Philosophy Bites is a collection of short conversations with twenty-five prominent philosophers ranging over topics from animal rights, to philosophy, multiculturalism, architecture and atheism.

Of particular interest is John Cottingham on what constitutes a meaningful life. He claims that a life worth living is one motivated by our individual goals and projects, but also modulated by the awareness that, at any time, the realization of those projects may be thwarted by random events outside our control. Consequently, to invest our lives with meaning, we must rise above this radical uncertainty in the face of life and simultaneously cultivate a hopeful attitude. As Cottingham points out, spirituality is more about practice than passive belief.

Barry Smith’s discussion of wine raises interesting questions such as: When I drink a wine and describe it as “smooth, with lots of tannins and hints of licorice and black pepper,” am I describing objective qualities of the wine, which anyone should be able to taste, or do I somehow contribute to the taste of the wine and, if I think that the wine is good, should everyone agree with me, or is it just a question of subjective preference? Smith also points out that drinking wine is a deep aesthetic experience, most important is the pleasure we get from it and from discussing it and sharing it with others. So wine appreciation can enhance and enrich our lives.

Keith Ward’s discussion of idealism is fascinating. He parses idealism as “the idea that fundamental reality is spiritual and the universe is an expression of a conscious reality.” Such a view may be widely accepted in the Yoga world, but it is highly controversial among philosophers. Ward discusses Vedantin philosophy, in particular Shankara, in a way that is accessible and clear; making this piece particularly relevant to yogis who are embracing the path of Jnana, or union through philosophical enquiry.

–– Reviewed by Dearbhla Kelly, M.A., who is a Yoga teacher, philosopher and writer: durgayoga.com

Freedom is a state of mind. We have all had the experience of being a slave to our desires and disempowering thoughts.

Bound to be Free is primarily a compilation of the talks of Swami Satchidananda, beloved teacher and founder of Integral Yoga, given to inmates in jails and prisons across the U.S. Through his inspiring stories and parables, he teaches the inmates how to transcend their negative thoughts and reform themselves through Yoga, meditation and mantra. He shares that how they perceive their incarceration is in their minds and that they have the opportunity to think of prison as a spiritual place or ashram.

The book also shares heart-opening stories of prisoners deeply touched by the Swami’s teachings and used their time behind bars to connect more deeply to their spirit, inspiring fellow prisoners to do the same. Free also highlights numerous nonprofits dedicated to serving the spirits of the incarcerated. Particularly inspiring is a thought-provoking interview with the most well-known proponent of Yoga in prison, Bo Lozoff, founder of The Human Kindness Foundation. Lozoff is also the author of We’re All Doing Time, and A Guide for Getting Free.

Free speaks to all who are on a path of growth and spiritual reform. While prison and jail are a physical reality for many, they are a symbolic reality for all. True freedom is a peaceful heart and mind. Swami Satchidananda speaks to the practices that make this possible. He reminds us that we have the power to see the divine in all situations, including those that seem the darkest. Heaven is everywhere we choose to see it – even behind bars.

–– Reviewed by Larisa Stow, founder and lead singer of Larisa Stow & Shakti Tribe, and co-founder of The Shakti Tribe Foundation, which travels to prisons, jails, halfway houses and institutions to help raise consciousness through musical transformances and inspirational dialogue. She is a co-founder of Sacred Sounds Radio and a transformational life coach.Shaktitribe.comLarisaStowcoaching.com

More than yet another Yoga book, A Life Worth Breathing is a heartfelt and comprehensive handbook to living a more joyful, inspired life. This book implores us to risk everything to be inspired – to breathe in the greater joys of life.

Max Strom establishes an instant connection with the reader by exposing his own self-transformation, a process that began within his first year of his Yoga practic. As his body opened and relaxed, so did his mind and heart. As his mind cleared and heart started to open, his relationships and perspective of the world changed for the better.

He attributes this largely to his breathing practice. By working with the breath, Strom says, there is hope to liberate ourselves from the major syndromes of modern life: stress, anxiety, depression, rage and fear.

Life lays out a clear trajectory for personal transformation through steady even steps rather than through loud or dramatic leaps. He outlines this through personal narrative and parables that ground spiritual loftiness and decode philosophical jargon. Stories are combined with simple exercises, including meditations, postures, writing assignments and breathing techniques.

Life breaks down the walls of intimidation for new students with its sound advice on beginning a practice. It also provides a foundation for connecting to the deeper meaning of our lives, particularly since Strom’s teaching contains a genuine respect for people in every part of the human process. Quoting from all major spiritual traditions, A Life Worth Breathing has a universal appeal for people of all faiths; he encourages the reader to live by an ethical code and emphasizes forgiveness and gratitude.

Reading Life sparks the realization that each moment is an opportunity to connect to the Joy that is as close to us as our own breath.

–– Reviewed by Kyra Haglund who teaches at Santa Monica Yoga and Exhale in Venice. She integrates her background of cultural studies, dance and somatic experiencing with Yoga. Kyra has been gifting many copies of Life Worth Breathing: kyrahaglund.com

Love or fear. Many of the decisions in our lives come down to this critical crossroads: How are we making the choice between love and fear? This question is one of the basic premises of A Course in Miracles, it is a query Williamson often addresses in her provocative Tuesday night talks in Los Angeles. It’s also one of the core teachings in the Yoga tradition.

In A Course in Weight Loss, Williamson skillfully applies this concept to the relationship with our bodies. If we are not living with a healthy weight, Williamson says that is a symptom rooted in a deeper fear. All the dieting and exercise will not be enough, unless we are able to address the core issue of living in a way in which we truly love our bodies.

The concept meshes well with the view of health and wellness espoused in Yoga psychology where the root cause of disease is our fear. This is not to say that we bring disease upon ourselves, but confirms Williamson’s guiding principles here – that we must dive beneath our autopilot-driven desires for comfort and peer past the intellectual mechanizations and justifications of the busy mind to shift the deepest spiritual relationship we have with our body to operate from love. When we love ourselves, our bodies will reflect that love. Then food becomes our friend, rather than our enemy, a bargaining tool or a means to shut ourselves down.

Williamson compassionately guides the reader through twenty-one spiritual lessons. She asks the reader to write about hidden compulsions and to consider new points of view. These are valuable, for it is not just by thinking about something that we change, it is by being bold enough to become vulnerable and to fall in love with ourselves, that we claim our power and place.

February 11 – 13, Williamson is facilitating a retreat based on these principles. For more information, visit: Marianne.com.

–– Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko, RN