5 Fabulous American Yoga Books You Must Read.

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on Aug 21, 2013
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Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In today’s American media and pop culture—the term “Yoga” carries lots of baggage and as many connotations as there are people.

With all due respect to yogic authors from India, for us gringos, it can also be helpful to ingest the words of North American yoga teachers and scholars. Their writings reach the modern American mind, body and spirit by filtering yoga through the lens of our ever evolving pop yoga culture.

Here is a list of five indispensable, accessible, well-written American Yoga guidebooks and memoirs that I highly recommend for mindful yogis and yoginis of all ages.

1. Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life by Judith Hanson Lasater

After taking a workshop from the amazingly intelligent, eloquent, funny Judith Lasater herself, I read this delicious, thin volume several years ago. At the time, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and fully immersed in my burgeoning yoga career. The author’s practical, non-preachy voice offers a wonderful, accessible introduction to yoga philosophy within the context of this daily American life.

2. May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing My Mind by Cyndi Lee

Written by the founder of OM Yoga in NYC, this memoir is a down-to-earth account of Ms. Lee’s personal yoga and meditation practices, with special emphasis on her self-hate due to her imperfect physical body. Although at times it feels a little whiny-–woe is me, I have gray hair and flabby thighs and I have to fly all over the world teaching at expensive yoga conferences—I do appreciate the author’s openness and candor.

Her focus on body dysmorphia makes me cringe at times, but it’s also a poignant reminder that of my own former battles with my belly as a yoga practitioner and teacher. Lee is more than willing to dispel the myth that yoga teachers are some special breed of perfect, calm, centered bodhisattvas all the time.

3. Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr

I have long hated Bikram Yoga. Admittedly, I’ve only taken about a dozen classes in the hot room, most of which occured a decade ago in Austin. The most memorable, of course, was the time I took a class from Mr. Choudhury himself, at his Yoga Expo in L.A. in September of 2003. Bikram wanted to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for teaching the biggest yoga class ever.

I’m not sure how many people attended, but we practiced his 26 posture series in a not-so-hot room at the L.A. Convention Center with the “guru” himself ranting and raving on a platform, wearing only a mic and a black loin cloth. It was a terrible class and I was shocked an appalled that there was no savasana (final relaxation) at the end. I laid down anyway, despite the stampede of sweaty yogis leaving the huge, flourescently-lit room.

That said, I adored Benjamin Lorr’s book on Bikram-the yoga, the man, the community. I was absolutely fascinated by the tales of Bikrma’s youth and his initial encounters with Beverly Hills. Over thirty years later, his hot yoga empire is mammoth and controversial and evidently crumbling due to a slew of recent harassment claims and lawsuits. Lorr’s talent for writing smooth prose made me willing to embrace his many detours in the story, including his investigations of pain, heat, asana competitions and narcissitic personality disorder.

4. 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice by Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey

This collection of essays was published in 2012 and is a unique offering in that it includes the voices of 12 different men and women from across the North American yoga community, many of whom are bloggers here on elephant journal.

It includes memorable personal narratives on how yoga helped the authors overcome drug addiction, body dysmorphia and anorexia, as well as more philosophical pieces on yoga’s role in modern day spiritual practice.

My personal favorite title was, “Modern Yoga Will Not Form a Real Culture Until Every Studio Can Also Double as a Soup Kitchen and other observations from the threshold between yoga and activism” by Matthew Remski.

You’ll want to read this quick, intriguing book at least twice.

5. The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing by Jeffrey Davis

I met Jeffrey Davis when he came to Austin in early 2006 and led a weekend workshop at my neighborhood yoga space, Dharma Yoga. His technique is called Yoga as Muse, or YAM for short. “In addition to suggesting specific yoga exercises for various writing roadblocks . . . this is a substantial writing guide, with lessons in voice, symbol, syntax and dialogue,” reported the Dallas Morning News.

For novice and experienced writers alike, this is a must-read guide from a humble, compassionate, wise teacher. The techniques given can also be applied to other types of creation, like music and visual art.

Bonus: Richard Hittleman’s 28-Day Yoga Exercise Program by Richard Hittleman

I had included this title on the list because its presence on a dusty bookshelf in the game room of my parents’ house initiated and propelled my hatha yoga practice.

The book’s copyright is from 1969. It found me in 1993. The back cover announced “the opportunity to look lovelier, feel better and remain younger—in just 28 of the most important days of your life.” Every evening, I’d consult the book’s step-by-step photographs and instructions, which led me through twenty-eight increasingly challenging routines. Right away, I could feel a shift within myself. It was motivating and exciting to teach myself to balance in headstand and to witness my spine and hamstrings gain elasticity.

I felt the thrill of pride at having the discipline to practice every day. My perseverance in yoga helped me tackle undesirable tasks, like Texas history homework. Many thanks, Mr. Hittleman!

Obviously, this list is only the beginning, as it only includes books I have personally read. I just purchased American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation How Indian Spirituality Changed the West by Philip Goldberg, which I’m pretty excited about, but I can’t exactly recommend it since I haven’t read a page yet.

What other American Yoga books would you include? Feel free to leave a comment below and share your favorite title(s).

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Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home since 2012 is Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in a tiny eco cabin with her Colombiano partner and their adorable daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written some inspiring books, with more on the way. She leads yoga and mindfulness retreats and serves as the retreat managers for the stunningly beautiful Villa Sumaya on majestic Lago Atitlan. Her lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma (Buddhist) teachings, pranayama (breath work), yin yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat in Guatemala!


38 Responses to “5 Fabulous American Yoga Books You Must Read.”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I would add just one more to that list: Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi by Brian Leaf. Maybe it's because I'm a Jersey girl. Maybe it's because his personal experiences and philosophies so closely mirror my own. But it was a fast, fantastic read. It'll have you laughing out loud on one page, and holding back tears on the next. Loved it!

  2. Michelle Peterson says:

    Donna Farhi’s “Bringing Yoga to Life” is a must read.

  3. Fifi says:

    I'm currently re-reading Donna Farhi's "Bringing Yoga to Life. Nothing short of amazing, should be on the list!

    Will definitely check out #1 and #3.

  4. Yoga Girl says:

    Sri Guruji Rev. Jaganath Carrera's Inside the Yoga Sutras & Inside Yoga Meditation are invaluable. Check them out as well.

  5. april says:

    It's so funny that you included the last one, as well as the story with it! I was first exposed to yoga the same way – a dusty, smelly paperback copy in the stacks of my mom's library. How cool is that?!? (I then graduated to 'Basic Yoga for Dummies' on VHS before working up the nerve to head to my first class….)

  6. carol says:

    "The Tenth Door" by Michele Hebert – great read

  7. Valerie Audrey Martin says:

    "Beyond Power Yoga" by Beryl Bender Birch is excellent. It brings the philosophy of Ashtanga to practice in a most inspiring manner.

  8. Dr Magick says:

    Good old "Light on Life" by B.K.S. Iyengar. It inspired me to look deeper beyond asana into the juice that's why I do any of this.

  9. Lotus Blossom says:

    Mark Singleton's book Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice as well as Erich Schiffman's book Moving Into Stillness are my suggestions for books on yoga by North American authors.

  10. occultfan says:

    Yoga of Time Travel was noticeably left off of this list…

  11. dianne rohr says:

    When you mentioned Hittleman's book, which I have owned since the 70's, another old book came to mind; Yoga, Youth and Reincarnation by Jess Stearn. It is another fun and fascinating read from that era.

  12. Deb Korchdeborah says:

    Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Steve Cope and The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman are my favorites.

  13. Ginni says:

    How Yoga Works – By Michael Roach – a mental and spiritual examination of 'yoga' through a novel format. The Mighty Cobra & The Pink Rabbit – Miss Pink – Lighthearted and comedic memoir on the Bikram Yoga Teacher Training experience.

  14. Vivi says:

    Psyched to see Benjamin Lorr's Hell-Bent on this list! I've been raving about that book for months.

  15. jao says:

    Top American Yoga Book – Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann. This is an absolutely must read!

  16. Sharon says:

    Hittleman's book was my intro into yoga as well – like you, I did it faithfully for 28 days and was hooked on yoga for the next 30 + years! And I loved Philip Goldberg's book – he is a true scholar.

    Thanks for the list!

  17. Christy says:

    I was first introduced to yoga by Aveda, yep the hair salon!, who published a comprehensive guide on mindful living or something like that. I can't remember what it was called but I asked in my (aveda) salon recently and they knew the book! Would love to get that one again.

  18. Harriet Roberts says:

    Yoga Beyond Belief, by Ganga White – a study of what yoga is and is not especially as it has become popular in the Western World. The writing is concise and brilliant, the approach is discerning and honest, there is no sentimentality just authenticity. A great read for all yogis.

  19. Steve Ferrell says:

    If you haven’t read Matthew Remski’s Threads of Yoga: A Remix of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali you really should. It does an amazing job of helping the modern Yogi find more relevance in the Sutras.

  20. yoga freedom says:

    Sounds great! I will check it out and recommend it to my Jersey girl amiga who is just starting her yoga teacher training. Thanks for your recommendation!

  21. yoga freedom says:

    Donna Farhi is a great writer. Thanks for your recommendation!

  22. yoga freedom says:

    Donna Farhi is a great writer. I hope you like #1 and #3. Thanks for your recommendation!

  23. yoga freedom says:

    Very super cool! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  24. yoga freedom says:

    Good one. My parents gave me Power Yoga and Beyond Power Yoga for Christmas circa 1998. Both are excellent beginner's guides to Ashtanga. Thanks for your recommendation!

  25. yoga freedom says:

    Cool! Thanks for your recommendations!

  26. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for your recommendations!

  27. yoga freedom says:

    These both sound intriguing. Thanks for your recommendations!

  28. yoga freedom says:

    Right?! It is fantastic!

  29. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for your recommendation!

  30. yoga freedom says:

    Thank you for reading and commenting!

  31. yoga freedom says:

    How funny! Whatever works, right?

  32. yoga freedom says:

    Sounds excellent. Thanks for your recommendation!

  33. yoga freedom says:

    That sounds like just what I need! Thanks for your recommendation!

  34. Megazilla says:

    One of the things I absolutely loved about Lorr's book was his "detours" about his personal experience with Bikram yoga. That's what made it so fascinating! I literally could not put that book down and I read it insanely fast. Even though the article author does not seem to like Lorr's personal reflections, I think a lot of people will find it spellbinding.

  35. While it may not be a "how to" book, it is inspirational: "Warrior Pose: how yoga literally saved my life" by Brad Willis AKA Bhava Ram.

  36. Anita P. says:

    "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda, I think is a must read for all yogis…

  37. Carmen says:

    Richard Hittleman’s 28-Day Yoga Exercise Program was my intro into yoga as well 🙂

  38. Cori Hatheway says:

    I love “Meditations from the Mat” by Rolf Gates. I highly recommend it.