From the outside, the practice of Yoga can seem intimidating. Pictures of slim women in Lycra, or thoughts of uncomfortably hot rooms full of sweating strangers could be enough to frighten anyone off. Or, looking at the practice from a different angle, the image of a painfully thin ascetic sitting meditating for hours might pop into one’s head.
Once the initial fear of the unknown is conquered, however, and you start off with your first few classes, you may find yourself suddenly ravenous for all things yoga. We’ve compiled a short and sweet list of some of the most interesting, mind-expanding, and fulfilling books that can help fuel a new practice.
None of these books focus on the asanas, or postures. In the beginning, it’s often better to learn and develop the physical portion of your practice with a skilled teacher. Let these books feed your spirit and inform your mind. Plus, a bonus beach towel read when you need a nice fiction break.
The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali
“For those who have an intense urge for Spirit and wisdom, it sits near them, waiting.” ~ Patanjali
Arguably the most referenced, well-known and potentially enlightening books on the science and philosophy of Yoga. While mentions of the asanas and other practices can be found in older texts, Patanjali brought together the foundations of classical Yoga into one place.
Written in the form of sutras, or aphorisms, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras deserve a fair dose of contemplation. I recommend starting off with one or two sutras, and using them as a basis for meditation in order to allow the full potential of these powerful words to unfold.
Meditations From the Mat by Rolf Gates
“The real payoff of a yoga practice, I came to see, is not a perfect handstand or a deeper forward bend—it is the newly born self that each day steps off the yoga mat and back into life.” ~ Rolf Gates
Meditations from the Mat is ideal for getting your daily dose of inspiration. Gates, a former US Airborne Ranger and alcoholic, has inspired millions with these 365 passages written about yoga, yogic philosophy, and living a virtuous life. The book is organized as a kind of overview of the Yoga Sutras; Gates takes several entries to look at the different Yamas and Niyamas, and how they apply to experiences he’s had, and what he’s learned from these experiences.
Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron
“If your mind is expansive and unfettered, you will find yourself in a more accommodating world, a place that’s endlessly interesting and alive. That quality isn’t inherent in the place but in your state of mind.” ~ Pema Chodron
Living Beautifully isn’t specifically about yoga, but the teachings within this slender volume certainly apply to the practice. Chodron explored the Three Commitments, a traditional Buddhist practice, with a tone that is at once humorous, gentle, accepting, and warm.
The premise here is that life as a human is fundamentally uncertain. We change, the environment changes, the people around us change, and from day-to-day our experience on the mat will change. Instead of fighting against that change, the goal is to embrace it, find the beauty in it, and as a result move through the world with a kinder and ultimately more fulfilling approach to life.
Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi
“Through daily yoga practice we can become present to our own fundamental goodness, and the goodess of others.” ~ Donna Farhi
One of my favorite books about yoga, hands down. Farhi takes a very down to earth, no-nonsense tone in this book, while at the same time tackling the often heady subject of the interweaving of yoga, spirituality, and how to apply both of these to daily life.
Bringing Yoga to Life is worth reading over and over, as the lessons and guidance within apply differently as you progress in your practice and expansion.
The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards by William J. Broad
“Yoga is a huge enterprise, and I wish the medical community devoted more time and energy to its study.” ~ William J. Broad
If you’re looking to dig in to more of the science and statistics behind yoga, this is a great book. Broad looks into the risks yoga can pose to practitioners (injuries such as strained muscles, herniated discs, and stroke), the somewhat dubious claims sometimes posed by yoga marketers, as well as identifying some of the very real benefits of a regular yoga practice.
The Science of Yoga was met with a lot of criticism and controversy, which I think is unfortunate. While there are points Broad makes that run counter to what many practitioners and those in the yoga industry like to claim, I think it makes it that much more important to read.
Denying facts and looking away from safe practices because they don’t fit into a preconception runs counter to the philosophy of Yoga: asteya (nonharm), satya (truth), and aparigraha (non grasping), all urge us to stay open to new information.
Bonus Fiction: Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman
“There’s a way I feel sometimes when I’m doing yoga. It’s a feeling—just for a moment—that I belong somewhere, even if it’s just inside my own skin.” ~ Anne Cushman
Enlightenment for Idiots is definitely on the lighter side. A dash of chick-lit, a dash of yoga, a dash of travelogue, this is the perfect book for summer reading, or drifting off to sleep. This fun read follows the main character through her travels to India, running away from Mr. Wrong while trying to fulfill a book contract on enlightenment.
Learning and Expanding
These are just a few of the vast wealth of books about yoga and philosophy available out there. I hope this list inspires you to deepen your understanding of all things yoga. In other words, your understanding of all things Life!