As anyone who’s ever encountered yoga can attest to, the practice involves so much more than just performing poses and engaging in breathing techniques.
Whether you’re an experienced yoga instructor who has been teaching for years, or a yoga newbie looking to develop a deeper knowledge of the practice, having a constant supply of books and reference material can really go a long way to helping you depend and broaden your understanding of the practice. After all, yoga means ‘Yuj’ in Sanskrit, it’s the joining of body and mind, and expanding your knowledge is key to that.
To build upon a list you may already have, perhaps as part of your yoga teaching training, we’ve consulted with our highly experienced yoga course tutors and renowned instructors and teachers to give some essential yoga books.
It’s hard to describe the Gita as anything other than a seminal text. This is one of the most widely read and highly regarded Hindu religious texts in the Western world. The Bhagavad Gita means ‘The Song of God’ and it is a lengthy poem which recounts a war between two clans of a royal family in northern India. At the heart of the story is Prince Arjuna who initially lays down his weapon, torn between his duty and his desire not to harm. By his side is his faithful charioteer Krishna, who is actually the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. What unfolds between the two is a lengthy dialogue about life, death, love and spiritual practice. At the heart of the Gita is the question ‘how should we live?’.
Despite being an ancient text, it’s estimated that it was composed in 200-500 BCE, it still holds sway in today’s modern and ever-changing world. The Gita contains essential wisdom that will prove vital to any yoga instructor or teacher.
As you might expect there are many, many versions of The Bhagavad Gita and one of the comprehensive is the one published by Nilgiri Press (second edition). Translated by renowned teacher Eknath Easwaran, it contains a detailed introduction and each chapter is preceded by an explanation of the action and ideas that are about to follow.
More about the Gita and how it fits into the development of yoga from its ancient origins to the present day can be found in our brief history of yoga.
Sri Swami Satchidananda was a famed Indian religious teacher who gained a considerable amount of respect and admiration in the West. While it is by far his crowning achievement, many Westerners first came into contact with him when he opened the famous Woodstock Music Festival in 1969.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Satchidananda translates and provides commentary on the 196 sutras originally written by Patanjali, an ancient Indian sage. These sutras are best described as short and direct statements of truth and cover everything from ethics, meditation, physical postures (what many may associate with modern yoga) and directions for dealing with everyday situations in life.
Despite the sutras themselves being composed over 4,000 years ago, there is still a timeless quality to them which greatly appeals to those practising and teaching yoga alike.
Our recommended version is revised 2012 edition (Integral Yoga Publications) which includes the original sutras in Sanskrit, accompanied by Sri Swami Satchidananda’s explanations and advice which is informed by his own extensive life experience.
Written by Sally Parkes, The Student’s Manual of Yoga Anatomy is an essential tool for aspiring yoga instructors or those who just want to further their own practice. Sally has been teaching classes and running national and international retreats since 1998. She’s also a regular contributor to Movement for Modern Life, Om Yoga and also appeared in Vogue, as well as the HFE blog, so you’d be hard-pressed to find a modern yoga instructor with better credentials.
With award-winning illustrations from Joanna Culley, the book provides 50 step-by-step illustrated poses accompanied by detailed descriptions of exactly what the body is doing and which muscles are being activated when the asana is being performed. It’s a great way to really bring yoga life in a practical way.
All the ‘classic’ asanas are covered including mountain, warrior 1 and 2, cat/cow, eagle, chair and upward dog. While each pose is presented separately, the book also helpfully includes a list of suggested sequences, giving you inspiration for linking asanas together to create a complete flow.
Originally published in 1946, the autobiography of Paramahansa Yogananda (born Mukunda Lal Ghosh) has not only sold millions of copies to date but it’s also been hailed as one of the most spiritual books of the 20th century. The book chronicles Yogananda’s search for spiritual enlightenment, a journey spanning the Eastern and Western worlds that saw him come into contact with Therese Neumann, Anandamayi Ma, Vishuddhananda Paramahansa and even one Mahatma Gandhi.
Over the decades, Autobiography of a Yogi has proved incredibly inspirational for many noted figures including Beatles guitarist George Harrison, who was given a copy by Ravi Shankar, Elvis Presley who studied the book intensively, and Steve Jobs who first discovered the book as a teenager and it’s purported that he read it once a year, every year until his death, and then provided copies for attendees at his funeral.
If you’ve studied yoga with HFE then you will already have an idea of what hatha yoga is and if you’re looking for more, we’ve produced a concise history that’s well worth reading. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written in the 15th century CE by Svatmarama and it’s said to be one of the oldest surviving hatha yoga texts. It joins the Goraksha Samhita and Gheranda Samhita (Samhita meaning collection) as a classic hatha yoga text. Pradipika means ‘light’ or ‘to illuminate’ and that’s precisely what this lengthy and intricate text does.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika intricately describes asanas (physical yoga poses), mudras (finger and hand positions), pranayama (breathing exercises) and samadhi (a state of deep concentration achieved through meditation).
Our recommended version is the 2013 Golden Jubilee edition published by Yoga Publications Trust. It’s been expertly translated by Swami Satyananda and Swami Mukitbodhanand and includes diagrams and line drawings accompanying the text.
Yoga is a practice that has many schools, many ideas and over 5,000 years of history to its name, so it’s understandable that it can’t possibly be fully explored in just five books. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, here are a few other books that not only shine further light on yoga but also explore philosophy, mindfulness and meditation:
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