When I’m not on my mat, one of my favorite hobbies is reading. I’ve been a reader all my life, and I love to draw inspiration for my classes and my life from books. There are troves of books on yoga, meditation, self help, alternative medicine, and the like, so I thought I’d share a few of the best (in my opinion) here.
Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras by Reverend Jaganath Carrera
The Yoga Sutras are at the heart of all Yogic philosophy. There are many, many compliations of the sutras out there, but this text (which was the one required by my teacher training) lays everything out in a way that is easy to understand, even if it’s the first time you’ve ever dipped a toe into philosophy. The eight limbs of Yoga-or the steps of the Yogic path (did you know that only one limb is asana-or postures?) are defined in great detail. Each sutra (or “thread” of wisdom) is written out in both English and Sanskrit with its translation and applications to real life. While this is written from a purely classical perspective, it’s important for anyone interested in digging into Yoga philosophy to know that the sutras lay at the foundation.
Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser
On that note, one of my favorite sutras is 2.1 “Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice.” We learn that our negative experiences, the ones that feel as though they tear us apart, that are the most painful to face, are the ones that crack our hearts open and allow us to change and grow. Broken Open chronicles the stories of people who have faced the unthinkable–from divorce to disease to death, and have overcome it all with grace. A truly inspiring read that truly shows that the Universe never gives us anything we can’t handle.
When I finished this book, (in approximately 30 seconds) I told almost anyone who would listen about it. I purchased 6 copies and gave them out as Christmas presents this year. The message is in the title-how acknowledging and stepping into the uncomfortable, the dark, is the only way to overcome and heal. To let our guard down and be vulnerable is courageous, and it’s also incredibly scary. My favorite quote from the book, which you’ll often hear me say in my class, says it all, “only when we are brave enough to step into the darkness will we discover the infinite potential of our light.”
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V Desikachar
T.K.V. Desikachar is the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, one of the greatest Yogis of all time whose work influenced some of the most revered and well-known teachers in the world, including Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar. This book covers every aspect of Yoga-the physical, mental, and spiritual. It gives suggestions for developing personal asana (posture), prananyama (breath control), meditation practices, as well as philosophical understanding. There are tips for modifying postures to produce the greatest benefit for different ages and ability levels. At the end of the book, Desikachar lays out the Yoga Sutras in both Sanskrit and English with translations and applications. If you were to buy one book at the beginning of your practice, I would suggest this one.
Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
You’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher who doesn’t consult Light on Yoga as their Yoga “bible.” In my opinion, the value of this book is in the numbered “plates” or images of Iyengar himself demonstrating almost every conceivable posture. Each plate has a full description of how to enter and exit the pose properly, the benefits of and contraindications to each pose, and also has a number rating that corresponds to the posture’s difficulty. This book is considered a classic, it’s available at almost every bookstore and studio, and is a great resource for students and teachers alike.
Yoga Resource Practice Manual by Darren Rhodes
More recently, well-known Anusara teacher Darren Rhodes created this manual of 360 postures (as opposed to 200 in Light on Yoga). Rhodes demonstrates each one impeccably, and includes detailed descriptions of each pose, its benefits, and modifications for students of varying abilities. The poses are grouped by type (i.e. standing, seated, backbends, forward bends, arm balances, inversions). The best part (in my opinion) is that this is an e-book. I can go through the index on my kindle and select a pose (or type of pose) and learn anything I need to know in one click. P.S. the photos are unbelievable-this guy’s practice is amongst the best I’ve ever seen.
Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes by Mark Stephens
This is another book that came out recently and is an excellent resource for teachers. Proper sequencing can be a challenge, and this book lays out sample classes perfectly. There are sample beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes. There are sample classes depending on the types of poses you want to focus on (i.e. standing, seated, backbends, forward bends, arm balances, inversions) for all levels. There are sequences for children, older adults, and women. There are sequences that focus on specific chakras. There are also sample classes in different styles of Yoga (such as Ashtanga, Anusara, and more). Lastly, there are spaces for you to create your own sequences. I always pick up this book with a pen in hand. A great book if you want to mix up your teaching.
Yoga Assists: A Complete Visual & Inspirational Guide to Yoga Asana Assists by Sharon Gannon and David Life
Jivamukti founders Sharon Gannon and David Life created this beautiful book on assists. It is full of photos of the teachers demonstrating both the posture and its assist. The photos are diagramed so that the reader/teacher can see exactly where they should place their hands and in what direction the energy should flow. Some of the assists are unusual and I was (pleasantly) surprised by many of them. You can also take bits and pieces of what you learn here and apply it to your teaching. I was surprised to see that there aren’t many books on assisting on the market at all, and this was a welcome exception. Finally, the savasana assist they show at the end is dynamite!
I could go on forever about Yoga books I love. There are so many resources for both students and teachers, and the pile of books next to my bed is forever growing. I have books on asana, anatomy, meditation, philosophy, alternative healing, energy work, religion, massage, you name it. In my opinion, reading and learning is a key part of the Yoga process. Like everything else though, we are all eternal students, and we can never know it all. So wherever you are in your journey, sit, back, relax, and enjoy the ride!