10 Important (And Awesome) Yoga Books That Every Yogi Should Read This Year
First off, let me set the record straight: I know there are way more than ten important books that every yogi should read. I know that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of incredible, inspiring, life-changing, knowledge-packed books out there that we should be getting into on a daily basis whether we are yoga teachers, yoga practitioners, yoga enthusiasts, or even yoga skeptics. This list is not meant to be all encompassing or perfect. A list of that nature would take years to write. It would require countless interviews and trips to the bookstore. It would require coffee-fueled mornings filled with reading. It would require time (hours upon hours!) to test the knowledge learned from such reading both on and off the mat. It would require highlighters and sticky notes…
Actually, it sounds like fun! And a great idea for a book… DIBS!
So until I can find someone willing to give me a ten-year advance for this new book idea project, this little list that I spend this afternoon writing will have to do (and I’ll have to finish before it gets too late because Better Call Saul is on tonight.)
I have purposely only included books that I have read (and read recently) on this list, which seems like an obvious thing to do, but I’ll admit that because of the numerous great books out there it was tempting to include a few that I have unfortunately not had the chance to read yet. I refrained from including these potentially great books because, one, I don’t feel good about telling someone to read this “life-altering, masterful book” when I really have no personal knowledge that it is and, two, I’m a good person (see number one).
As a yoga teacher I never introduce anything to my students that I have not yet had a chance to do for myself. There are lots of things out there that sound good in theory (“Let’s hold a ten-minute handstand everyone! That should be great for us!”), but that in all practicality are just complete and utter nonsense. Teachers are meant to be guides for their students. And who would you rather have as your guide through a dark and gnarly forest, a guy who has never been here before with a GPS or someone that has explored the forest’s depths for years, knows the ins and outs of each trail, and can recognize which direction is which simply by looking at the moss on the trees?
I thought so… (Unless of course you said the one with the GPS. Then that’s not what I expected.)
Chances are you choose the one who knows his shit. Good for you! I would do the same. That’s why this list is my compilation of the ten books I have read and re-read. The books I know the ins and outs to and the ones that I feel so strongly about that I keep them within reach, scattered around my house, ready to be picked up the second I have a spare moment. These books will help you understand yoga, explore the human condition, travel to far away lands, make you question who and what you are, inspire you, enlighten you, challenge you, and, in my opinion, most importantly, learn how to help yourself and others live a better, more fulfilling life.
If you have already read them, I encourage you to read them again this year. If you are skeptical about one (or all) of them, I urge you to give it a try. From one yogi to another, these books seriously have changed the way I live my life.
1. Ramayana retold by William Buck
The Ramayana is a classic staple in world literature. Written over 2,000 years ago by a mysterious poet known as Valmiki, this Indian epic takes you on a journey alongside Prince Rama and introduces you to characters such as the monkey Hanuman, the demon lord Ravana, the beautiful princess Sita, and the Asura Maya. It is a traditional tale of good versus evil, reality versus illusion, filled with stories of dharma, nobility, and heroism.
The Ramayana introduces you to many important characters in Indian tradition, many of who play an important role in the story behind the asanas that are practiced today. By reading this book you become familiar with ideology that is pertinent to understanding the philosophy behind yoga and all of the rich tradition and culture that comes with it. And if none of that interests you, it is just plain fun. There are epic battles, love scenes, and family drama (it’s like an Indian version of Game of Thrones only a bit more moral in my opinion). Plus, this version retold by William Buck makes the format of the Indian epic approachable, meaning that it reads more like a contemporary fiction book without losing its classical integrity.
“These trees in flower
Have been engarlanded by the gods.
This forest is a Garden,
This Hill an ornament of Earth.”
2. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda
This is THE book of yoga. It has been described as the only “complete manual for the study and practice of yoga.” It is where you find the answer to the question, what is yoga? It introduces the yamas and niyamas, klesas (or obstacles) that every yogi faces, gunas, types of yoga, etc. The nearly 200 sutras written by Patanjali are organized into four books, or padas. Book one deals with contemplation, two on practice, three about accomplishments, and four is all about absoluteness. It is deep and profound and absolutely essential.
There is a really good chance that you have already read this book. If you are a yoga teacher, it is a required read by nearly every yoga teacher certification program. But it is one of those books that should be revisited and revisited often. It is too important to just skim or to just reference as necessary. Each time I have read this book I find something new. I read something differently or understand it on a deeper level. If you have never read it before, don’t be intimidated! Although it goes through a lot of information, you will focus in on what is important to you right now. So many of your questions about yoga will be answered! For me, it was wonderful to read from an authority on yoga that my ability to wrap my foot around my head did not correlate to my ability to “do” yoga.
“Within the space of these 200 short Sutras, the entire science of Yoga is clearly delineated: its aim, the necessary practices, the obstacles you may meet along the path, their removal, and precise descriptions of the results that will be obtained from such practices.”
3. The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman
Exactly the book you need once you have read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Bachman’s The Path of the Yoga Sutras offers a modern context for the yoga guide, giving the Sutras new life and practicality. Each chapter begins with a quote by great minds of all times and backgrounds (from Gurus to Gandhi, the Bible and Rumi) and ends with focus questions and exercises, which help you to understand how to effectively apply the teachings in your own life.
This book gives you a greater understanding of the Sutras and offers a new lens with which to view them. Paired with the original text, this book offers powerful insights by one of the world’s leading thinkers and Sanskrit experts. It is only after reading this book that I truly felt connected to the Sutras and able to really begin living them out with purpose on a daily basis.
“Every time we act or think or speak, we draw from our memory. Therefore, what we remember directly affects our behavior and the way we perceive the outside world. If we are to act in a kinder and gentler manner, then we must be careful and vigilant with what we expose ourselves to.”
4. The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope
A notable compilation of real-life stories by Stephen Cope, the director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living, this book traces the paths chosen by some of the world’s greatest and most admired people, Harriet Tubman, Mohandas K. Gandhi, John Keats, Robert Frost, Jane Goodall, Ludwig van Beethoven, etc. As the lives of these inspiring people are detailed, Cope creates parallels with the classic Indian Epic, the Bhagavad Gita, creating a story line filled with examples of how to listen and follow one’s dharma, or what Cope calls, The Gift, and what happens when one does or doesn’t.
This is probably one of the books I quote and recommend the most. It is filled with so many gems, or “nuggets of gold” as Tai Lopez would put it. It is a roadmap for those who feel lost in their life, those who want to understand what their purpose is, and what they should be doing. It helps you to realize that life is about so much more than money or fame; life is really about fulfilling your purpose and living a life that “lights you up”, one that you are passionate about. It will have you asking yourself important questions and leave you feeling ready to make changes and start really making the most of your life.
“Eventually (dharma) takes on a life of its own. It does things spontaneously that you had no reason to expect. It begins to drill down into the deepest parts of your mind. Soon you begin to see that this dharma is not just any old stick of bamboo. It is a magic wand. A wish-fulfilling wand. It is a way to know – to interact with, to be in relationship with – the deepest parts of yourself. It is a vehicle to know the world.”
5. Light On Yoga by BKS Iyengar
This is the bible when it comes to the physical asanas (poses) of a hatha yoga practice. Written by the late and great yogi BKS Iyengar, Light On Yoga details over 200 poses, with descriptions that include everything from how the pose should be done, what it should (or shouldn’t feel like), the benefits, and a mind-boggling rating system for how advanced the posture is. Before Iyengar jumps into the postures, there is a solid introduction he wrote that, while short compared to most, offers a great explanation of what yoga is all about and how to have an effective practice – he even offers a 300-week yoga course (that’s about six years) to take you from beginner to advanced.
No yogi should be without this book. It is the be-all and end-all when it comes to understanding the physical postures of yoga and how they should be executed. To see Iyengar demonstrate in photographs over 200 poses is an inspiring example of one who has dedicated his life to the practice. It is humbling and motivating all in the same breath. Mine is filled with notes, both handwritten and sticky, and I turn to it on a weekly basis for help, ideas, and as an authority when I am trying to sift through the vast amount of information that can be found online, in magazines, etc.
“When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment. Then he knows the joy eternal which is beyond the pale of the senses which his reason cannot grasp. He abides in this reality and moves not therefrom. He has found the treasure above all others.”
6. Blessings by Julia Cameron
A beautiful collection of quotes and daily affirmations, this book is unpretentious when compared to others in the same category. The writing focuses on learning how to observe nature and its miracles, gently reminding you to open your eyes and see what’s really there, past the artificial world that so many of get caught in. While spiritual, the writing is not religious, which makes the prayers and declarations easy to apply to your personal beliefs and lifestyle.
I read bits and pieces of this book almost every day, which is, I think, to go about reading this book (although I’m sure it would be a great read if you were to do it all in one sitting). It is also one of my favorites for sharing with my yoga classes – a nice way to either start or end class. Blessings is not convoluted or complicated, the writing is creative yet simple, it is the perfect balance of spiritual and down-to-earth, making it accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
“The life which I have now is rich and beautiful, intricate and valuable. I cherish the abundance which has come to my door. I take the time and attention to focus on the precise components of my life which please me. I notice the beauty of my surroundings, the harmony of my friendships, the synergy of the many parts working together to form a greater whole.
7. Somatics by Thomas Hanna
Thomas Hanna is considered the founder of the field of Somatics, a groundbreaking approach to whole body health. His book, Somatics, details the difference between body (the physical that everyone can see) and soma, or living body (the personal, “the me”, that can only be understood by one person). In this book Hanna makes the compelling argument that much of what our society deems to be problems caused by aging are actually problems caused by what he calls “sensory-motor amnesia”, something that can be treated and reversed without surgery and in a relatively short amount of time. He offers compelling stories followed by Somatic exercises that can (and should!) be done by everyone at every age to either help keep the body’s sensory and motor systems properly functioning or to reverse damage that has already been caused.
Hanna’s book has changed many people’s lives, proving to the world that aches and pains, arthritis and immobile joints aren’t necessarily something we have to live with simply because we age. I have found this book to be incredibly inspiring for so many reasons. The first time I read it I was shocked, literally my mouth wide open, as I read about his ability to treat people who suffered from aches and pains that were ruining their lives and which doctors said could not be treated except with pain medication and surgeries. A yoga instructor who regularly incorporated Somatics into her yoga classes recommended this book to me several years ago as a way to help some of the more elderly or less mobile students I was working with in private sessions. I love that the exercises, unlike some of those offered in yoga, are accessible to nearly everyone. This book has opened my eyes to a new understanding of how the body works and how we can help it function better. This book has directly impacted my approach to yoga and health and I return to it again and again.
“Somatic Exercises can change how we live our lives, how we believe that our minds and bodies interrelate, how powerful we think we are in controlling our lives, and how responsible we should be in taking care of our total being.”
8. Yoga: Mind, Body & Spirit by Donna Farhi
Donna Farhi is an acclaimed author, movement therapist, and yoga teacher. This comprehensive book encapsulates her love for yoga and movement in a way that is holistic and down-to-earth. Filled with precise instructions to poses and breathing exercises, Farhi’s work is wonderfully fundamental, making it a beneficial read for any yogi, regardless of their lineage or background.
This is one of the first yoga books I ever read and I credit it as one of the reasons I fell in love with the practice. It took everything I was feeling in yoga class and put words to it, helping me to understand why the practice worked. To me, this is a major principle in being able to teach and practice yoga effectively: to really love it and share it with others you must be able to understand it. Unlike ancient yoga texts, which are invaluable for other reasons, this book offers basic building blocks that allow you to directly take what you learn and apply it immediately into your practice and teaching.
“Yoga is a way of living and being that makes real happiness possible. Yoga is also a science that incorporates a broad range of practices and techniques that can be tailored and adapted to best suit your personal constitution and personality. We are not asked to believe anything until we have experimented, tested, and found our direct experience to be sound. The great paradox of this ‘work’ is that there is no reward to strive toward, because the practice
9. Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine with Ann Frederick
When people hear the word “trauma” they often think of car accidents and death, extreme occurrences that are obviously shocking to the human system. And while instances such as those are indeed traumatic, there is another, more broad view.
Waking The Tiger
explores all types of trauma, from the extraordinary to the seemingly ordinary events that happen to all of us over the course of our lives, even on a daily basis. The general theory behind this book is that humans are different from animals because of our unique intellect. In the wild, animals suffer trauma and yet often rarely exhibit emotional impact from the trauma (a few notable cases, such as elephants, chimps, and dolphins make for an exception). On the other hand, humans are greatly affected by trauma, often allowing it to completely alter how they move through and live out their lives.
Once you realize that all humans suffer from trauma of one kind or another two important things happen. First, you begin to look at people differently, you begin to empathize more easily, and are more patient and gentle with everyone you encounter. Second, you begin to see that by recognizing traumatic events and accepting that you have been traumatized at one point or another you can start to take steps towards healing.
The exercises in this book are genius, profound and revolutionary. They have changed my life dramatically. I only recently read this book, but I can already tell that what I have learned is impacting my quality of life. Furthermore, as yoga teachers, we find ourselves as an attentive ear for many of our students, hearing stories of trauma on a regular basis. This book helps to give you a better understanding of how to listen effectively and offer support to those who need it most.
“Cultures that use ritual and shamans to heal trauma may seem primitive and superstitious, but they have one important advantage – they address the problem directly. These cultures openly acknowledge the need to heal when someone in their community has been overwhelmed. Most modern cultures, including ours, fall victim to the prevailing attitude that strength means endurance; that it is somehow heroic to be able to carry on regardless of the severity of our symptoms.”
10. Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler
The subtitle of this book says it all:
The Future Is Better Than You Think.
Abundance is sort of the odd one out on this list – scientific instead of spiritual, very much focused on research rather than emotional or personal experience. But this book is such a game-changer that I had to include it.
takes on the world’s problems, hunger, poverty, dirty water, oil, disease, the ones that people lament over on a regular basis, often citing them as reasons for why we are all doomed, and show you how through a powerful combination of money and innovation we can solve (and are solving) all of these problems.
The driving motivator behind this book is to prove to our negative, news-obsessed culture that abundance (water, food, energy, health care, education, freedom) is within the reach of every man, woman, and child on this planet. It is packed with examples of how pioneers in their fields are actually solving the “unsolvable” problems of the world, and these examples are then fleshed out even further for the pessimists with graphs, charts, data, and graphics, making it hard not to believe what you are seeing (even though much of it is unbelievable).
I absolutely love this book. As a perennial optimist, I am often told that I am just being naïve or ignoring the “facts of the world.” Optimists are all too often written off in serious conversations, leaving the talking to those who believe there is little hope for mankind and whose garages and gun safes are locked and loaded for the end days. Because I have read and reread, memorized facts and names, I can now push my way into these once closed conversations. I love seeing the reactions I get when I explain how high quality drinking water can be enjoyed by everyone on the planet for less than one cent a liter thanks to innovative new technology.
For me, this is important and helps me get through the day with a smile on my face. Good people are doing good work. The world’s not so bad. Read this book and join me on a crusade to convince people of this!
“These days, we are saturated with information. We have millions of news outlets competing for our mind share. And how do they compete? By vying for the amygdala’s attention. The old newspaper saw ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ works because the first stop that all incoming information encounters is an organ already primed to look for danger. We’re feeding a fiend. Pick up the Washington Post and compare the number of positive to negative stories. If your experiment goes anything like mine, you’ll find that over 90 percent of the articles are pessimistic. Quite simply, good news doesn’t catch our attention.”
Did I miss one of your favorites? Let me know! I love adding books to my reading list.