Paths From Mind to Body

From the boys (Lou Schuler with Jeff Volek, R.D., Ph.D., Michael Mejia, and Adam Campbell) who bring us that least read of dental office magazines, Men’s Health, comes The Testosterone Advantage Plan (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 312 pp., $13), an Atkins diet and exercise update angled at men stiffed by office life, the “functionally worthless” Food Guide Pyramid, and aerobic exercise. Their salvation? Testosterone, via weight lifting and unsaturated fatty foods.

In the authors’ own, unabridged words, the sentences reordered according to their ‘roid rage logic: We’re giving you back your manhood. First of all, we’re telling you man-to-man that your instincts are on target: The reason that you want to look a certain way is that you’re supposed to look that way. The exercises here are the weight-room classics. Are there other paths to the same destination? Perhaps. Ours is just the straightest one we know of. Equally important, our talk is straight too. Kinda sorta. Last but never least, you’ll reap more MONEY and SEX. You know from experience that your wife is constantly trying to get you to eat “better,” to attempt to follow the nutrition establishment’s guidelines. (And once again, we don’t mean to sound like conspiracy theorists, but studies on the equivalent female hormone, estrogen, abound.) Frankly, we’re angry about all this. Warn the women and children: The juice is loose. —Nick Catucci

From the Hottentot Venus all the way to “Baby Got Back” and the J.Lo booty brouhaha, the black female form has been scrutinized, objectified, and ultimately dehumanized by a society that used it for its own purposes, whether work, procreation, sexual pleasure, or novelty. Even attempts to celebrate the beauty of non-European women at times border on fetishism. The essays featured in Kimberly Wallace-Sanders’s Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture (University of Michigan Press, 350 pp., $24.95) masterfully explore the painful history behind the American fascination with the black female form in history, art, literature, and science, as well as the nebulous place it holds within current feminist discourse.

As a historical document, Skin Deep makes for a fascinating and sometimes horrifying read: Descriptions of the Hottentot Venus (complete with a photo of her preserved genitalia) by the doctors who examined her both in life and in death chill to the bone, as do mug-shot-like photos of topless slave women, their clothing unceremoniously pulled down to reveal their bare breasts. The collection stumbles, however, in its examination of present-day representations—how a group of African American female academics can gloss over the current and constant objectification of the female body in hip-hop is beyond me. All in all, however, the mere presence of these essays serves to do what history, unfortunately, has not: rescue the black female form from “other” status, and to celebrate it as unique, strong, and, above all, beautiful. —Chanel Lee

Growing up, I had to be way beyond sick to stay home from school and damn near dead before my mom would take me to see a doctor. I carry that attitude with me to this day. In college, I went to class for a week with a full-blown sinus infection, and I once hobbled in to work on a sprained ankle. I was so busy trying to take care of business that I didn’t have time—or wouldn’t take the time—to take care of myself. If unchecked, that tendency can be deadly: African American women often die from curable or manageable conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer due to medical neglect. In their new Blessed Health: The African American Women’s Guide to Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 432 pp., $14), Dr. Melody McCloud and Angela Ebron seek to cure both problems by giving readers “prescriptions for the soul,” opportunities to “take time to take stock” of their physical and spiritual lives, and ways to combat illness from a religious perspective. However, this is no simple self-help panacea: Blessed Health arms readers with medical facts and statistics and tools with which to face hard truths about themselves and their lifestyles. Noting the lamentable fact that we’re often the first ones in church or on our knees when crisis strikes but usually the last ones in a doctor’s office to avert it, the book makes clear that God helps those who help themselves. Now that’s chicken soup for the body and soul. —C.L.

Finding god(s) at twentysomething can seem like an impossible mission. Religion is beyond passé, and who has time for spirituality in a city that never sleeps? Yet for many it’s an issue that needs to be resolved. Angela Watrous’s Bare Your Soul (Seal Press, 320 pp., $16.95) compiles 25 stories of contemporary women struggling to find their place within or without the spiritual world, from a bi-curious Christian attempting to reconcile her religious beliefs with her liberal politics and taboo sexuality to an atheist watching her father die and finding peace in her own secular ways of dealing with his passing.

My grandmother told me never to bring up issues of religion or politics in mixed company. Although the memoirs in Bare Your Soul are not always well written, they tackle issues all too frequently overlooked. What is faith, and how do present-day women go about reordering archaic rituals of religion into a format relevant and fulfilling in their own lives? The book breaks the silence around spirituality and religion that exists in our generation. —Sarah Donnelly

Americans have searched for the perfect diet for decades. Yet many of us still waddle around bingeing and purging and about 60 percent of us are clinically overweight, perhaps because we have been dieting in all the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons. Rhio’s Hooked on Raw (Beso Entertainment, 352 pp., $29.95) reveals the newest—or oldest—diet. Unlike other diets on the market, her “Raw Energy Food Lifestyle” does not tackle the problem of our expanding waistlines but reorients our relationship to food and in turn our relationship to the earth. It essentially takes the vegan lifestyle a step further, restricting not only the consumption of animal products but also the cooking or heating of food in any manner. Providing explanations, definitions, scientific studies, recipes, and directions for implementing lifestyle change, Rhio claims the diet has beneficial effects on mood, heath, and overall ability to perform. Although it’s hard to take advice from a woman who admits she was spurred into vegetarianism after being tricked into eating her pet turtle, the diet makes quite a bit of sense. If you need any further motivation, take a look at Demi Moore, who is raw all the way and looks great. —S.D.

In The Art of Yoga (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 192 pp., $40), Sharon Gannon and David Life, founders of Jivamukti Yoga, write “Yoga is a portable art form.” Inspired by their “living liberated” approach, this collection features 150 photographs by Martin Brading printed on museum-quality paper. Gannon and Life twist, bend, contort, and stretch themselves into more than 100 advanced asanas, or postures, to demonstrate the physical and spiritual acrobatics of the Jivamukti method, a favorite among celebrities like Madonna and Sting. They also provide Sanskrit translations and kernels of wisdom along the way.

A student himself, British photographer Brading captures the harmony and poise of each asana, illustrating the body’s dynamic form. Not to be missed: Life executing King Pigeon in blazer and dress slacks. Gannon performing a back bend, one leg fully extended . . . while wearing stilettos. Browse it before a yoga session or for inspiration after a long hiatus from practice. With introductory words by Ravi Shankar and daughter Anoushka, here the impact of Jivamukti is evident across generations and art forms. —Paul W. Morris

Jonathan Sharp’s Divining Your Dreams (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 389 pp., $16) bills itself as a “bedside companion” for spiritually instructive kabbalistic dream interpretation, but as a reference guide it is frustrating at best. You’re supposed to condense your dream to one of 850 symbols or dream titles, listed alphabetically. Sharp looks at the history and mythology surrounding each symbol and focuses on one aspect of its significance (for instance: Fat is a sign of prosperity, not sinful indulgence). He then translates the dream title into Hebrew and analyzes its numerology in order to locate it on the Tree of Life, the network of 10 Sefirot (forces, roughly) and the 32 paths connecting them that forms the kabbalistic universe. (The introduction explains the Sefirot but skips the rest.) Finally, Sharp interprets the symbol’s spiritual instructions. No symbol dictionary can be totally exhaustive, but “tithe” apparently merits an entry while “bicycle” does not. Even if your dream does correspond to one of the chosen symbols, there is neither an index nor a table of contents to help you find it. Sharp’s interpretations tend to be narrow and his instructions overly generalized, so the book is most insightful as a collection of brief musings on the numerology of a catalog of Hebrew words. —Odile Joly

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