In our practice of yoga we are encouraged to read texts that allow us to look deeper into our connections with ourselves and the universe around us. Granted when Patanjali put this into motion in the Niyamas, he was more concerned with scripture, however in the more modern world there are a verity of texts and books that can help both the yoga student and teacher reach beyond their current understandings of the practice.
Though I will only put fourth 8 of my favorite theory texts that I found essential to both my practice as well as my teaching career, know that there are plenty more to chose from. That being said I have some pieces of advice when choosing a worth while yoga book to read.
One is that make sure that the author has some sense of what they are talking about which matches your current understanding and vibe. There are a lot of yogis out there doling out advice. Some will resonate with you and others might not. This does not mean that they are bad yogis, or that they are uneducated, just that each of us understands and speaks in different ways. One might be able to explain a concept to you that another just went way over your head with.
Another thing is to ask for recommendations from people you trust. If you are interested in reading more about the practice, or deepening your understanding, and not sure where to start ask the yogi you study under. Do not just read some blog and assume that these are the books you need – ironic I know. We are all at different points in our lives and knowledge tends to show up when it is needed. If you have been told to read something, and then see it again in a blog, that might be a sign; or if the summery resonates with you, that also might be a sign that it is time to crack that book open.
Try to read often. Knowledge tends to build on itself, and if you stop seeking it out, sometimes you can forget or loose what you already have gained. You do not need to make sure you read for hours on end ever day, but try to set a goal and stick to it. Maybe start out with one book ever six months and go from there. Also try not to over extend yourself, other wise you will be cramming a book and will gain less then when you have the chance to absorb what is being said. Further try to pick times to read when you are really perceptive. If you are falling asleep, or your mind is wandering this way and that while you are attempting to learn, nothing will stick.
Finally if you find an author you really enjoy, or resonated with, take notes or check their sources section. Often times where they got their base for their body of work will have more insights that you will enjoy. Then again you might find that the author took something and reinvented it in a way you better understand. It’s a 50/50 shot with source material, but other interpretations are always a good place to start. I always like to see if there is something that is continually referenced, and then will pick that up at a later date. Much of the information is cross bread so you might find yourself going in circles for awhile, but in the best way.
So then below are 8 books that I have found essential to my practice. They are in no particular order either, each seems to be as instrumental as the last.
- “The Tao of Pooh” By Benjamin Hoff – this is one of my absolute favorite books on life itself, and it is a very easy read so a good place to start. Hoff took a favorite childhood character and reinvented it to explain Taoism and life philosophy. He uses a similar writing style to AA Milne as well as works in many of the classic stories from the books, making it not only easy to understand but a fun and colorful read. I will add one final note; everyone whom I have ever met that has read this book told me that this book changed their lives in a major and positive way. (I do mean EVERYONE without exception).
- “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” by Edwin Bryant – We all know how important the Yoga Sutras are to any yogi, however Bryant takes them to the next level. Although his book is about 600-700 pages, it is a worth while read; delving deep into the Sutras one at a time and combining both contemporary and original commination. Further he also gives a concise understanding of India’s culture and spiritual backgrounds, then makes these ideas accessible to the modern reader. Not only does this version of the Sutras excite the yogi in us, but also the intellectual, as it is written to both audiences.
- “The Deeper Dimension of Yoga” by Georg Feuerstein – If you are content with reading just the base line stuff then ignore this book, however if you really want to get to the inner levels of yoga, this is a great start. Feuerstein gives a more than basic look into yoga as a whole. Giving deeper introductions into some more well know parts of the practice, as well as introducing the reader to some lesser known concepts that excite a thirst for more. He couples deep knowledge of the history of yoga and the cultural understandings, with the basic principles of the different spiritualties that utilize yoga. He also gives insight into the different tools used for yoga through out the years, and finally gives plenty to be contemplated for later. Feuerstein has a very healthy writing career as well, so if you like his insights you wont be left with just this one text.
- “The Bhagavad Gita” By Paramhansa Yogananda – There are many different versions, and feelings, on the Gita. I recommend Yogananda’s versions (and say his larger version is a better first time read) and do encourage reading this text multiple times. Although there may be some controversy reading this spiritual text, it is the back bone to many of the age old yoga practices, and can be taken at face value if it is really an issue. The larger collection of texts is a story of a warrior price caught fighting for his throne in a war raged by his family. This particular book is focused on a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna regarding the duties of life, as well as the spiritual practice of yoga. The entire story is an allegory for the internal fight we all face between the gross and the spiritual lending much advice as to how to reconcile the two. Although there are many different versions, Yogananda does an excellent job interpreting the text for the Western mind, often times using references from the Bible to make it more attainable.
- “The Upanishads” by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester – Although this version is only excerpts form the full Upanishads, this translation gets to the essence of the writings rather well, and without being overwhelming. The text can be a bit difficult at times- as there is no inter commentary – just reading them through once can be a great help in later books and offer wonderful insight. Almost all supplemental yoga texts reference the Yoga Sutras, The Gita, and the Upanishads, so even if you have trouble unpacking all the meaning, again just having a surface knowledge will help you connect the dots in other examples.
- Carl G Jung – Jung was a student of Freud. He ended up differing with Freud on some major concepts and went on to revitalize the physiological community at large. He has some great insights into the human mind, and particularly the unconscious as well as the dreaming state. Further more his work is sighted numerous times throughout the yoga community, making his understandings invaluable. Although he did not write any books in full he does have one that is pretty comprehensive of his work called “Man and His Symbols”. Jung was widely published lending him to write to the layman making his writings very easy to grasp and understand. His work gives a more scientific understanding to many of the mental and emotional concepts of meditation and yoga.
- “The Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramhansa Yogananda – Yogananda was one of the earliest people to bring Yoga to the West, and his life story offers many insights into the practice today. Understanding the roots of what happened in the early days, helps us appreciate the communities we have developing now. Further he offers insights both from himself and other gurus of India regarding many spiritual concepts and texts. He was also very adapt at both science and sociology which allows him to give us great insight into how yoga was received and how it continued to grow.
- The Tora, Bible, and Qu’ran – These three are kind of mushed together due to their shared theme and content. However the more we study as yogis the more we find just how much each of these text in themselves are valued as great tools of insight and allegory. Having at least a base knowledge of each of them to relate to their context in other texts will not only help your understandings of certain concepts, but may also offer additional insight. I am also a huge believer in the understanding and study of all spiritual practices and religions. I believe that though understanding them all we are better able to grasp and hold to our own truths. I recommend reading them on their own, and not just assuming because you have ready the Old Testament you understand the Tora etc. Each book is in itself a corner stone for three very different cultures and religions so understanding them independently is crucial.
Well there you go, for better or worse, here are eight books I find indispensable to my practice as a yogi and my teachings as an instructor. Although these are many more that I lean on quite a bit, these are the books that are focused on theory and spiritual practice that I feel any yogi looking for more off the mat should at least consider, if not read in their entirety.
Practice in Peace and Love ❤