Expand your mind
Books to deepen your yoga practice: great reads for students and teachers alike. By Victoria Maw
A yoga practice usually starts on the mat. But the more we learn—about moving with ease, about shaping the breath, about how to slow our thoughts down and about how to be kinder to ourselves—the more curious we are to continue our yoga journey off the mat, expanding our knowledge of the practice and immersing ourselves in all that comes with it.
So how can we feed our curiosity? Luckily, there is no shortage of books about yoga, from the ancient texts of yoga (Patanjali’s Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita) to the modern interpretations of the yogic philosophy, theory, anatomy and biographies of yogis. But with so much out there, it is sometimes hard to know where to start. So here are some suggestions, some classic, some less so: books to deepen your yoga practice! Of course, more often than not, one book will lead to another and you will find yourself on your own yoga reading journey.
Books on asana
Many trainee yoga teachers have David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual on their essential reading lists, and for good reason. It contains detailed instructions on asana and breath, with clear accompanying pictures. For students looking for a more recent guide to asana, Naomi Annand’s Yoga: A Manual for Life is a beautiful option; again, detailed instructions with photographs but it also evokes a real sense of the joy that the author finds in her practice.
Books to explore the breath
Yoga students often find that their understanding of the breath and breathing practices comes a little later in their yoga journey. And when that understanding arrives, it tends to be a bit of an “aha!!” moment. For those who want to explore Pranayama further, Katrina Repka’s Breathing Space is a good introduction to the wonders of the breath.
It is one woman's story of how she learned to master Pranayama but it also contains practical advice and breathing exercises which are clearly explained and accessible. Another wonderful book on breathing and one for expectant mothers is Mothers Breath by Uma Dinsmore Tuli. A thoughtful and thorough examination of how to use the breath in the pre- and postnatal period.
Books on the ancient texts
Most teachers will be well versed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a foundation text of yoga. They are threads (sutra means thread) of wisdom, setting out the theory and practice of yoga. Whilst some of the sutras are much discussed in yoga classes you’ll no doubt be familiar with ‘Sthira Sukham Asanam’, which roughly translates as ‘posture should be steady and comfortable’, others are harder to understand. Living the Sutras by Kelly Dinardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden, offers up commentary on each sutra as well as a chance to journal and reflect on this ancient wisdom.
Books to anchor us
Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is a potentially life-changing book which shows us how to be truly present in our lives. There are also many non-yoga books that offer a very ‘yogic’ perspective on life. A recent addition to this category is the wonderful Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse in which beautiful lettering and illustrations remind us that love, kindness and compassion are the only way to go. Or try Rachel Macy Stafford’s Only Love Today: Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love, short and comforting extracts on how to live a more heart centred life.
Books for science geeks
The Science of Meditation by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson is a robust and well-researched guide to the science behind meditation and an examination into how meditation can cultivate qualities such as love and compassion. It is a fascinating read and one for yogis with a more analytical mind. For those who want to get technical with their physical practice, Science of Yoga: Understand the Anatomy and Physiology to Perfect Your Practice by Anne Swanson, is a useful resource with detailed anatomical illustrations showing exactly how the muscles work in each asana.
Poetry for yogis
There is a reason why yogis gravitate towards the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Mary Oliver. Her poetry, most of it firmly rooted in nature, allows us to bathe in the present moment and to feel deeply connected with the world around us. Buy both volumes of her New and Selected Poems and keep them by your bedside for comfort. In the same vein, Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself explores the idea of ’true self’ and our relationship with nature and the universe. Life affirming stuff.