I listened to the This American Life podcast the other day and the theme was “Books That Changed My Life.”
(Ira Glass, the host, thought it was a rather unusual idea that a book could change a person’s life. Whatever, Ira.)
Not me. Oh no. There have been many books that have completely changed the trajectory of my life.
The first one I thought of (but maybe not the first one that changed my life) was Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan.
I think it was 1976. I was a senior in college. I don’t even remember where I bought this book. The college bookstore? Walden Books at the Mall? Who knows.
All I remember was taking it out every afternoon, spreading an old beach towel on the green shag carpet of the house I was living in, and doing it. 28 days in a row without a miss.
The blonde model on the cover wore a leotard and tights (with feet). The illustrations were in black and white. Each day there were a few exercises (yeah, he called them “exercises” not “asanas”), followed by a little one page “Thought for the Day.” And then there were these words:
Do not do any additional Yoga exercising today.
Really?? This was revolutionary. That a book about something good for you would not advocate doing it as much as possible and as hard as you could for as long as you could, was a totally novel concept to me. And kinda crazy. And intriguing.
Why wasn’t I allowed to do any more today? Would something bad happen if I did more of these yoga exercises in one day? I wasn’t going to take any chances. I obeyed. And everyday I came back for more.
I think it was that mandatory stop that kept me curious, interested, and hungry. (I once heard about a Guinness World Record holder who ate an entire Volkswagon. He did it by swallowing one little piece a day.)
That Hittleman book hooked me on yoga. It also revealed to me an essential piece of my basic nature: as long as I can do something a little bit every day, and not have to swallow a whole big thing in one gulp, I could learn yoga, or eat a Volkswagon.