Laura Gonzalez

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2 Jan 2017

Yoga Dharma by Hamish Hendry ****

Reading dates: 28–31 December 2016

I started by disliking the simplicity of this book, which I took to be full of generalisations. Hamish Hendry gives an overview of the important milestones in yogic texts, with summaries of the Sutras, the Gita, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Upanishads and others. I thought it was a crazy task to begin with and I felt disappointed by the little knowledge of Hendry’s vast pool that came through. I have never practiced with him but all accounts I hear are that he is an excellent teacher, very experienced and knowledgeable. Why write a 60-odd page book covering everything yogic?

Yet, as I went on, I realised that Hendry wrote this book possibly as he teaches, giving enough but also creating space for the student to find their own journey. I am coming to think that yoga cannot be taught, certainly not imparted, but all one can do is invite the setting for someone to learn. Thought in this way, Yoga Dharma is a lovely little gift, with useful pointers (which made me read want to read the Ramayana next) and succinct but sound advice—’yoga comes and goes’, and ‘never replace practice with teaching’, or example, jumped out at me. It is hard, very hard to write a book like this, and it is also hard to read and do something with it. It is a book to return to and, frankly, how many of these are there? The book I wanted, the longer, fuller, one might have been easier to write and read, but would have it inspired me to go deeper?

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30 Dec 2016

Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith ***

Reading dates: 19—24 December 2016

I liked ‘Ripley’s Game’ less that any of the others so far but the reason is simple: Tom Ripley shares his protagonist role with someone else who becomes his sidekick but who is not as good as Tom on the page. Yet, from the point Tom appears by surprise on a certain train journey, the whole book changes for me, although I am still not convinced he needs a companion. It may work for Sherlock and Batman, and it does blur Ripley even more, but I am looking forward to selfish Tom looking out for himself and his interests, instead of trying out psychology on his neighbours. On to the next one …

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29 Dec 2016

Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith ****

Reading dates: 16—19 December 2016

While on holiday in India, and after reading ‘His Bloody Project’, nothing could satisfy me. I started ‘Crime and Punishment’ for the third time but was often more enthused by the clumsy bat and ball game next to me. Then I remember a conversation I had with Rob Wringham about the Ripliad and how I read the first of the five books relatively recently. So I found a reading project to complete: to read them in order. The second in the series is wonderfully gripping, with plenty of what makes Highsmith’s writing come alive: the details of the murders themselves, Ripley’s worry, his high life, the cities he travels too. It is a perfect holiday read, with intrigue, dubious morals and art forgeries. It is also written in Highsmith’s efficient style, which I find quite unique. It is evocative and, while I don’t consider it poetic or beautiful, it does what it needs to do for the main character. Her creation of Tom Ripley is an absolute success and in this book he comes alive (where in the previous one seemed still a bit of a caricature to me, just a calling card and origin story). I am already on to the next one, of course.

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28 Dec 2016

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet *****

Reading dates: 5—14 December 2016

Set in the Highlands of Scotland and with vivid witness and court accounts, this novel is one of the most intelligent and enjoyable books I have read all year. Burnet does not overdo either the plot or the prose and the novel is perfectly pitched, like a well-seasoned dish. I very much enjoyed the language, the strange Scottish words—he provides a helpful glossary embedded in the middle of the book. The characters and the story are absolutely believable and the way the story is told, with reference to the author, is an effective device reminiscent of The Quixote. I love crime fiction, mainly because it is a genre that lends itself to the literary although this is seldom achieved. Burnet does it with ease and elegance.

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22 Nov 2016

Today will be different by Maria Semple**

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Reading dates: 07 – 18 November 2016

I was so looking forward to this book. I loved Maria Semple’s previous one and I think there are not enough comic writers around. I still like her style and rhythm very much but this book does not cut it. For me, it is not what everyone says about the similarities (parallels in fact) between Today Will be Different and Where’d You Go, Bernadette?. The book starts ok, a bit predictable, but soon enough I got into its spiralling, hysterical whirlwind. It became very interesting narratively. The resolution is appalling, though, an absolute cope out, nothing given. Here’s a potentially brilliant book that feels like it has come up against a deadline so it is finished quickly and negligently. That, I cannot forgive. I don’t think a writer should tell a story that they cannot finish.

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7 Nov 2016

Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari ***

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Reading dates: 25 September – 03 November 2016

In my opening remarks at our book group meeting (the only meeting in which I can have a 5-way conversation with comrades, which is wonderful), I mentioned how this book annoyed me because of the breadth it covers and the lack of evidence. Yet, I also though it was a great book to discuss because of the ideas it tries to put forward. We were critical of the chapters on money: we are widely read on this particular topic and Harari’s sweeping assertions did not wash with us. There are, however, some interesting thoughts about the origins of the species (which of course are not easy to validate) and about our potential futures, where technology is taking us.

I think for me the most enervating quality of this book is that I was not sure about the author’s positioning of the argument: is this history? Anthropology? Informed thought? Research? Where is Harari speaking from? It made me consider, of course, where I read from and what I demand from such books. I do like my sources, the sense of belonging to a space with a tradition, the limitations of a discipline (because it provides a focus). Without it, the writing becomes amorphous, too wide and, although imaginative at times, its tendentiousness detracts from the sometimes interesting ideas.

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22 Oct 2016

Science of Breath by Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine and Alan Hymes*****

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Reading dates: 09 – 21 October 2016

Breathing is my current favourite subject to learn about. Since I began practicing breath control techniques in April 2015, I became aware of the power that we carry within us. I read this book for my yoga teacher training course, as I had to write an essay on the benefits of the complete yoga breath. This short guide is wonderfully written, accessible, simple but deep and very well argued. It has given me a lot of knowledge about how the respiratory system works. It has a whole chapter on the functioning of the nose. When I came to it, I thought: ‘here we go … who cares about the nose?’ only to be proved wrong as it was one of the most fascinating chapters. The mechanics of our body are endlessly mesmerising and I became a little obsessed by the function of the turbinates (we all have them, they are amazing). The book is balanced, with both Eastern and Western thought on the issue of breathing, written with authority as a simple, practical guide to help us make the most of the only involuntary and voluntary bodily process we have. As Neil Scott wrote in the last issue of New Escapologist, breathing is the number one key to productivity. Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine and Alan Hymes argue that it also plays an essential part in maintaining physical and mental health, controlling emotions and allowing change to happen. After this, who wouldn’t want to work on their breathing?

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If you are in Glasgow and want to learn more about pranayama (yogic breath control techniques), I am leading a couple of self practices in November at the Arlington Baths in the West End: Tuesday 22 November, 07.30–08.15am and Wednesday 30 November 18.30–19.15 (£2). It is better if you have had some experience of yoga, for breath control is an advanced practice. If you have no experience of yoga and are curious about pranayama, do drop me an email: anything@lauragonzalez.co.uk.

The Tuesday morning session is followed by Rosina Bonsu’s Breathing Bones class (08.15–09.30). The Wednesday afternoon session is preceded by Breathing Bones (17.15–18.30). This is a fantastic programme suitable for all. You get the benefits of the breath, coupled with simple, very effective stretches of the body. I will be there!

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18 Oct 2016

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol. 2 by Ramesh Menon *****

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Reading dates: 25 June – 16 October 2016

Although the narrative does not quite reach the excitement of the first volume, I came to read this second volume completely hooked to the story. This part deals with the war and its aftermaths and I really got into the descriptions of battle formations, into the drudgery of these 18 days of blood shedding and cleansing. Volume 2 also contains the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most mysterious and beautiful texts I have ever read (and which hopefully I will understand better by the time I finish my yoga teacher training). I read the Gita on a beach in Crete and I know I will always remember that reading experience, what it said to me, what I felt and where I was. It was one of those deeply spiritual moments which shift something inside, a subtle change of direction, only of a millimetre to start with, but which set me of on a different path altogether, as I now realise.

The Mahabharata is still one of the most incredible stories I have read: well crafted, dramatic, with interesting characters and a coherent message. Even the very end is fitting. Not a single line has disappointed me and Ramesh Menon’s rendition just made it accessible and fun. I am not sure what a more ancient version would have been like but Menon was certainly not hard work. I hope to read it again, all of it, for I miss the Pandavas and Krishna’s smile, already.

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3 Aug 2016

The path of yoga by Georg Feuerstein****

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Reading dates: 19 May–3 August 2016

Georg Feuerstein is an authority when it comes to a holistic view of yoga, yoga as it should be understood, with its spiritual and energetic practices as well as the outward asanas. This book discusses the more difficult and misunderstood aspects of yoga and it is a great introduction, with thorough contexts, histories and explanations. However, I must be a little more advanced than I thought in my journey because for most of the book I kept thinking it was too shallow, too much of an overview. Yet, this changed in the chapters about Kundalini shakti (Serpent power) and Tantra yoga, which I found thoughtful and fruitful in terms of making me consider things differently, opening my mind to what these mean to my practice and to enlightenment. His thoughts on teaching and studying yoga are also very useful for those of us embarking on this path. Thankfully, I have other texts to follow on these fascinating topics more in depth. Feuerstein’s book is a fantastic introduction and I would love if he had written whole books unpacking each of the chapters in The Path of Yoga. He has on some aspects (as he shows in his comprehensive bibliography), and I will be following these up.

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26 Jun 2016

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol. 1 by Ramesh Menon *****

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Reading dates: 24 April – 25 June 2016

At the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival, I attended a session by Andy Miller, author of ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life’. He made us pledge we would read that book we have been resisting and, in my piece of paper, I wrote ‘War and Peace’. Instantly, I went for the western cannon, for what I thought I ought to read but after a little more thought and less coercion, I realised the book I really wanted to read and had been putting off was the Mahabharata. But how to approach this massive 18-book epic poem? What translation? Where to start?

I turned to the best storyteller I know. On his website, James Boag answers the question of what a yogi should read, which he gets asked often. Ramesh Menon’s work gets mentioned a few times, so I picked his modern rendition of the Mahabharata, much abridged and in prose. This is what James says about the book, which made me read it:

Just awesome! They say about the epic Mahābhārata, that everything you can find in the world you find in here, if you don’t find it in here, you won’t find it in the world. Menon’s version doesn’t present the whole Mahābhārata, but does an amazingly rich, evocative and page-turning job of telling the main story and many of the principal side stories that are woven into the original.

I don’t know what it would be like to read the original but Menon’s book is delightful, one of the best I have ever read. the story of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas is impeccably told, a page turner with deep philosophical introjections. I have so many favourite chapters: The game of dice certainly stands out, Draupadi’s appearance in the Hastinapura court, the girl who smells of fish, the explanation of time in relation to Brahma, the second game of dice (which almost gave me a heart attack), the battle at Virata’s, Devaloka (the kingdom of Gods), when Siva appears … The story is modern, eternal, always contemporary (very Game of Thrones, if you ask me). It is wise and primary and I would not get tired of reading and re-reading it.

It is true that I am a yoga practitioner and that the text contains many Sanskrit terms (and a glossary) so one needs to approach it with a little patience too and try to understand the concepts not as direct translation but through their essence. I have not mastered this yet and I suspect that understanding what dharma is and who Krishna is will take me a lifetime.

I am very grateful there is a volume 2. The war has not even begun and I am yet to read the Bhagavad Gita, which is contained in book 6 of the Mahabharata. If books can change one’s life, this might be it for me.

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About Me

Laura Gonzalez is an artist and writer. Her recent practice encompasses film, dance, photography and text, and her work has been exhibited and published in the UK, Spain and Portugal. She has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When she is not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with her camera, she lectures postgraduate students at the Glasgow School of Art. She is currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric.

Laura is a contemporary dancer with Dance House Community Company and Glasgow Community Dance Theatre. She has also worked with many renowned choreographers and companies (Including Michael Clark, Natasha Gilmore and Janice Parker). She is a contact improvisation facilitator, trained by Penny Chivas and Tom Pritchard, dance artists and founders of The Glasgow Jam. Laura has been practicing Ashtanga yoga since 2013 and has been taught by Rosina Bonsu, Kia Naddermier, Radha Warrell and Pierre Seghir, John Scott and Cathy Moran. Ashtanga teaches her discipline, compassion, patience, and letting go. She is a keen reader and, with Ian Macbeth, she founded the Dialectical Materialist Book Group.