a review of that book here:
This book is conveniently divided into themed chapters covering a range of subjects and traditions. There are 14 chapters ranging from “Trusting the present moment” to “Approaching death with less fear and more curiosity.” Each chapter brings together Ram Dass quotes related to the title from a range of sources.
Ram Dass Quotes
Some of my favourite quotes from Words of Wisdom by Ram Dass are as follows;
“As the Tao says. “Truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.”
“There is no best or right kind of experience in meditation; each session is as different and unique as each day of your life.”
“If you can’t stop thinking, can you let your thoughts go by without getting caught up in them. Just as a breath arises and then drifts away, can we let thoughts do the same. You don’t have to see where each breath goes. It’s just the breath coming and going. Allow the thoughts to be the same.”
“The qualities in yourself determine what qualities are in the world.”
“You are not holding on anywhere. You’re right here, always in the new existential moment. Moment to moment, it’s a new mind. You just keep giving up your story line.”
“I myself stand in need of the arms of my own kindness.”
Themes for Yoga Classes
Words of Wisdom by Ram Dass is a collection of quotes. As a result it is a rich source of inspiration for Yoga Teachers and themes to weave into classes. I have read many quotes from this book in my yoga classes and have written my own meditations inspired from it. A number of my yoga students have asked me for the details of the book.
In Summary– Words Of Wisdom by Ram Dass Book Review
A great book to dip in and out of for inspirational quotes. I highly recommend it.
West Kirby Bookshop
If you wish to purchase a copy of this book, at the time of writing West Kirby bookshop currently have this in stock. If it has sold they can order it in promptly. We encourage you to buy local and support your local bookshop.
West Kirby Bookshop is located at 6 Grange Road, West Kirby, Wirral, CH48 4HA. They can also be found on Twitter @westkirbybooks and also on Instagram @westkirbybooks
Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
If you enjoyed our “Words of Wisdom by Ram Dass Book Review”, check out these other resources:
Ram Dass’ website:
The Be Here Now network has some great podcasts to listen to;
Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A. G. Mohan (with Ganesh Mohan)Shambhala Publications 2010
We review the book Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A G Mohan in this blog. A version of this book review appeared in the British Wheel of Yoga magazine Spectrum Winter 2020 edition. A. G. Mohan describes his experience of learning yoga from his teacher Sri Krishnamacharya. Mohan studied with Krishnamacharya for 18 years until the death of his teacher in 1989 at the age of 100.
The father of modern Yoga
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is widely considered to be one of the most influential yoga teachers on the development of modern yoga. He is oft referred to as the “Father of Modern Yoga.” It is without doubt that his most famous students spread the word and practice of yoga far and wide.
During his life time Krishnamacharya had no desire for personal fame or material success. This is the main reason why a lot of yoga practitioners may not know who he is and the impact he had on spreading the ancient wisdom of yoga. One of his favourite sayings was “a capable student brings fame to the teacher.” This book serves to shine some fame on this important, authentic, pivotal yoga teacher.
The book starts with a touching insight into Krishnamacharya the human being! Ganesh Mohan, the author’s son, describes how approachable and encouraging his father’s teacher was to him. He also details how he used to give him sweetened almonds as a treat.
Krishnamcharya was born in 1888 and his first teacher was his own father who taught him the vedas, yoga asana and pranayama. He was clearly a very intelligent man and obtained two degrees from Mysore University. Krishnamacharya obtained a scholarship and a further degree in yoga and the theory of samkhya from Patna University. It is clear that the young Krishnamacharya was academically gifted and had a thirst for knowledge which he pursued. A significant period in his early life was studying yoga in the Himalayas with his teacher for 7 years.
Mohan presents the overview of Krishnamacharya’s life with the caveat that it is difficult to ascertain precise details and that Krishnamacharya himself did give differing accounts himself throughout his life. He was a man who did not like to talk about his achievements and this humility results in a degree of uncertainty.
Meeting his teacher
Mohan talks about his own life and how he started to explore the deeper meanings of life. He was told whilst working on a project to speak to a colleague called Srivatsa Ramaswami who recommended he attend a lecture being given by Krishnamacharya. Srivatsa Ramaswami is today a respected teacher himself and studied for 33 years with Krishnamacharya. Mohan’s beautiful description of attending the lecture and meeting Krishnamacharya is a joy to read. It sets his life on a completely different course.
Mohan takes us through his experience of being taught yoga asana and philosophy by Krishnamacharya. It is interesting to learn how Krishnamacharya imparted his knowledge to his students. He never referred to notes or books, his knowledge retained in his memory, texts and scriptures recited from memory, with nothing written down. It is striking how basic and simple the room was in which Krishnamacharya lived and taught;
“He was a person of few possessions, and the room reflected the simplicity of his life. It was furnished with only a chair, a bed and a carpet for asana practice.”
It is very insightful how Krishnamacharya with his vast and detailed knowledge of many yoga texts was also very discerning in what he taught. He did not teach kriya to his students and also would not teach parts of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This is quite refreshing to read, as I am sure many readers will know the Hatha Yoga Pradipika has some very bizarre practices detailed that would likely get teachers arrested if they tried to teach them to their yoga students!
The source of modern Vinyasa Yoga
Krishnamacharya created the vinyasa system of yoga. This is such a commonplace style of yoga in our modern world. Krishnamacharya was the first person to intelligently sequence asana one after the other with the movement between the positions being linked to the breath. This transformed yoga from a static practice to a dynamic practice. One of Krishnamacharya’s favourite vinyasa sequences that he frequently taught was based around the Warrior postures and is included in the back of this book. As part of this article, after the book review, I have laid out this sequence so that you can try it for yourself.
Krishnamacharya taught yoga one to one and also therapeutically to those with ill health. It was only in his early life of teaching yoga that he conducted group classes. When approaching asana his attitude was to “never use force in teaching or practicing asana.” It is a shame that some of his students who went on to become famous teachers did not adhere to this advice!
Some criticism that is often levelled at Krishnamacharya is for the yoga demonstrations that he held. These were mostly with the boys he taught at the Mysore palace performing advanced yoga asana, sometimes with Krishnamacharya standing on them! In this book Mohan describes how Krishnamacharya dismissed these performances as “Yoga propaganda” that were perhaps necessary at the time to popularise and publicise yoga. It is clear that this was not something he enjoyed as clearly demonstrated by how he chose to live the majority of his life.
The chapters of this book cover pranayama, kriyas, yoga therapy, yamas, niyamas and meditation. Mohan imparts his teachers wisdom on these topics.
The later years
Mohan was Krishnamacharya’s student until his teacher’s death in 1989. The later years of his life are fondly recounted. He was in good health both physically and mentally in his final years. His physical health was only really affected by a hip fracture which he refused to have surgery for! Mohan describes how he was able to assist his teacher and help care for him.
In Summary – Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A G Mohan – a must read
In my opinion this book is a must for any serious student of yoga. It gives an authentic insight into the origins of our modern yoga practice. We see Krishnamacharya as the incredibly intelligent erudite father of modern yoga. A person who was devoted to learning and spreading the teachings of yoga. A humble man who never sought fame or fortune and in fact clearly struggled through his life to make ends meet. Yet a man who’s legacy is evident in all corners of the world. When we look at lineage in the yoga tradition, Krishnamacharya is the source that I find myself referring back to more and more frequently. A reliable intelligent reference for our modern practice.
If you wish to purchase Krishnamacharya his life and teachings by A G Mohan I would encourage you to buy ethically. Ethical Consumer website rate Blackwells highly and recommend boycotting Amazon.
I was aware of Ram Dass and that he had been part of the 1960’s counter culture and that he was linked to LSD. However, I did not know a great deal about him.
The book is set out in 4 parts. Journey, from bindu to Ojas, cookbook for a sacred life and painted cakes.
The first part is about Dr Richard Alpert PhD and his transformation into Baba Ram Dass. Dr Alpert was at the height of his career and was living the idealised American dream. He had sports cars, his own aeroplane and was a prominent Harvard psychologist. Around this time he mentions he was drinking which masked his desire to find a deeper meaning in his life. It is clear that he felt that there was more to life than the material success he had achieved.
Whilst at Harvard, in 1961, he began to explore different states of human consciousness. Initially this was through the use of various psychedelic mind altering drugs. As a result of his experimentation with drugs he was sacked from Harvard University in 1963. The exploration of different levels of consciousness through the use of drugs continued. Ultimately this led him to Eastern philosophy and he made a life changing trip to India in 1968.
My own experience
The first part of this book resonated with me. Before becoming a full time Yoga teacher I worked in middle management in the civil service. I had a job that paid me well, we had a nice 3 bedroom semi detached house in West Kirby. However, the job that I was working in made me feel empty and unsatisfied. At some times it made me feel even worse than that, as if I was slowly dying inside. A period of work related anxiety was a mental catalyst to start thinking about changing my life.
I realised that I either needed to find ways to cope with the situation and the job I had or that I needed to make some changes. As a result I decided to make a change. The thing that was tying me to my job was the financial commitment of a mortgage. I received a letter from our mortgage company telling me that I would be 68 years old when we paid off our mortgage. This was a moment of awakening for me! The thought of working in the same job till I was 68 was not something I was prepared to contemplate. There had to be more to life than this. Working in a job that provided me with zero satisfaction or nourishment felt wrong.
What helped me cope became my vocation
I had been using Yoga for many years to help me cope mentally and physically with my job. So I felt compelled to become a yoga teacher to help others. Deciding to leave my job and career was still a difficult decision to make. It was interesting to observe the peer pressure from others that I worked with. Some colleagues could not comprehend that I wanted to leave, telling me “you are walking away from a good career.” Whereas other colleagues were envious and wished they could leave too!
In a nutshell, we downsized to a small flat that was more affordable and I applied for redundancy from work. This felt like such a massive relief. I vividly recall walking around the Marine Lake in West Kirby smiling and feeling quite elated and free.
Part 2 – From Bindu to Ojas
Part two of the book is a haphazard whistle-stop tour through spiritual themes from across the smorgasbord. It is interspersed with pictures and drawings. Because the book is laid out in the form of pictures and artistically placed text, the reader needs to really concentrate to actually read it. As a result you read it slightly more slowly and search out where the sentence flows. This causes the reader to savour the quotes and to pause.
This part of the book is a really rich source of some fantastic inspirational quotes and passages. Some of the ones that really jumped out and spoke to me were the following;
“When you have quieted your mind enough and transcended your ego enough you can hear how it reall is. So: when you are with a candleflame you are the candleflame and when you are with another being’s mind you are the other being’s mind. When there is a task to do you are the task. The mindless quality of total involvement that comes only when the ego is quiet and there is no attachment.”
“My thinking mind is a perfect servant and a lousy master”
“Just the process of calming, centering, centering, calming extricating myself from the drama.”
The third part of the book is a guide to how you can realise spiritual changes for your self. It covers a wide range of things from yoga postures to how much sleep you need.
The final part of the book is a rather vast list of books to find out more! This is a great resource. It provides a lifetimes worth of books to dive into.
This is a great book. I really enjoyed reading it. It is inspiring and wacky. The front cover which is a geometric mandala type picture, encapsulates the idea of interconnectedness. This is what this book is really about, connection. Connection to the true self.
The message is Be Here Now. Be here free from ego, from from thought, free from ideas about your self, free of your emotions. Mindfulness. Baba Ram Dass details how you can start to make changes to achieve this.
Be Here Now by Ram Dass is an authoritative Western explanation of Eastern philosophy. As a result it acts as a guide and manual for those wishing to find deeper meaning to their life. The eternal and simple message of Be Here Now perfectly sums up the crux of the practice.
You can purchase a copy of Be Here Now by Ram Dass from Blackwell’s which is a more ethical choice than Amazon;
A riveting “On the Road” style adventure for the Yoga Generation! My Search for Yoga by David Williams is an autobiographical account of the authors search for yoga. It starts at the tail end of the 1960’s and ends in 1977.
Who is David Williams?
David is the first person who taught Ashtanga Yoga in the West! He is a highly respected ashtanga yoga teacher and lives in Maui. I discovered David through one of his students and friends David Swenson. My own practice of Ashtanga Yoga is based around how David Swenson teaches. I love his Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual.
Being inquisitive, it took me to David Swenson’s teacher. As a result I discovered that David Williams was leading a workshop in Sitges. Sitges is just outside of Barcelona in Spain so basically on our doorstep compared to Maui! A few YouTube interviews reveal a gentle endearing soul. An “Aloha” catchphrase accompanied by a shaka surfer hand salute! We booked to go to Spain and then a world pandemic struck and lockdown.
Some friendly emails passed between David and I. As a result I purchased his recently written memoir, My Search For Yoga by David Williams!
The American Dream or Nightmare?
David’s journey towards becoming the Yoga Detective starts back in 1967 as a beach lifeguard in South Carolina. His version of the American dream is mapped out ahead of him, college, university, the legal profession, working 9-5, suburban life. The potential middle age spread and unhealthy older age. David desired another way, a different way to live life. The ever present risk of being drafted in to the Vietnam war existed in the background.
He meets his first “guru”, a fellow lifeguard called Bootie. Bootie imparts the following pearl of wisdom, which could only have been said in the late 60’s,
“….. you can do anything you want to do. You do not have to live a boring life like all the squares you have seen growing up.”
This spoke to David’s longing for an alternative lifestyle. The American counter culture at the time were embracing slogans such as turn on, tune in and drop out. Thankfully this was balanced with people that viewed the standard American dream as a dream. They successfully entered legal professions and other careers that keep society functioning. The equal and opposite lifestyles provide balance to our society. The rich tapestry of human individuality expressed through lifestyle. There is not just one way to live your life but a myriad of opportunities. David’s book encourages us to work out the path that is right for us.
Whilst at the Uni of North Carolina, David comes across Yoga for the first time via a fellow student. Tales of Yogis free from the shackles of the material world fire his interest.
The first Yoga class David attended was at the Atlanta International Pop Festival in June 1970. The class was introduced as;
“Before you get high on drugs, why don’t you try getting naturally high with Yoga”
At this music festival David was also lucky enough to see one of Jimi Hendrix’s last performances! As a music fan I am certainly a bit envious of that!
The underground Yoga scene is interestingly documented. People practicing Yoga from books and the odd teacher here and there.
On the Road in Search of Yoga
After reading a Ram Dass book David sets his heart on travelling to India to learn Yoga. David and his girlfriend fly to Europe and then embark on an epic cross land journey. They travel around Europe and make their way to India via Afghanistan and Iran.
A search around India for Yoga ensues. Whilst staying at an Ashram he witnesses a demonstration of Ashtanga Yoga by Manju Jois.
Returning to the USA, David is determined to return to India to further his study of Yoga. Another road trip across Europe to India takes him and Nancy Gilgoff (his girlfriend) to Mysore.
The descriptions of travelling across Europe to Indian in the early 1970’s are engrossing. You feel like you are on the road with David. The places he travelled through in the early 70’s are places that it would be very difficult and scary to travel through in 2020.
On arrival in Mysore for the first time, David learns that a previous student had left with a broken leg. However, David has made an epic journey to get there and begins to learn Ashtanga Yoga from Pattabhi Jois.
David refers to Jois with the respectful title Guruji. He is indebted to him as his teacher. Learning Ashtanga yoga changed his life and set him on a trajectory on which he continues to this day.
On the last day of his first trip to Mysore, Pattabhi Jois seriously injured him. He was strongly “adjusted” in an advanced posture. David describes how his trusted teacher almost broke his back;
“The force of his adjustment compressed and rotated a vertebra in my lower back to the point that it punctured an intervertebral disc, the cushion between my vertebra.”
This is truly shocking to read. I was obviously aware of the serious allegations of sexual assault against Jois that have come to light in the last few years. The testimonies of those abused can be easily found on the internet and there is video footage which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Physical assaults and serious injuries that he inflicted on people in the name of adjustments were something that I was unaware of.
David does not address the abuse allegations in his book and I respect his right not to. This is David’s story of his search for yoga and the book would have a very different feel if it were to become an investigation into Jois. I have read elsewhere on the internet that David would warn people against going to Mysore.
David Williams – successful Yoga Teacher
The start of David’s journey to becoming a world renowned Yoga teacher is covered in his memoir. Let us remember here, he was the first Ashtanga Yoga teacher in the West! His make shift yoga Shala in Maui is where he went from strength to strength.
A 17 year old David Swenson is recruited to cover teaching at the Shala in Maui. David and Nancy return to Mysore where David learns the final series in the Ashtanga Yoga system.
A young Eddie Veder from Pearl Jam features. He was inspired to take up yoga after a demonstration given by David at his high school.
We should pause for a moment and realise that Ashtanga yoga is the source of the modern vinyasa style of yoga that is so popular around the world. David was the person to bring this flowing style of yoga out of India and to the west. Without David, the story and popularity of modern yoga could be very different.
Pattabhi Jois – Lazy by his own definition?
A very interesting detail in this book that jumped out to me is that Pattabhi Jois was not practicing yoga asana (physical postures). David meets Jois when the latter is 58 years old. At this point in his life Jois had stopped practicing yoga asana. He is still practicing pranayama. As a result I find it a little difficult to comprehend his dogmatic approach. Jois is oft quoted as saying;
“Ashtanga Yoga is for all people: old people, young people, fat people, skinny people only not lazy people.”
“Practice Yoga and all is coming”
“Yoga is 99 percent practice and 1 percent theory”
Jois is therefore lazy by his own definition! The only time David Williams saw Jois demonstrate asana was a Sun Salutation B practiced incorrectly.
Jois’ lack of practice of asana is in stark contrast to his teacher Krishnamacharya and also his contemporaries such as B K S Iyengar. It is well documented that Krishnamacharya practiced yoga asana, pranayama and chanting until his death aged 100.
Whilst David was clearly very fond of his Guruji, I felt that Jois comes across as not a particularly likeable character. At times arrogant and not open to any kind of questioning of his methods. Jois was influential in spreading ashtanga yoga and training many people in this particular method. Perhaps that is the more traditional method of teaching, however, it does not stand up to scrutiny. It does not allow for any sort of open dialogue and is rather dictatorial. A way of learning that I certainly would not enjoy.
In Summary – My Search for Yoga by David Williams
This was a very enjoyable book to read. A real page turner. It is both a great document of a travel adventure but also a very significant historical record of one mans search for yoga in India. A search which resulted in Ashtanga yoga being brought to the West.
We have a copy of this book that you can purchase from us. This book is only available from David Williams. To purchase a copy directly from him would cost $155 (about £126) including deliver to the UK which is what bumps the price up. It takes around 6 weeks to arrive. We purchased 3 books from David. We are keeping one, have sold one to a friend. As a result we have one to sell and can sell it at £108 which includes UK postage.
If you would like to purchase a copy of this limited edition book please email us at email@example.com
After over ten years in the works, I am excited to tell you that my book has arrived, and we have just begun shipping them.
My Search for Yoga is my memoir. It focuses on the years between 1970 and 1977, telling my story beginning with my early fascination with yoga at age 20. That fascination evolved into my role as a â€œyoga detective,â€ searching in Europe, on two overland trips to India, and during the early days in the Carolinas, Florida, California, and Hawaii. My book includes many of the crazy stories (and more) that I have shared in my workshops over the years. It highlights the characters who were a part of my journey and the sometimes-hazardous, often wild adventures I experienced.
In addition to the stories of those days, my book documents the Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus as originally taught to me by Pattabhi Jois as it appeared on the wall of his yoga shala when I arrived in 1973. I later demonstrated this in my complete Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus poster which is available on my website.
The details: My Search for Yoga is a hardbound book measuring 9″ x 12″. It is 315 pages, weighs a little over 3 lbs., and has 132 color images that include the following:
90 color images from those early days
15 pages of my original documentation of the Ashtanga Yoga Syllabus
12 letters from Pattabhi Jois (27 pages), written for him by various letter writers
Through my story, I hope my book will tell my part in the early history of how Ashtanga Yoga made its way out of Mysore, India, and into the lives of millions of practitioners around the world today.
Tao Porchon-Lynch, the worlds oldest Yoga teacher passed away peacefully on 21st February 2020 aged 101
Tao Porchon-Lynch was a living legend. She was born in August 1918 towards the end of the First World War and lived through some amazing historic times and events. Tai was recognised by the Guinness book of world records as being the Oldest Yoga Teacher in 2012 and was still going strong at age 101. We went to a Yoga retreat with her in Massachusetts which she led at age 100!
Dancing Light by Tao Porchon-Lynch
Tao’s auto-biography is a fascinating historical record of a life fully lived! She was born in the middle of the English Channel two month premature as her mother made her journey from Pondicherry in India to be with her husband who was stationed in England. Tao’s mother died in child birth and she returned to Indian to be brought up by her Uncle in Pondicherry. Tao’s journey from these beginnings to her final home in New York state is truly inspirational.
During her life Tao marched with Gandhi, helped the French Resistance in World War 2, preformed cabaret during bombing raids and was a French Couture model. She also marched with Martin Luther King Jr. She moved to America as a model and got some acting work in Hollywood movies. After marrying for the second time, she published a wine appreciation magazine and in her later life took up ball room dancing.
Tao first became aware of Yoga aged 8 in India. She saw some boys practicing on the beach and was told by her Aunt that she could not participate as it was for men only. This was like a red rag to a bull and Tao was determined to join in and did! Her professional journey into yoga came a little later in her life after she was married for the second time. She began teaching after having studied under Sri Aurobindo, Indra Devi, B K S Iyengar, Sri K Pattabhi Jois and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Tao went on to receive many awards and accolades in the field of yoga.
On a Yoga retreat with Tao
We met Tao on a yoga retreat in Massachusetts at Kripalu retreat centre (https://kripalu.org/). The retreat was called The Eternal Energy of Yoga. Tao exuded warmth and friendliness. Her yoga practice at the age of 101 was graceful and effortless. We were lucky enough to have a nice chat with her and she spontaneously began to massage my foot, which was very pleasant by the way! In between yoga sessions Tao could be seen walking around wearing her trademark high heels!
When we spoke to her she said that she never drink water only tea and wine and that this was her secret to longevity! Along side Yoga and dancing! Tao told us that every morning she would awake and tell herself that today is going to be the best day of her life. She lived and breathed mindfulness and living in the present moment.
Spending time with Tao on the retreat was truly inspirational. She taught us a lovely flowing sequence of movements that we teach to our students in our weekly classes (https://yogasmiths.org/classes/) After we had finished chatting to her, she popped up into a shoulder stand!
Tao loved animals and had a dog called Maharani Roodle Doodle Lovebug Lynch! What a wonderful name!
Tao was a wonderful inspirational teacher who exuded inclusivity and warmth. She lived a wonderful life, the people she met reads like a whose who of the golden era of Hollywood and history in general! She lived her mantra that there is nothing you cannot do!