Yoga, yoga everywhere! Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 years, chances are you’ve heard that yoga is what the cool kids do. When practiced regularly, yoga can help with everything from anxiety to back pain. But as a yoga teacher, I’m always hearing things like, “I want to try yoga but I need to lose some weight at the gym first,” or “I’d love to do yoga but I’m just not flexible enough.” Well, you heard it here first, folks: you don’t have to have a perfect body or be flexible to do yoga. Yoga is a tool for self-knowledge, compassion for self and others, and freedom from stress and pain. It’s about deepening the connection between the mind, body, and soul. Below are some of my favorite books to help you connect or reconnect with the essence of your yoga practice. Whether you’re a yoga virgin, newbie, or a pro whose practice needs a jump start, look to these reads for a deeper understanding of all that yoga has to offer:
Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
I like to think of this book as the “Yoga-pedia.” Originally published in 1966, it’s one of the first yoga manuals made widely available in the West. In it, renowned yogi B.K.S. Iyengar provides in-depth teaching on yoga asana, or poses, complete with over 600 photographs and detailed explanations. But this book is so much more than just a practice manual! It also includes yogic philosophy, breathwork techniques, the workings of the internal body in yoga practice, and more. This is a must-have book for all yogis interested in a more traditional approach to modern yoga. Plus, it was written in the 1960s, which automatically makes it cooler. I may or may not pretend I’m George Harrison when I read it.
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, by T.K.V. Desikachar
This is my absolute favorite yoga book of all time. T.K.V. Desikachar takes you on a journey through the art and science of yoga, beginning with the teachings he received from his father, Sri T. Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya is considered to be the father of modern yoga, having taught his son, Desikachar, along with two other prolific teachers of the 20th century, B.K.S. Iyengar (mentioned above), and Pattabhi Jois, creator of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. The author’s account of his father’s philosophy and teaching are the closest we can get to Krishnamacharya, the guru of gurus. Happily, Desikachar also happens to be one of the greatest yoga teachers of all time in his own right, so we get the benefit of both teachers’ wisdom. As an added bonus, this book also includes its own translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the 2,000-year-old bible of essential yoga teachings. In case I haven’t been clear, this book is the literal best.
The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, by Pema Chodron
Ahh, humans. We are just balls of stress and confusion and all sorts of other icky feelings. The good news is, yoga asana on its own will help with this. But lemme blow your mind for a sec, here: there’s more to yoga than poses. For one thing, it would be argued by some (and by “some,” I mean me and every guru ever) that you cannot experience yoga in its complete form without some form of meditation. Are you panicking yet? If so, Pema Chodron is the cure. A Buddhist nun who is basically the coolest, nicest person on earth, Pema will help you figure out how best to integrate meditation into your unique life. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean you’ll need to block out an hour to sit on a cushion chanting Om (unless that’s your bag, of course), and then beat yourself up when you fail to do so with any regularity. No, no, and no. Through Chodron’s interpretation of the Buddhist principle of loving-kindness, you will learn the secret to a mindful, compassionate life. Spoiler alert: it has a great deal to do with not beating yourself up.
Yoga as Medicine, by Timothy McCall
Are you under 25? Then I’ll tell you something that those of us over 25 already know: your body is a ticking time bomb of ailments. It’s a fact, Jack. No matter how excellently you take care of yourself, at some point, you’re going to strain your back lifting some seemingly weightless object or come down with seasonal allergies out of freakin’ nowhere or wake up with the Ebola virus or whatever. It’s just part of having a body. On that extremely irritating day when your doctor is like, “Hey, are you aware that bad cholesterol is a thing and that you have tons of it, you cheese addict, you,” you will be super glad that you own this book. It contains yogic remedies and treatments for everything from headaches to hernias. So pick it up, then briefly consider going vegan for the thousandth time on your way to the locally sourced, cruelty-free cheese shop. Don’t judge me.
Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God, translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
If you only ever read one book about yogic philosophy, this should be it. This book is part of the triumvirate of Hindu religious texts, and includes some of the most profound wisdom ever scribed by human hands. “The Gita,” as the cool kids call it, is written in the style of an epic poem. It’s essentially a long conversation between the deity Krishna and his pupil Arjuna. The two contemplate the most baffling of ethical dilemmas, from war to lust to laziness. This trove of teachings will help you to see modern yoga in its true spiritual, cultural, and historical context. There are countless translations available, but this one is a personal favorite and gets even better when you read it at the beach.
Yoga Anatomy: Second Edition, by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
Are you spatially challenged? This is my affectionate term for those of my students who come to their first class saying things like, “I don’t know my right from my left and sometimes I trip over nothing and oh yeah, I am standing on your foot right now, sorry.” It’s cool, that’s why you’re doing yoga! Your sense of your own body will get better, I promise. However, for some people, listening to the instructor will only get you so far. If you need to work on deepening your understanding of your body (and we all do), this book can help. Learning to engage not only your big muscle groups, but the tinier, subtler ones requires a closer look into how your body works and what it’s actually doing in a particular pose. Truly connecting with your inner body can be challenging for everyone, but especially for beginners. The excellent anatomy illustrations and in-depth instruction in this book will be your savior. Take it from someone who still occasionally trips over nothing.
Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, by Judith Hanson Lasater
Self-study is an integral part of yoga practice. The thing is, we have to not only study the good things about ourselves but also our inner bratty jerkfaces. Don’t be shy, we all have one. The question is, where does he or she come from? What makes us defensive, greedy, or selfish? How can yoga help? All this and more is answered in Living Your Yoga. Lasater’s book is an invaluable guide through the process of learning more about oneself. This is a wonderful book for everyone, but especially for those of us who’ve been practicing for a while and are ready to explore the true depths of our practice (and really get to know our inner bratty jerkface). This book gives pragmatic, easy-to-understand advice on integrating the principles of yoga into relationships, work, and the rest of life. You will be a calmer, more accepting person by the second chapter.
There are far too many amazing, life-changing yoga books out there to mention here. Yogis, what are some of your favorites?