There are hundreds of beauty, fitness and health books out there, but how many of them help us to really change our habits? Catherine Turner reviews her bookshelf to find six books she goes back to again and again
For Christmas in 1977, my parents gave me the the best present ever. It was the ‘Vogue Body and Beauty Book’ by Bronwen Meredith. I fell in love with this glamorous, encyclopaedic book full of everything I wanted to know at the time about health, skincare, hair and makeup. I pored over the illustrations and images of supermodel greats - Verushka in perfect yoga shoulder stand, Bianca Jagger as dark lipped disco diva, Lauren Hutton natural, outdoorsy and smiling; I made the natural skin potions; did the exercises; soaked up information on acupuncture and meditation. I was already a glossy magazine obsessed teenager, but this book spurred me on to following my dream of becoming a beauty and health journalist. Even though I’ve lost count of the many diet, fitness and beauty books I’ve read since, I still love looking at this one. The images are just as beautiful and much of the information still stands - it’s mainly the diet section which seems nutritionally naive now (‘five day wine and steak’ or ‘three day egg and grapefruit’ diet anyone?). But it will remain on my shelf forever, alongside an ever increasing stack of great reads which have inspired me to take care of my mind and body...
This made me understand that how well we look depends not only on sleep, diet, exercise and the potions we put on the outside, but also on our thoughts and actions in life. Rechelbacher was the original founder of the brand Aveda, which brought the holistic approach into our lives via brilliantly made and beautifully aromatic candles, hair, body and skin care products. He was always passionate about aromatherapy and how plant oils can affect our psyche and there is a great section on this, plus simple explanations of Ayurveda (the ancient Indian healing system) and the chakras (the body’s energy centres). There are self-massage step by steps, daily yoga, mind and time management exercises - rituals I’ve followed which have helped me take an inside-out approach to wellbeing.
This is a collection of conversations with the Dalai Lama in question and answer form, covering his thoughts on a vast range of subjects from reincarnation, Buddhism, karma, consciousness, happiness, meditation and mind training. I constantly dip in and seem to find new pieces of wisdom every time I do. As with many spiritual books I’ve read, I find different bits will resonate at different times of my life, especially when I’m experiencing an emotional shift or wanting to make changes. I love that it is in conversational form, with all the honesty, joy and spontaneity you’d expect from His Holiness.
Years before the current trend for raw juice detoxes, renowned health and beauty expert, Lesley Kenton had written many books extolling the virtues of eating raw foods to gain maximum nutritional benefit. I was never one for fad diets, but this book (a compilation of three of her best sellers) inspired me to start having juices and smoothies as a fast way to up my nutrient intake. I found the more I ate fresh, healthy, minimally cooked foods, the better I felt, even though I didn’t follow it slavishly. The good news is it doesn’t have to be extreme - Kenton’s formula is 50-75% raw and includes fish and meat for those who want it. Above all, recipes are delicious and do-able, so it becomes enjoyable everyday healthy eating.
This book made me understand why I’d lost touch with my physical self in my 20s-30s. Via the great thinkers and philosophers (Darwin, Sartre, the Ancient Greeks) in context with modern life, Young (a Melbourne-based philosopher) explains in a non-worthy, entertaining way why many of us disconnect mind and body as adults. I’d been an active child (always playing outside on roller skates, my bike) and into my teens (netball at school, tennis at weekends), but when I launched into my career, I stopped. I loved my job and fell into spending a lot of my time at my desk. Discovering yoga in my mid 30s was my turning point and Young gives reason to sustain it with a fresh perspective on why being fit enhances our lives, with great pointers on how to work out mindfully and tune into our own exercise psyche for life.
Like many, I was drawn to yoga as a physical practice at first. I wanted to be more relaxed, flexible and free in my body. The more I practiced, the deeper the benefits were, and beyond relaxation, it became a spiritual journey into meditation and self-discovery. I go back to this book whenever I’m struggling with the discipline of practice or battling with my mind and body (often the case!) because Farhi explains, using examples from her own classes and life as well as Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra (one of the main ancient yogic texts), how to negotiate these pitfalls to deepen our yoga experience beyond the studio walls. A great read for beginner or experienced practitioner - anyone who’s drawn to yoga and wanting to understand more.
I’ve seen this yoga text book with its distinctive orange cover in yoga studios and ashrams around the world. My favourite teachers use it as a reference book because it contains the main classic postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) with great instructions and quirky 1950s-style line drawings. I refer to it all the time when training and teaching, but also for my own practice - I keep on finding new insight, though these are all ancient techniques. Some of the ‘cleansing practices’ may be a little too authentic though. For example, cloth cleansing - where a fine muslin cotton strip is fed down the oesophagus into the stomach - not recommended! You can try other yogic cleansing ‘kriyas’ at the Satyananda yoga centre in London