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on January 29, 2013
I love Patanjali's Yoga Sutras; I have almost as many editions as I do fingers and toes. When I heard there was a new translation and commentary of course I had to grab a copy.

I've just finished Threads of Yoga, a remix of patanjali-s sutras with commentary and reverie. Original, insightful, beautiful, this is the most modern commentary I've read. Reading its self-published pages, I felt as though Matthew Remski had given Patanjali a shave and haircut, the dusty old monk, and then dressed him in eco-chic loungewear and sat him down to talk with me over coffee.

If you know about the Yoga Sutras, I think you should get your hands on a copy of Remski's book. Really. It's the only edition I've read that...

gets me through the second half of the Sutras without falling asleep,
names the secret ingredient I always knew Patanjali left out of his sauce,
grabs my ear with language as beautiful as the sounds of Sanskrit
lights sparks for me over and over again by striking Patanjali's flint with the steel of modern science and philosophy, and
shows me how to reject and love a spiritual text at the same time.

Here's what I mean, point by point.

ON STAYING AWAKE THROUGH THE END OF THE MOVIE

I like the Sutras. A lot. But every time I get close to Pada 3 I feel like I'm catching the flu. Thanks, but I really don't want to fly, inhabit someone else's body, or shrink to the size of a pixel. On goes Netflix; I'd rather watch the latest Avengers sequel. That's what I like about Remski's book: unlike most translations I've seen, his rendition of Chapter 3 does not read like a comic book!

Leading up to the sutra saying yogis can fly, for example, he points out that Patanjali probably never saw anyone do that. (Like, c'mon, Mr. P!) And then his translation delivers the following beautiful refraction, which I really can believe: "Movement feels like flight when the flesh is wedded to space." Unlike the original, this translation radiates a truth I have tasted in my own asana practice; it glows more brightly every time I read the words. Threads of Yoga does this time after time - it tames the hyperboles of Chapter 3, reducing them to honest and beautiful insights. This alone made the read worthwhile for me. It got me to the end of Pada 3 without losing my faith.

WHAT'S MISSING FROM THAT SAUCE, ANYWAY?

Besides Pada 3, something else has always bothered me about Patanjali's Sutras. The word "love" isn't anywhere in it. Make no mistake about it, the Sutras put us on an elevated highway to liberation; they're built to whisk us above the messy landscapes of life. An honest reading of Patanjali, in my opinion, acknowledges that the yamas are mainly designed as an entry ramp where we come up to cruising speed. And this bugs me to pieces, because as much as I like the Sutras, I relish even more the love affair I'm having with my world (even though we have a quarrelsome relationship.) Say what you will about Eternity; my particular soul needs the smell of dirt.

To fix the flat taste Remski stirs relationships and love into his translations of the Sutras. And he further spices that with a moral imperative for the modern yogi: unless we engage in conscious and loving relationships with the beings around us, we have no hope of healing our our injured planet. Not to mention our own psyches.

For example, on the original sutra about sauca (purity) most translations give us something like "Seek that purity which leads to disgust for one's own body and for contact with others." Ugh!!! But Remski steps up with a variant I can get behind: "Ecology allows you to honor your flesh and the flesh of others." Or on an esoteric sutra describing samadhi (sometimes translated as "integration"), he comments "The highest form of integration, in my view, would be saturated with feelings of love."

For this American yogi it's a relief to experience such caring and tenderness in a rendition of the Sutras. It shows me a deeper path into Patanjali's truths.

HOW WORDS CAN SING FROM THE PAGE

As Remski brings relationships with people and our planet closer to the center of Patanjali's sphere, he holds the master with a special kind of respect. Remski describes his own project with the Sutras as "equal parts homage, adventure, reclamation, and pleasure." It's a brilliant mission statement, if you ask me. Following through, he goes on to brightly illuminate the qualities that have made the Sutras endure. He also offers resonant and compassionate explanations of the cultural setting of Patanajali's time, which for me go a long way toward explaining the parts of the Sutras that stick in my craw.

Above all (and perhaps explaining it), Remski has an ear for the beauty of the language in the Sutras. I haven't found any other translator whose own language rivets and mesmerizes my ear like the original Sanskrit does. In a beautiful reflection on the sutra about "om", for example, Remski rhapsodizes "I am nostalgic for the intimacy of an oral culture in which sounds were felt to be creative; perhaps as I am nostalgic for the joy I felt when learning to speak." Or later, "Words about god can throw us, as they break, into a love for wisdom."

Wow. Thanks for putting it that way.

POLISHING OLD DOORKNOBS WITH A NEW CLOTH

Most of the commentaries I have read do a pretty good job of explaining Patanjali and his commentators into contemporary English. Threads of yoga does that too, but then it goes further, investigating how modern thinkers echo the old guys, or more interestingly, how they contradict them. To read Remski's commentary is to enter a friendly conversation between the old master and number of the esteemed psychologists, philosophers, and neurologists of our own age. (To drop some of the names: the philosophers Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jacques Derrida, novelist Jorge Luis Borges, psychoneurologist Julian Jaynes...) These modern luminaries create a particularly beautiful and insightful light in which to re-consider Patanjali's long-archived perspective. It's one I plan to revisit, through the nice bibliography at the back of the book.

"I'M ARGUING WITH YOU BECAUSE I LOVE YOU."

Every once in a while a family event compels me to go to church. Once I get in, my experience follows a familiar pattern. Initially it's delightful - the service returns me to feelings and early memories that I love; I feel calm and uplifted. But inevitably we'll get to those places in the ceremony where I'm thinking, " I can't believe I'm sitting here nodding my head to words that I KNOW are not true?! And there's NO WAY I'm going to say them with my own lips!!!" These places in the liturgy make me want jump up and bolt out of the building; I left the faith as soon in my life as I realized I had a choice.

But I recently asked my sister how she reconciled her faith, which has grown stronger over the years, with the impossible statements in the texts and services we grew up with. She's wicked smart, and a minister, and she had a good answer. She told me that faith is a verb for her; it's an action in which an essential element is struggling with the parts of the doctrine she can't believe. The struggle defines her; she couldn't have faith without it. It would be, I suppose, like trying to build muscle without having a weight set.

This kind of struggle seems to lie at the heart of Threads of yoga. Remski often argues with Patanjali - compellingly, and eloquently. He rejects the stubborn asceticism in the Sutras, for example, labeling it a "subtractive suicide of the flesh." Where Patanjali famously says that future pain can be avoided, Remski counters "I cannot imagine any part of life that is not growing and learning, stimulated by dissatisfaction and impeded by struggle." He blasts the Sutras' most central claim that Truth lies within us: "Nobody has the truth. Truth is the product of sharing what seems to be true."

Remski's wrestling matches with Patanjali remind me of my sister's struggles with the liturgy of our church. Although he's arguing with Patanjali, the author's deeper purpose seems to be to define himself. He seems to grow in the process, drawing himself closer to Patanjali even as he asserts their differences. We participate vicariously in this individuation, the hatching of a modern yogi from Patanjali's beautiful egg.

To re-spin the delightful turn of phrase I quoted earlier, Remski's words about Patanjali throw us, as they break, into a deeper love for the Sutras. And this, if you ask me, is a wonderful model for any long-term love affair... with a text, a tradition, or a person.

THE FINE PRINT

I'm averse to raving on about anything for very long without pointing out its negatives. But I have to say that for me, Remski's book didn't have any negatives. In case your brain doesn't have the same peculiar wrinkles as mine, I'll give you a few caveats. But this is here because it's a mandatory paragraph, and the words are in fine print.

My own ear, voice, and heart love the sound of words. If yours doesn't, you may not enjoy the book as much as I did - to me one of Remski's most distinctive qualities is his lyrical voice. Also science, philosophy, and psychotherapy tickle my interest. If they're a turnoff for you, then some of the book may leave you flat. And finally, I am someone who has read the Sutras before. If you haven't read them yourself you might not want to start with this version. You won't appreciate how wonderful Threads of yoga is. Go and try one of the alternatives, then come back to this one. I think you'll be glad you did.
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on January 13, 2016
The author asked me to review this book publicly when it came out, and I declined. I enjoyed Matthew's writing and his engaging mind, and considered him a good friend. But I also knew this book was more than intellectually dishonest - it was actually an act of aggression.

The aggression may not be visible unless you know something about Patanjali and classical Indian metaphysics. (If you do, and you also have under your hat a little language poetry and "postmodernism" - an intellectual movement that academia buried by the 1990s - then you already have put this together.)

The author does not know Sanskrit. Moreover, he manifestly does not take an intellectual interest in Samkhya philosophy, and yet wants to uproot the work from its conceptual grounding in that metaphysical system, offering in its place poetic aphorisms that are not linguistically or philosophically related to the Yoga Sutras. This intellectual disconnecting is a big deal. Samkhya is a challenging intellectual framework that yoga practitioners would do well grapple with as they strengthen their own critical minds and come more deeply into relationship with the yoga tradition. Especially because there are several charismatic (deceptive) teachers in the current yoga world, it's great for young students to be asked to sharpen their minds from the start. Studying the Sutras, especially if one is not a fan of its dualistic backdrop, is an obvious way to do that.

Yet what we get from this text, rather than factually correct information about the Yoga Sutras, is an attempt at Language Poetry. (A special irony here is that Language Poetry was an anti-authoritarian movement, yet here Remski tries to associate with that heritage while performing western, white, English-language domination of a culture he has not studied in depth.)

So, this book is the author's correction, his appropriation, his erasure of the Yoga Sutras. The reader is robbed of the work that will bring her insight - wrestling with the difficult ideas in the text - and instead invited to swoon for a poet.

When you look at the economic context - that this books is directly targeted at the young, presumably naive participants in Yoga Teacher Trainings, this suggests an astonishing level of cynicism. The erasure has been carried out for young readers the author hopes will read this INSTEAD OF an a real translation of the Sutras. He has everything to gain here in terms of book sales, and as status as an expert among fresh young teachers.

This takes a level of entitlement and cultural insensitivity you're probably not that in to.

So maybe this book wasn't as inspiring as it first seemed, based on the pretty phrasing and "deep" ideas.

If you were made to buy it for your Yoga Teacher Training, it's a sign that your leaders didn't know or care enough about the tradition to guide you more deeply into the tradition. Pretty disturbing.

The reason I'm writing this review now is that Remski is changing. He's not the same person he was when this book came out three years ago. Charisma works like this sometimes. People lose themselves in themselves, and weird unethical stuff follows.

The treatment of women in his work is no longer just a little bit off. It's pathological, and features repeated campaigns of intimidation to cover his tracks. For an example of how the author now relates with his target audience of young yoga women, check out his interactions with Emma Hudelson in the comments section here ([...]) , or follow up on the aftermath of his exploitative piece "Kino's Hip". After that, learn of his mistreatment ([...]) of the yoga teacher involved in the well publicized Canadian "yoga appropriation" controversy (bad links there? = examples of Remski dominating and deceiving young women that have since been scrubbed from the internet). You could also read his first book, which is a kind of sexual violation fantasy about a sister/goddess figure.

BOTTOM LINE: I suggest that female writers be intellectually suspicious of this writer, especially because if you are initially charmed by him, you will be targeted later to be his students, or even his private interview subjects.

The semi-invisible aggression in Remski's work is the reason I originally declined to review this book for him. There is a violence in his use of ideas and ideology, and his words are endless. The energy of charisma and verbal manipulation is overwhelming, and it NEVER NEVER ends. Eventually, detractors just get exhausted. So I dodged.

But at this point I don't feel it's ethical to stay silent. Because if you read this book for your TT and find it charismatic and moving, this is context you probably want to know. Remski desperately needs readers who will not be brought to their knees by his charisma, and who later (if you feel bad about whatever happened between you) will not be intimidated by his intellectual aggression.

Either that, or he needs to be ignored. If it's not too late for you, I suggest the latter.
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on December 13, 2012
I wish this re-imagining of the yoga sutras had been available to me when I was completing my yoga teacher training --- I would have really appreciated such a down-to-earth and in-depth analysis of the ways in which the text relates to our contemporary world. In my experience the sutras are too often approached with unthinking reverence by both students of yoga and their teachers, but here the old text is broken open and an essential question is asked: how is this artifact of a bygone era actually relevant to us today? Threads is an inspiring and incisive vision of the sutras which at once honours the complexity and genius of the original book while at the same time making it new again. Most importantly, the book startled me awake with the realization that the sutras no longer need to be treated as an untouchable how-to manual for ethical practice. Instead, Remski argues that these words belongs to all of us, demanding our questions, our revisions and our poetry if they are to continue to teach us.
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on July 13, 2013
"threads of yoga" is a remarkable book, one that I hope will become a staple in the yoga community. In it, Remski provides a completely original - and often revolutionary - interpretation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. His use of the term "remix" is apt - not only is his interpretation bold and original, but his writing style is lyrical, almost musical; reading Remski is a lot like listening to an ecstatically joyous remake of a tired old tune - one of those songs you didn't like so much the first time around, but is suddenly captivating and melodic in its new form. He takes great liberties at times, virtually re-writing some threads, but never arbitrarily, and never outside a context that fully supports and justifies his vision.

The central theme of this remix is a move away from the traditional dualistic goal of transcending the natural world and body (the feminine prakriti) to dwell in pure consciousness (the masculine purusa). Instead, Remski embraces the aim of mind-body integration, embracing both our natural physical being and our consciousness, and engaging fully in the world in which we live. This approach recognizes prakriti and purusa as interdependent aspects of a holistic existence that does not rely on any distinction between the two. As a result of this integration, the focus naturally shifts from metaphysical speculation to a dedicated awareness of global interdependence. The goal is no longer transcendence for the sake of the practitioner (with the obligatory rationalization that this will, in turn benefit the rest of the world - a sort of spiritual "trickle-down" effect). Instead, the goal is awareness and action that supports the practitioner in becoming increasingly engaged in, and mindful of, the interdependent web of life into which we were born.

It's a refreshing, brilliant and compassionate take on the sutras that, instead of discarding them as obsolete, brings them into our current cultural context as a much-needed guide for the obstacle course that is modern life.
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on March 11, 2016
After reading this book I did what I have only done one time before in my life. I threw it away.
I am very familiar with the Yoga Sutras and have studied several different commentaries of the work. Mr. Remski's understanding of the material is clearly lacking and nearly hostile. If you are truly interested in learning about the Yoga Sutras I recommend you look to other translations.
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on February 2, 2015
Remski's book is my favorite of the contemporary explorations of Patanjali/Yoga Sutras. It's by no means a traditionalist take on the venerable text, so more conservative thinkers might take issue. Remski's book embraces an almost postmodern organizational structure, encouraging the reader to find her own path. He is committed to a 21st century understanding of the core ideas found in Patanjali, and so he places ideas within a context that upholds principles of social justice and cultural diversity. My copy came with a second book printed within--a printing error of epic and humorous proportions, as the second book is a kind of men's sexual guide to a near eastern country. I considered returning it, but decided not. My copy is priceless.
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on September 16, 2015
This book is hard work, the teachings are laced with words needing a thesaurus or dictionary or both, I would not recommend it to the layperson, maybe that is the authors intention
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on May 18, 2013
Interesting twist on an ancient text. Matthew Remski presents us with a totally original, unique and modern translation. of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's. He trys to explain them in a way that is easier for those new to yoga, and want to understand its teachings and practices.
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on August 5, 2014
Threads of Yoga is definitely the most erotic book of yoga philosophy I've ever read. And that's sort of the point. One of its foremost intentions is to reinsert the body as a felt organism with interoception and messy biological needs into the clean white envelope of the Yoga Sutras. In this sense, it groove-joins the old text to contemporary asana practice, in which a dominant paradigm is somatic connection:

'While multiple streams of inquiry are now breathlessly searching for the `mindbody connection', many yoga practitioners carry the feeling that this `connection' does not need to be found or forged - it was simply never missing.'

Threads of Yoga also sutures the dissevered limb of the solitary meditative seeker back onto the body of the environment. In scenes of graphic intersubjectivity, it peoples the lonely cathedral spaces of the Yoga Sutras with grass, sex, children, flowers, birds; its hard edges are replaced by a kind of porosity that soaks us all into each other. What was high, holy, vaulted and up there becomes immediate, tactile, equally holy and down here. For we are not lonely monks wandering in the forest, desert fathers, saints clinging to a windy skellig (1), but we are inter-related subjects living in a sensory world of mingled flesh and tangled relationship. We are all in it together, and we need soft-bodied texts that breathe us into our togetherness.

Threads of Yoga also punctures the Emperor's new clothes conceit / deceit of omniscient authorship. The constructed Patanjali identity, presumed to have reached full awakening, to have surpassed the ordinary things of ordinary human beings, and to be here to tell us how we can do it too, is nudged off the shelf and replaced by someone who hasn't. If, like me, you're not wholly convinced by enlightenment, the horizontality of Threads of Yoga is a lot more relateable. It speaks to my personal experience of practice and integration, which is real and immediate, not particularly pristine, and tends to bed me more into the everyday here-and-now compost of dirty human being.

Some of what I love about Matthew is that he's a radical deconstructor. This appeals to my autistic soul. Because, to an autistic person, the cultural constructions `we' invest with a socially agreed thing-ness, actually appear pretty arbitrary, so it's a relief when someone knocks them down and there's just a great big pile of lego pieces lying on the floor. Now we have creative potential. Not that I necessarily go along with everything Matthew makes with the lego. Some of it seems to me fairly off-the-wall. I'm not very keen on psychoanalytic theories. I find many of them over-determined and hetero-normalising. And I'm fairly sure I don't feel traumatised by axial and pre-axial age practices of infanticide. Or even that convinced that they were widely prevalent. But, anyway, I'm glad we have reappropriated the lego and we can build strange stuff.

Another thing I love about Matthew is that his vocabulary so choice. Y'all know me as a mover and a shaker, but my background is also in poetry and the written word. One of the reasons I got into Buddhism ten or so years ago was actually that the writing was so much better than anything the contemporary yoga world had to offer. So much yoga writing was drab, pedestrian and totally lacking in the capacity for original thought. Hallellujah, this is finally changing, and Matthew is part of that. Threads of Yoga is touched by poetry. It has that necessary quality of scintillation and surprise, and sentences with musical phrasing. Gosh, a yoga book written by a writer! But if it was about fishing or gardening, I'd probably still read it, because the prose delights me.

Those who have taken exception to Threads of Yoga seem largely not to have read the subtitle. You can't really object to a book for being an inaccurate translation when it describes itself as `remix' and `reverie'. Really, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It samples Patanjali, drops some unexpected and eclectic beats, and give us all the chance to dance like lunatics. You can't say fairer than that.

(1) Even if that's a favourite landscape of mine: http://movingprayer.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/whose-practice-is-it-anyway/.

http://movingprayer.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/threads-of-yoga-a-response-to-matthew-remskis-book/
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on May 24, 2015
WOW, incredibly arrogant intellectual with a massive ego......SAVE Your money, wish I had.
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