Back in college, one of the first people I met was a girl named Sarah. We met at orientation, but I left thinking that we would never be friends. Our personalities just seemed too different. She looked every bit the hippie, with long flowing skirts, healthy snacks, and a soft voice. Luckily, first impressions don’t often mean much, and we went on to become great friends. Today we live about an hour apart, and every so often the roommates and I drive over to visit or we host her at our apartment. She’s very much what I first imagined her to be – she eats vegan, loves nature, drinks organic tea, and has a thirst and love for traveling and cultures. She spent a couple of years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. But what I most associate with her is her love of yoga. She recently went through training to become a yoga teacher, but her love for yoga has always been strong. During our visits, we inevitably end up trying to twist ourselves into pretzels as she looks on, correcting our forms and teaching us the meaning of “Namaste”.
Why do I bring this up in a review, you ask? Well, this book strongly reminded me of Sarah. While most people associate yoga with those seemingly impossible poses, a lot of yoga actually has to do with self-awareness and relaxation. Sarah always starts a session with us by having us relax our entire bodies, relax our minds, and open up our hearts. This brings about a quietness of the mind and a feeling of serenity that plays well into the other exercises. I may laugh and complain about yoga, but I’ve never left a session feeling anything other than content and at peace. Those relaxation techniques really work and are great on a daily basis to help cope with stress or get in touch with my inner self.
James Doty, author of Into the Magic Shop, learned these techniques as a young boy. He didn’t call them yoga, he never struck a pose or burned incense or balanced on one leg while stretching his arms toward the sky. Regardless, the effect was the same. Growing up in an unstable environment, living well under the poverty line, and dealing with stresses no kid should ever have to face, Doty was understandably angry. He often got into fights and had plenty of inner turmoil to grapple with when he was alone. He latched onto a magic kit he owned, learning how to create allusions and perform tricks that gave him a modicum of control.
One day while riding his bike around town, he discovered a small magic shop and decided to explore. The proprietor’s mother, in town for six weeks, was holding down the shop while her son ran errands. She must have sensed something special in Doty – she agreed to teach him a special kind of magic if he promised to come to the shop every day for two hours. The magic she taught him? Relaxation techniques. How to control his anger. How to open his heart. How to become self-aware. How to make goals and visualize success and envision a future he thought was beyond his grasp.
Doty went on to overcome many difficult obstacles in his quest to become a neurosurgeon. In medical school and after, he learned that those techniques from his youth actually had the power to change neural pathways, that by learning to control their stress reactions, patients could actually assume some measure of control over the body’s physiology. He also realized that those techniques actually improved his performance as a surgeon. Combined with compassion and tenacity, Doty brought hope to his patients and began to change the conversations regarding patient/doctor relationships .
Part memoir, part science, part self-improvement, Into the Magic Shop has the potential to be a useful tool for both doctors and those of us who could just use a little anger management or stress control in our daily lives. I was reminded a little bit of Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, but Into the Magic Shop is a unique creation. And thanks to the generosity of the publisher, I get to give away a copy on the blog today (US residents only, unfortunately). Enter here for your chance to win – maybe the tricks in the book can help bring peace to your own life. And for those of you naysayers, I dare you to at least give these techniques a try. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?