Whether you’re brand new to yoga or a seasoned veteran, books are a great way to learn about the ancient philosophy and its modern evolution.
Having myself learned hatha yoga from a book, I can attest to the beauty of this method. Of course, it it always recommended to study with a teacher in person when possible, but books (and DVDs/videos) can be a great way to supplement your practice at home.
Here are seven classic titles for the eternal beginner in us all.
1. Light On Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Want to focus on correct alignment? Iyengar’s your man. He’s s been teaching yoga since of the age of 17—and he was 17 in 1935. This is the classic yoga guidebook by the founder of Iyengar Yoga. His emphasis is on precision and alignment, which is an important, safe foundation for all hatha yoga practice.
2. The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar
Renowned yoga master T. K. V. Desikachar learned from his father Krishnamacharya and his fundamental teaching that therapeutic yoga practices must be continually adapted to fit our ever-changing needs.
Desikachar’s book offers “a program for the spine at every level—physical, mental, and spiritual.” Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is also included, with a translation and commentary by Desikachar.
3. Awakening the Spine by Vanda Scaravelli
This is not really an instructional yoga book, but it is a classic and inspiring and one of the few written by women. Vanda Scaravelli was an early student of Mr. Iyengar. She published this book in 1991—when she was still teaching yoga and looking vibrant, well into her 80s.
Part one, “the Story of Stories” narrates the philosophy of yoga. Part two, “The Asanas,” provides pose drawings and photographs coupled with short, descriptive paragraphs. A brief final section is called “Breathing.”
4. The Sivananda Companion to Yoga by Swami Vishnu Devananda
“Living with mind and body relaxed is our natural state, our birthright—it is only the pace of our lives that has made us forget. Those who retain the art possess the key to good health, vitality and peace of mind, for relaxation is a tonic for the whole being, liberating vast resources of energy.”
This thoroughly engaging and comprehensive guide includes the standard sections on asana, pranayama and meditation, as well as substantial information on diet and nutrition and adapting yoga to where we are in the cycle of life.
5. Beyond Power Yoga: 8 Levels of Practice for Body & Soul by Beryl Bender Birch
For Christmas of 1999, my parents gave me Beryl Bender Birch’s books Power Yoga and Beyond Power Yoga. She blew my mind with Sun Salutations. The latter book, as the title suggests, goes beyond asana and pranayama to explain all eight limbs of the classical ashtanga yoga system. This book provides excellent workouts for both body and spirit.
6. Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses by Dharma Mittra
Are you in a yoga rut? Sick of the same old poses? Check out this book which features master yoga teacher Dharma Mittra in 608 poses, each accompanied by brief commentary and suggested combinations for Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Iyengar practice. It also features a list of poses beneficial for particular health issues and chakra imbalances.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Mr. Mittra’s humble studio in lower Manhattan a handful of times. His classes are incredibly tough, but he is the real deal. He exudes mindfulness, patience and compassion. And, well into his 70s, he is a living model of the healthy benefits of a devoted yoga practice.
7. The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi
Breath is the most important part of yoga, so I couldn’t finish this list without including this practical, accessible book on pranayama by prolific yoga author, Donna Farhi. Much more than just “how to breathe,” it offers anatomy and psychology as it teaches us to undo incorrect breathing habits and become naturally deep breathers.
These are just of few of the many titles that have much to offer all beginners to yoga—and all of us who strive to reconnect with our open, Beginner’s Mind. What other classic yoga literature would you add to this list?
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Ed: Bryonie Wise