10 must read Yoga books for Yoga Teachers

Post Date: June 23, 2017

Summer is here and with it the need for some good reads. Whether you’re planning a yoga teacher training (YTT), destination retreat or staycation from the studio, you’ll want to include a few yoga books in your travel kit along with the sunscreen. Throughout my RYT200, I was introduced to a wide range of yoga books from ancient to contemporary. The purpose was to deepen my knowledge and understanding of Yoga History, its traditions and practices. Of course, the need to review my yamas and niyamas, provided a near perfect reason for unwinding in the hammock chair or lying out next to the infinity pool. The growing volume of yoga literature now available in virtual or brick and mortar bookstores, paperback and e-book form, offers every opportunity for indulging in at least one really great yoga book this summer. Imagine scrolling through the ancient teachings of the Yoga Sutras or Pradipika on your iPhone and from your beach chair. The mind boggles with the plethora of choices. To help you on your way, I’ve made a list of my top ten, ranging from classic to contemporary, traditional to modern and some just for fun.

1. Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is the real deal. This ancient manuscript is the first, the one and the only surviving yoga manual documenting the practices of the early yogis. It’s Sanskrit name, Haṭhayogapradīpikā means the scripture shedding light on the Haṭhayoga science. The Hatha Pradipika was written on sheets of papyrus by Sawmi Svātmārāma and is dated at 1200-1300AD. This was about the same time that, when Marco Polo was travelling around India, so the Pradipika is bursting with enchanting yoga stories, mythology and history as well as illustrations of the original 84 yogasanas, most of which are still in practice today such as tree and eagle pose. Brian Dana Akers English translation uses contemporary photography and is available free on the internet.

2. Light on Yoga

You don’t’ need to be an Iyengar yogi to appreciate this definitive work by the world’s greatest and best-known teacher of yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar. Accessible and user-friendly, this 20th century Light on Yoga manual, includes an introduction to the philosophy and practice of yoga; detailed descriptions of more than 200 postures and over 600 photographs illustrating the postures and breathing techniques for all levels of practice.

3.    Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The Yoga Sutras are the ancient version of motivational quotes. The original yoga Sutras were written over 2,000 years ago by Patanjali, a celebrated yoga teacher of his day. The Sutras is a collection of yoga wisdom and teachings. As the saying goes, if you take enough yoga classes and you will hear your teachers quote from the Sutras. That is certainly true of BKS Iyengar, whose translation and commentary on these ancient yoga sutras has been described as the “bible” of yoga. Light on the Yoga Sutras is available in paperback and as a free download.

4. Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga

If you like your yoga wisdom with a dose of everyday life, in the now, then this book of daily reflections by Rolf Gates will support your journey each day of the year.  Each of the daily reflections aims to inspire the reader to integrate the mindfulness that yoga teaches into everyday life, on and off the mat. This is a great resource for yoga teachers, who may not be comfortable quoting from the Sutras, but do look to make their classes meaningful. Available in paperback free downloads.

5. The Yoga Tradition: It’s History, Literature. Philosophy and Practice

This colossal book by Georg Feuerstein PHD is a comprehensive project, charting yoga history, traditions, literature, philosophy and practices from the pre-classical to Hatha Yoga. The book was a lifelong project of Feuerstein who died shortly after it was published. It is not an easy read as the book is long and dense in detail. In terms of yoga research, however, this book provides an invaluable overview of yoga’s many different traditions and emerging styles. The most recent editions do include a Kindle version.

6. The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice

This book by T.K.V. Desikachar is the first yoga manual to outline a step-by-step sequence for developing a home practice according to the traditional yoga principles. Desikachar is the son of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who lived to be over 100 years old, and is celebrated as one of the greatest yogis of the modern age, teaching B. K. S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi and Desikachar. Desikachar method is based on Krishnamacharya’s concept of Vini Yoga, which maintains that practices must be continually adapted to the individual’s changing needs to achieve the maximum therapeutic value. Available in paperback, ebook and free downloads.

7. The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga

More than an anatomy book, The Key Muscles of Yoga by Ray Long MD FRCSC offers a scientific approach to understanding the practice of hatha yoga. With four-color, three-dimensional illustrations of major muscles, tendons and ligaments, Ray Long instructs the reader on the practice and benefits of hatha yoga, by illustrating the effects of Hatha yoga on key muscles.

8. The Healing Path of Yoga: Alleviate Stress, Open Your Heart and Enrich Your Life

Author Nischala Joy Devi has years of practice working in both the medical profession and in traditional yogic settings.  Devi’s theme and purpose in this book are to unite yoga and healing. A blend of personal anecdotes and feminine wisdom, Devi’s book prescribes and instructs on breathing techniques, basic asana practice and meditation to achieve medically proven results for treating heart illness and other stress related issues.

9. Asana Pranayama MudraBandha

Asana Prana Yama Mudra Bandha is recognised internationally as one of the best contemporary yoga manuals. First published by the Bihar School of yoga in 1969, this comprehensive guide has been reprinted seventeen times and translated into many languages. This latest Fourth Revised Edition has been revised and updated under the direction of Swami Niranjananda Saraswati and includes illustrations and step by step guides to teaching and practice of the yoga postures, breathing and mudras. The therapeutic index provides invaluable guidance for use by yoga teachers, therapists, healers and doctors, incorporating recent information from research into yoga.

10. Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition Paperback

Behind each asana is an ancient story about a god, sage, or sacred animal, much like Aesop’s fables or European folktales. This book by Yoga Journal instructor Alanna Kaivalya is the first to collect and retell the myths behind yoga’s spiritual tradition. Each of the stories provides opportunities for incorporating themes and stories into all levels sequences. Reflection on the tolerant nature of trees, for example, can help us become more tolerant ourselves. Meditating on Hanuman’s devotion to Ram, whilst practising the splits, can deepen our understanding of commitment and loyalty. The book includes more than sixty beautiful illustrations to frame the stories and is available on Kindle, hardback or paper.

For the finale, and if you finish all those books by labour day, I would like to suggest an interesting pairing of books, that might be used for a yoga reading group or class study. The first, The Bhagavad Gita published in 1892 is a conversation between Arjuna, a warrior and Krishna, his charioteer.  In the course of the exchange, Krishna explains karma, the self, the Supreme Self, the purpose of yoga, the difference between our self and our material body, how our environment affects our consciousness, and how to attain the perfection of life.

Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Scepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment is Suzanne Morrison’s contemporary and autobiographical account of ‘What happens when a coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking, steak-eating twenty-five-year-old atheist’ enrols on a YTT destination course in Bali. Hilarious, irreverent, but never irrelevant, Morrison’s dialogue is largely internal, though one wonders what advice Krishna might have had to offer her or Caroline Horton and Roseanne Harvey, editors 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice, a collection of essays written by yoga teachers that the role of yoga in contemporary society. Engaging with issues from enlightenment to body image, the book weaves a narrative of personal stories and discursive essays which aim to demonstrate the potential for yoga to transform society as well as the individual.  Now there’s some food for thought to chew on over the long days of summer.

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