Building Your Yoga Library, Part 1

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I was talking to someone about personal yoga libraries and it got me thinking about what books a relative newcomer might get to build their own reference library. I thought it might be helpful to divide the list up into different categories to make the reading more well-rounded:

1. Background: Books about either the history of yoga in specific and Hinduism or the Indian sub-continent in general.
2. Philosophy: The important philosophical texts that shaped the modern practice of yoga.
3. Asana: Key instructional books about the physical practice of yoga.
4. Breath: Key instructional books about breath work and pranayama.
5. Meditation: Key instructional books about meditation practice.

So here are a selection of introductory books, with a few options here and there, that the beginning yoga student might consider buying.

(If you decide to buy any of these books and want to support the site, use the links to Amazon.com from this article. Thanks!)

Background


Two options here, one that is readily available and one that is, sadly, no longer in print, though easily obtainable through Amazon’s network of used book sellers.

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The “Very Short Introduction” series from Oxford University Press has entries from any number of fascinating subjects, both spiritual and secular. “Indian Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction” by Sue Hamilton is pocket-sized, affordable and an excellent read, covering all the important points without getting overly involved and technical.

“India has a long, rich, and diverse tradition of philosophical thought, spanning some two and a half millennia and encompassing several major religious traditions. In this intriguing introduction to Indian philosophy, the diversity of Indian thought is emphasized. It is structured around six schools of thought that have received classic status. Sue Hamilton explores how the traditions have attempted to understand the nature of reality in terms of inner or spiritual quest and introduces distinctively Indian concepts, such as karma and rebirth. She also explains how Indian thinkers have understood issues of reality and knowledge--issues that are also an important part of the Western philosophical tradition.”

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”First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance” by Elizabeth Kadetsky is a memoir of a spiritual quest, an anecdotal history of yoga and an astute overview of the present-day Iyengar Yoga movement.

“While ostensibly a memoir about Kadetsky's growing self-acceptance, which slowly evolves through her yoga practice, this book is actually more a chronicle of the mythic history of yoga and the contradictions of its most worshipped living teacher, the 80-year-old B. K. S. Iyengar. Kadetsky received a Fulbright grant to study creative writing, and her prose can be mesmerizing when she describes the fetid conditions she endures traveling to India to study with Iyengar and his family, or her frustrations trying to perfectly execute yoga asanas, or poses. It's another story, however, when she wades through 14 generations of yogic history: it's challenging to keep Kuvalayananda straight from Krishnamacharya, especially since Indians themselves argue over which stories are legends and which are facts. Iyengar himself is portrayed as a tyrant who berates other teachers for defiling yoga's purity, even though he has done more to break its traditions and promote its Westernization than his rival instructors. Yoga aficionados will likely be fascinated by Kadetsky's spiritual renewal-which helped her overcome both an eating disorder and depression-and how that renewal was achieved through months of brutal practice in India. But other readers may be more surprised by her exposÚ of what she depicts as the cruelty and hypocrisy pervading the Iyengar empire.”

Philosophy


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”The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras” by Sri Swami Satchidananda is perhaps the most accessible translation and commentary on this essential text. The commentary is straightforward and playful in tone.

“This valuable book provides a complete manual for the study and practice of Raja Yoga, the path of concentration and meditation. This new deluxe printing of these timeless teachings is a treasure to be read and referred to again and again by seekers treading the spiritual path. The classic Sutras (thought-threads), at least 4,000 years old, cover the yogic teachings on ethics, meditation, and physical postures, and provide directions for dealing with situations in daily life.”

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"Practicing Freedom: The Yoga Sutra of Pata˝jali" is my own attempt at a rendering of the classic in an easy-to-read format.

“For almost 2000 years, the Yoga Sutra of Pata˝jali has been the definitive guide to the practice of yoga. Deep in his exposition of yogic philosophy, Pata˝jali is also clear and forthright in his outline of what it will take to free ourselves completely from the ongoing suffering and loss that we experience on a daily basis. As valid today as it was when first written, this ancient classic outlines nothing less than a complete approach to life itself. This new edition provides a readily accessible English rendition presented side-by-side with the Sanskrit original. Lucid commentary and a study guide clearly outlining the key terms and concepts for easy reference make this an ideal volume for both the student and the general reader. Articulate and insightful, this work is a valuable resource for anyone interested in acheiving a deeper experience of tranformative states of mind through meditation and contemplation.”

Asana


Once again, two options, one in print, one out of print but still around.

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”30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers” by Judith Hanson Lassater is abundantly illustrated in color with ample instruction for each of the poses. INcluded also a several simple and easy to follow practice sequences.

“In 30 Essential Yoga Poses, Judith Lasater draws on her wealth of yoga practice and teaching experience, as well as her training as a physical therapist, to present this comprehensive guide for beginning students and their teachers. The author discusses yoga's ancient eightfold path and its relevance in today's world, and goes to the heart of yoga—the all-important student-teacher relationship. Thirty essential yoga poses (asana), their variations, and breathing practices (pranayama) are also provided, with guidance for the student practicing at home, and points for the classroom teacher. Sequences are presented with photographic charts for easy visual reference, and a ‘Mantra for Daily Practice’ and glossary of anatomical terms and resources for further study are also included.”

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For some reason, most of Mira Mehta’s books are out of print at the moment, which is a great shame. Her book, “How to Use Yoga: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Iyengar Method of Yoga, for Relaxation, Health and Well-Being” shows how to use props, has great illustrations and a number of sequences, including ones for certain ailments.

“How to Use Yoga has been written by senior teacher Mira Mehta, one of today's leading exponents of yoga in the style of B. K. S. Iyengar. She presents a practical philosophy that unites body, mind, and spirit for health and fulfillment. With over 450 color photographs, this book acts as a guide in achieving a fit and flexible body through the practice of yoga postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). These practices work on all body systems, stimulating circulation, toning muscles, and improving overall health. Best of all, the author makes this powerful antidote to the stresses of modern life accessible to those who want to practice at home—safely and effectively.”

Breath


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”The Breathing Book: Vitality & Good Health Through Essential Breath Work” by Donna Farhi approaches the breath more from a general perspective rather than specifically as pranayama.

“A groundbreaking approach to improving the quality of your life through the most readily accessible resource: your breath. These safe and easy-to-learn techniques can also be used to treat asthma and ease stress, depression, eating disorders, insomnia, arthritis, chronic pain, and other debilitating conditions.”

Meditation


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Formerly titled simply “Meditation,” “Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life” by Eknath Easwaran is the book that first got me to sit, even before I began to practice asana. Easwaran’s writings are simple, practical and non-dogmatic, seamlessly relating a formal seated practice to the way we conduct our everyday life.

“Pioneered by spiritual master Eknath Easwaran, passage meditation consists of memorizing an inspirational spiritual passage and then sending it deep into consciousness through slow, sustained attention. It keeps meditation fresh and varied because readers can select the passages — from one tradition or many — that embody their chosen ideals. Many readers also enjoy the passages for their poetic and intellectual appeal. This form of meditation offers all the richness and depth of traditional wisdom, together with a practical method for bringing that wisdom into daily life. The book situates passage meditation as part of Easwaran’s eight-point program that, based on traditional spiritual practices but adjusted for modern lifestyles, shows readers how to stay calm and focused at work and home. This edition includes a new preface of previously unpublished material by Easwaran and an epilogue that explains the story behind the book and invites new readers to join the author on this adventure in the ‘world within.’”


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Five Essential Anatomy Books

If you are going to get serious about your yoga practice, it is important to begin to develop your understanding of the body from more than an experiential perspective. It's not necessary to go out and get a degree in gross anatomy and to learn the names of each muscle, each ligament and bone. An understanding of the major muscles involved in a given action will help you visualize the effect you are trying to achieve. Here are five extremely useful resources.

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Five Essential Yoga Practice Books

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I think a lot about writing yoga books. My ambition is to write THE ULTIMATE yoga practice book that is simple yet comprehensive, thorough yet versatile. Of course, such a book can never exist. A book is finite, a snapshot of a summary of knowledge that, in the act of organization, limits the knowledge of the writer. Human experience and expertise is non-linear. The same piece of information can be expressed in a multitude of ways, changing its flavor to suit the context. That ultimate practice book, therefore, can never be written, not by me, not by even the greatest yoga master. There are some pretty great ones out there, however. Here are 5 general texts that I think everyone should have at their disposal.

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