I love reading books. Sometimes I shift toward scientific books, other times fluffy romantic novels- it all depends how I am feeling and what my mind needs. The following list is a diverse collection of books related to yoga to spark curiosity and bring yoga off the mat and onto the page.
Reading books regularly in many ways reflects the dedication of a yoga practice. First, you must find a book that interests you. Second, you must make time to read. Third, you find you flow when reading when you focus all of your attention toward it. Finally, books are a unique way to share stories, information and perspectives across time. Like yoga, you can choose books that you need, learn from them and also find pleasure.
I’ve made a list below of some of my (recent) favorite yoga books. Each of these books helped expand my yoga practice in some way and I hope you are able to find a similar benefit!
Selling Yoga by Andrea Jain
Perfect for: Critical thinking, academic ventures, exploring who “owns” yoga
Are you curious as to how modern yoga has morphed from a countercultural practice to a billion-dollar business? Is yoga Hindu? Is it religious at all? Come to think of it, what is yoga? If you have ever had these question, this book is a must read. It takes the reader on a journey through the early days of yoga with a focus on an introduction to the West. Jain does an incredible job of discussing the intricacies of yoga culture, consumer culture and how yoga operates as a commodity. Jain is a religious studies scholar and this book is focused on the sociology of religion. Although extremely informative, please note that this book can be a dense read. I regularly was googling jargon to understand some of the concepts but left with a deeper understanding of how yoga continues to adapt to various contexts.
The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele
Perfect for: Deepening your yoga practice by applying yogic philosophy off the mat.
When I think back to my 200-hour yoga teacher training, this is a book I wish was on the list.
Although many Western yoga practitioners focus predominantly on physical yoga postures, the yogic path laid out by the mysterious Patanjali describes the eightfold path. The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limb of this path, respectively describing moral imperatives and observances. Both the yamas and niyamas are divided into 5 distinct subcategories, such as the first yama ahimsa (non-violence) and the first niyama saucha (purity). The yamas and niyamas sound deceivingly simple- at first, they seem black and white. But the more you reflect on each and your understanding deepens, the more complex (and grayer) they become. Adele does an incredible job of laying out the ten yamas and niyamas in a relatable way. She begins each chapter with a story describing how she relates a particular yama or niyama to her own life. At the end of each chapter, she presents activities (or if you are competitive, think of them as challenges) you can partake in over the month to further expand your awareness. It is fair to say I am still figuring out the yamas and niyamas and how exactly they play into my yoga practice, though one thing is for sure: Adele’s book lays out a great platform to explore, reflect and jump into deepening your yoga practice through the yamas and niyamas.
Perfect for: Entertainment, a laugh, a shift of perspective
A yoga practice may be more accurately described as a yoga journey, full of highs, lows, shifts and changes. I’ve noticed that sometimes I take my yoga practice a bit too seriously and I need a shift of perspective- a little joy, a smile or a laugh when I seem to have lost the ability to. When I get in this ‘yoga rut’, I try to search for a new book to help shift my mind out of it.
Once I was going through this rut phase and browsing the “yoga book” section of my local library. I moved past the classic books of “Light on Yoga” and “The Autobiography of a Yogi” and instead opted for a bright colored book with a silhouette of a woman in upward facing dog smoking a cigarette. It was exactly the book I wanted to read. As the cover indicated, it was colorful, funny and a relatable experience of a woman doing a yoga training in Bali. The entire book was peppered with comedy, realization and wisdom. After I finished the book, I found that I was not only entertained by also a bit wiser.
The lesson? You can have a laugh and gain wisdom, too- don’t take yourself too seriously!
Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Swatmarama (and interpreted by many)
Perfect for: Reading a classic, exploring the roots of Hatha Yoga
Many Western yogis read the Bhagavad Gita and the Sutras of Patanjali, but the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a bit more obscure. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (meaning the light on Hatha Yoga) was written in the 15th century by Yogi Swatmarama. It is one of three classic reads about Hatha yoga, with the other two being Gheranda Samhita and Hatharatnavali, all of which were written between 6th – 15th century AD.
Because the text was written so long ago, many translations exist. It contains four sections focusing on asanas (postures), shatkarmas, breathing techniques, bandhas (internal locks), mudras and samadhi or enlightenment. It is a great read to explore beyond physical postures and reflect on the diverse history of yoga. There is something incredible about reading thoughts (and the interpretations of thoughts) from so long ago. Treat yourself to this classic to deepen your understanding of Hatha yoga and practices within it.
Perfect for: Reflecting, changing bad habits, connecting yoga to modern psychology
Happiness is a big thing in our culture. Everyone seems to strive for it, but somehow not many people seem to have it. I luckily found this book at a thrift store (which by no means reflects the value of it) and enjoyed it from cover to cover. Happier is the perfect mix of relatable and inquisitive, sef-helpy and realistic. The author is a university lecturer who penned the book after teaching a wildly popular course on happiness. He breaks the seemingly complex concept of happiness down into a practical way that you can use in your life. Like yoga, this book provides tools of self-inquiry and understanding- an ultimate svadhaya. And in many ways, I found these concepts to correlate and intersect with yoga philosophy, revealing that nothing new is under the sun.
Books help us connect to ideas and perspectives that we may otherwise miss. Happy reading and keep me posted on your own yoga journey!