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All Body, Mind & Spirit Coverage

★ Wild Witchcraft

A while back I let my social network know I was interested in learning more about magic, herbalism, astrology and the like. It felt naive to group these things together, but I’ve since discovered there’s more than a little overlap. In Wild Witchcraft, North Carolina-based forager-witch Rebecca Beyer provides a well-researched history of European witchcraft and American folk healing practices, followed by a solid introduction to growing and foraging healing herbs. Readers learn how to use herbs in rituals and remedies and in harmony with the Wheel of the Year, a series of seasonal observances including the fall and spring equinoxes. Beyer covers much ground efficiently and makes a strong case for why these practices are especially necessary now. Amid rapid and cataclysmic climate change, “inspiring people to see value in plants and ecosystems can help to preserve them,” she writes, and “combat the total divorce of humans from their fellow animal, vegetable, and mineral kin.”

Booze & Vinyl 2

During the COVID-19 pandemic, vinyl record sales outnumbered those of CDs for the first time since the 1980s. This vinyl renaissance presents a timely backdrop for Booze & Vinyl 2, which builds on the genius of sister-and-brother duo André and Tenaya Darlington’s 2018 volume of album and craft cocktail pairings, Booze & Vinyl. How about a glow-in-the-dark vodka tonic paired with Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine or a moonshine-based sipper with Van Morrison’s Moondance? Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstong get a “Silver Fizz” to match Ella’s “silvery voice,” and citrus meets prosecco and brandy for two drinks inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade. There are even a few themed appetizers, such as “Deeez Nuuuts” for munching while spinning Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. The design freak in me loves how the book’s aesthetic shifts with each album, each turn of the page setting a vibe. Dim the lights, drop the needle and sip to the sounds. 

My America

In My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef, a follow-up to his 2019 memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef, James Beard Award winner Kwame Onwuachi filters the cuisine of the African diaspora through the lens of his family, his travels and peripatetic childhood, and the journeys of his ancestors. As Onwuachi notes, a close look at the cuisines of the American South, the Caribbean and Nigeria reveals many common threads and flavor echoes—from the jambalaya of Louisiana to the jollof of Nigeria. Black food tells a story—from groundnut stew and callaloo to crawfish pie and baby back ribs—and the recipes collected here tell it powerfully.

Reconnect to food, music and nature with this month’s best new lifestyles titles.

The losses continue to mount as we enter year three of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this grief is still new, weathering sorrow is as old as humanity. Four authors offer hidden paths toward healing.

Bittersweet

Like Quiet, Susan Cain’s bestselling book on introversion, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole eschews American cultural norms like mandatory happiness and productivity in favor of other more fertile traditions, such as Aristotle’s concept of melancholia. Cain asks provocative questions like, “What’s the use of sadness?” and seeks answers through academic studies, insightful interviews and vulnerable self-reflection. A standout example is her interaction with Dacher Keltner, a psychologist who helped Pixar understand the crucial role of sadness in Inside Out. Sadness, he says, is what brings people together and adds depth to joy.

Bittersweetness is both a feeling and a disposition. (The book includes a quiz for readers to determine if they are bittersweet by nature.) Experiencing bittersweetness heightens life’s poignancy, opens the door to transcendence and helps people acknowledge the impermanence of existence. It is reasonable to be sad, Cain explains, when one is deeply aware that life can change in an instant. Grief and trauma may even be inherited. But when we explore these bittersweet feelings, we begin to see ourselves and our world a bit differently, with more depth, and can finally find new paths forward. As one of Cain’s sources Rene Denfeld put it, “We have to hold our losses close, and carry them like beloved children. Only when we accept these terrible pains do we realize that the path across is the one that takes us through.”

Grief Is Love

Marisa Renee Lee focuses on how grief is actually a painful expression of love in Grief Is Love: Living With Loss. When Lee was 25, her mother died of cancer in her arms. Afterward she held a beautiful memorial and started a nonprofit in her mother’s honor, yet she found herself unable to deal with the gnawing grief that clouded her inner life. Every big moment reminded her of her mother’s absence, especially her wedding and her miscarriage. Healing came, but all too slowly.

Grief Is Love is organized around 10 lessons related to grief, touching on topics such as safety, grace and intimacy. Lee carefully considers the impact of identity (gender, race, sexuality, class and so on) on mourning, noting at several points how society’s expectations of Black women—that they’ll be strong and keep their pain to themselves—slowed her own grieving process. Readers of this memoir will get a clear sense of how Lee’s grief rocked her world at 25 and continued to reverberate well into her 30s, but they’ll also appreciate the ways of coping she’s found since then—ones she wouldn’t have allowed or even recognized during those early days. Lee describes the long haul of loss and speaks directly and compassionately to those who are experiencing it. She also takes comfort in her faith and even imagines her mother and unborn child meeting in heaven.

The Other Side of Yet

Media executive and former television producer Michelle D. Hord explores the twin griefs for her mother and her child in The Other Side of Yet: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness. Hord pulls the word yet from the book of Job, which was a lifeline following her daughter’s horrific murder by Hord’s estranged husband, the child’s father. The Bible describes how Job lost everything and yet still believed. This describes Hord, too, who treasures her “defiant faith.”

In The Other Side of Yet, Hord offers readers a framework for facing life after a traumatic event using the acronym SPIRIT (survive, praise, impact, reflect, imagine, testify). Though Hord’s book is not organized around these directives, her own story does follow this path. To read Hord’s memoir is to witness a mother who lost everything and yet stood to tell the tale and dared to remain vulnerable.

Take What You Need

Jen Crow’s life also fell apart, but not because she lost someone beloved. Instead, the sudden tragedy of a house fire provided the impetus for Take What You Need: Life Lessons After Losing Everything. Crow, a Unitarian minister, may seem an unlikely candidate for a spiritual guide: She loves tattoos and the open road and spent years defying anyone who got in her way as she ran from her difficult childhood. After settling down and finally feeling safe, a literal bolt of lightning changed her life in an instant.

Almost immediately after the fire, Crow realized that the way she and her wife talked about the tragedy would impact their children. “I wanted them to hear our gratitude, not our fear,” she writes. So they took special care in framing the story they told about the fire, never describing it as a form of punishment or “proof that hardship never ends.” As Crow searched for a better way to interpret their situation, she found herself learning from her children, who comforted each other instinctively, crawling into bed together and crying. Observing them, Crow considered that grieving might be as natural to people as any other process in life, and that they might already possess what they need to persevere.

Across these books about suffering and healing, there is a practical and poetic need to surrender to what is overwhelming. Each book points to the power of faith and spiritual traditions to guide people outside of their own perspectives, where they can finally see themselves with lovingkindness, accept their losses and keep going.

Four nonfiction titles offer comfort, empathy and wisdom to those who are reeling from loss.

The Second Half

One of my favorite finds of 2021 was a newsletter called Oldster, which features interviews with people from all walks of life musing on the aging process and what age means and feels like to them. A new work from portrait and travel photographer Ellen Warner, The Second Half: Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty, beautifully mines similar territory. Warner crisscrossed the globe photographing and interviewing women over the age of 50, gathering reflections on change, pleasure, legacy, hope and more. She then edited these encounters into a trove of fascinating, brief narratives of life lived in a woman’s body. One woman buys a pub in her 60s; another meets her new life partner, a woman, after a 35-year marriage to a man. “Everything is a bit blurred when one is young, and then comes the second half—the time when you have to make clarity out of the blur,” one reflects. As these women and others divulge their most difficult and joyous moments, the result is a book bristling with energy and wisdom.

The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs

In terms of trusted authorities on cooking technique, you can’t get much more legit or consistently helpful than America’s Test Kitchen. (Lately, I’ve been saving nearly all of their Instagram posts.) So a new title from ATK, The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs, feels like cause for celebration. It remains to be seen whether a book designed for my 13-year-old will inspire her to prep dinner more often, but its format, with close attention paid to mise en place and the correct tools, should help her dodge frustration while widening both her comfort zone and palate. The recipes, labeled beginner, intermediate and advanced, range from the familiar (waffles, BLTs) to foodie faves like blistered shishito peppers, shiitake beef ramen and a fruit galette. My hunch, which I shall soon put to the test, is that parents, too, will absorb several valuable tips from this text as they play sous-chef to their kids. 

52 Ways to Walk

I’m not sure there’s a person on Earth who doesn’t know that walking is good for them. But how many of us know just how good, or in just how many ways? Annabel Streets presents loads of convincing evidence in 52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time, a book equally geared toward dedicated perambulators and anyone who wishes to build a new healthy habit. She gives us research-backed ways of thinking about our daily (or occasional) stroll while presenting a fun challenge: From just how many angles might we go about the act of taking a walk this year? I can walk with attunement to what I hear in the world around me, or I can walk with a focus on posture and gait. I can think about ley lines, ions or fractals as I walk; I can walk alone or with a friend or a dog or by water or at night. Apparently I can even hop up from the couch, take a brisk 12-minute walk and wring a surprising level of health benefits from it—and so, my friend, can you.

The mundane stuff of life—such as cooking, walking and even aging—gets an exciting refresh in this month’s lifestyles column.

In the introductory essay of Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance, Jessamyn Stanley relates the time a reader, who happened to be a freelance editor, found a mistake in the early pages of Stanley’s first book, Every Body Yoga. Stanley was attempting to define the Sanskrit word for yoga, which means “to yoke” or “to join together the light and dark of life, the good and the bad . . . to marry breath, thought, and movement, to connect the body, mind, and spirit.” Instead of writing the word yoke, however, Stanley had inadvertently written yolk. Oops.

Anger and shame ensued—a welter of feelings that propelled Stanley to her yoga mat for some calming breaths. Thus, Yoke was born, a collection of 13 autobiographical essays that are brash (with salty language aplenty), outspoken, funny, insightful, honest and occasionally spiced with dashes of self-deprecating melodrama.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Jessamyn Stanley shares how her guide to the ancient practice of yoga turned out to be deeper and more demanding than she ever imagined.


The essays in Yoke explore Stanley’s belief that “everything is yoga, every day,” and that fully entering yoga/yoke means integrating the light and dark of life with the hardscrabble work of everyday living. “My yoga has many intersections and edges,” she writes, “because like the universe, I’m always unfolding. My yoga is finding out what it means to be a Black queer woman in a world that doesn’t want me to be.” Her reflections on topics such as meditation, imposter syndrome, wealth inequality, racism, cannabis use, sexual abuse and the sacredness of music are heartfelt and often searing. She is strongly declarative, and this makes for a narrative that allows readers to really know this author, which is, after all, what many readers want: connection.

While the writing occasionally meanders or goes a bit off point, any discomfort readers might feel in response to Stanley’s blunt-edged anger can give rise to self-reflection and stir compassion for our collective human frailty and suffering. But this honest chronicle of a journey toward self-acceptance and purpose wraps on a bright note. As Stanley writes, “I’m enough. Exactly as I am right now. I don’t need to know more or do more or be different at all.”

The 13 autobiographical essays in Yoke are brash, outspoken, funny, insightful, honest and occasionally spiced with dashes of self-deprecating melodrama.

Acclaimed writer Michael Pollan, author of several notable books including In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and most recently How to Change Your Mind, returns with This Is Your Mind on Plants, which delves into the deep relationships humans have with three mind-altering plants: opium, coffee and mescaline.

Pollan begins this book with an updated version of his Harper’s essay from 1997, in which he writes about attempting to grow poppies to make opium tea for his personal enjoyment—and about the intense anxiety over planting the poppies in his own garden. Confused over whether or not it was legal to grow poppies, Pollan conducted research that led him into a morass of penal contradictions, not to mention the philosophical puzzle of why certain drugs and not others are illegal to begin with.

Next Pollan describes his monthlong detox from caffeine, his preferred drug of choice. During this experiment he experiences mental dullness, lethargy and an intense inability to focus—a writer’s nightmare. Caffeine is a legal drug, of course, but Pollan can’t help but notice how it has a much stronger effect on him than his opium tea did. The relationship between humans and coffee is centuries deep, and Pollan helpfully connects the history of coffee-drinking to our modern-day reliance on caffeine.

The final section is devoted to the study of mescaline: its uses but also who gets to use it. Pollan explores some interesting history involving Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, and after taking mescaline himself during a Native American peyote ceremony, Pollan makes fair observations about the recent cultural appropriation of mescaline.

Readers of How to Change Your Mind will recognize Pollan’s thoughtful and scientific approach to the subject of psychedelic drugs and altered states of consciousness. This Is Your Mind on Plants is an entertaining blend of memoir, history and social commentary that illustrates Pollan’s ability to be both scientific and personal. By relying on contextual history and focusing on three popular, if misunderstood, drugs, Pollan challenges common views on what mind-altering drugs are and what they can accomplish.

Acclaimed writer Michael Pollan delves into our deep relationships with three mind-altering plants: opium, coffee and mescaline.

Jessamyn Stanley’s guide to the ancient practice of yoga turned out to be deeper and more demanding than she ever imagined. The author of Every Body Yoga shares the revelations that shaped her second mold-breaking book about yoga, Yoke.


When I pitched Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance to my publisher, I thought I knew what it would contain. I knew I would have to talk about internalized racism, sexual assault, capitalism and cultural appropriation. Mind you, this was in 2017, before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered for all the world to see and before white people were forced to stop pretending racism doesn’t exist. But when I actually started tickling the keys, the book became about much more than what a marketing pitch could contain.

I definitely thought Yoke would be about offering tips and tricks for navigating an ancient practice in modern times. But in the process of writing it, I realized the most important way to teach yoga has nothing to do with other people. The way to teach yoga is by authentically living it. Even the most gifted and inspiring teachers will only lead you to the teacher inside yourself, and they can only do that by being fully themselves.

Writing Yoke led me down a lot of philosophical rabbit holes. I ended up spending a solid year of the manuscript-writing process solely on research. I dove headfirst into American yoga’s history and theory, and I was forced to come to terms with the intersection between American history and American yoga history—how both have bloomed in the soil of white supremacy. I gained a deeper respect for the differences between American yoga and Classical yoga, and all the while, I was forced to interrogate myself.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Yoke.


For example, I was excited to write about cultural appropriation among yoga practitioners, and if I’m honest, I was excited to tell other people how to best live their lives. I’ve always been a know-it-all in that way. But once the dust settled, I realized I don’t have anything to offer readers beyond being open and honest about the ways that I appropriate other cultures. 

Similarly, I was excited to write about racism and the ways it crops up in the yoga world, mostly because I was excited to air my grievances against all the white yoga people who have annoyed me over the years. But it didn’t take long to recognize that I have nothing to say to white people that I don’t first need to say to myself. I found that I needed to accept the ways in which I embody racism—first against myself and then against others.

Writing Yoke made me examine parts of myself I’ve never wanted to acknowledge and generally prefer to ignore. I didn’t know what it would take to get real about this shit. I didn’t realize there’d be so much crying. I didn’t know writing the truth would feel like disemboweling myself. I thought the whole thing would be a little more dignified than bawling into my laptop for weeks on end. But accepting my shame was the price I paid in pursuit of my truth. 

I will say, though: It’s one thing to accept that you’re a messy bitch. It’s completely different to ask other people to read about it.

“I didn’t know what it would take to get real about this shit. I didn’t realize there’d be so much crying.”

Some of Yoke cuts very close to the bone for me. Yoga may be about accepting the truth of yourself, but the truth I tell in Yoke is one I was always told not to tell. The truth that I’ve been running from. The truth that no one wants to see in the light. And reading the truth without rose-tinted glasses can be painful. 

I think Yoke will be inspiring even to people who have never practiced yoga, people who are not Black, fat or queer and people who’ve never been sexually assaulted. No matter your background, we all embody contradictions and feel pain. We all find identity at the heart of intersections. But our intersections are also founts of compassion—first for ourselves, then for others. This is true now more than ever, when we’re being asked as a society to reckon with the sins of our collective past in order to move forward. Yoke is a microexample of a process that’s needed on a very macro level.

I wrote this book because I had to tell the truth, even if I came out on the other end looking like an asshole. That’s who I am. I am problematic. I say the wrong thing. I am offensive. But I think that by letting my stank-ass baggage hang out, I can make space for other people to accept themselves as well.

 

Author photo © Cornell Watson

Jessamyn Stanley’s guide to the ancient practice of yoga turned out to be deeper and more demanding than she ever imagined. The author of Every Body Yoga shares the revelations that shaped her second mold-breaking book about yoga, Yoke.

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