A few weeks ago, when I learned that Brian Leaf had just come out with a new book, I literally squee’d. I’d loved his previous book, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, and this new one—Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi—aimed to hit two of my sweet spots: my yoga addiction and my impending motherhood.
Yes, I realize my last book roundup was about horror and despair and terror and creeping unease, but I’m also a vinyasa yoga instructor and meditate twice a day and wake up to the sound of Tibetan singing bowls (thanks to an iPhone app) every morning. As I’m sure I’ve said before, I contain multitudes.
So I’ve amassed quite the recommended reading list for those looking to incorporate yoga into their day-to-day lives.
Please. Reap the bounties of my nerdiness.
Without further ado, here are a slew of books to read if you want to go beyond classics like the Bhagavad Gita, Light on Yoga, or the Yoga Sutras.
For Those Who Want To Learn the Basics of Yoga, in a Way That’s Accessible:
For as many styles of yoga as there are out there, there are about a kajillion times as many books that exist to teach you the basics. So I’ll just share with you the one I read when I was starting out: Richard Faulds’s Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat.
At a time when I could barely touch my toes but was just starting to fathom that there was more to this yoga thing than getting a cute butt, this book imparted the history of the Kripalu style of yoga, the lowdown on the asana and prana fundamentals, and a solid intro to the practice’s more spiritual underpinnings.
Considering how much each style of yoga overlaps (and when it comes down to it, yoga is yoga), I’d say this book is a good primer no matter what type you practice.
For Those Looking To Heal Themselves:
When I first started yoga, I basically just wanted to look good in skinny jeans. Now I wear my yoga leggings straight to the local bar without an ounce of shame. But yoga has had other physical benefits as well. It’s made me more flexible. It’s made me stronger. It’s made me grateful for the many things my body is capable of… things I wasn’t aware of before.
There are also poses and breathing exercises and meditations I can do when: my sinuses are stuffy; I’m experiencing menstrual cramps; I have lower back pain; I need a boost of energy; etc.
If you’re looking for more info on what yoga can (and can’t) do, there are a ton of resources:
Judith Lasater’s Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times contains restorative sequences that help heal the effects of chronic stress. Timothy McCall’s Yoga as Medicine: the Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing has chapters on the ways in which yoga can help with arthritis, asthma, back pain, and much, much more. Each chapter rounds up the research-based evidence and then presents a sequence of poses one can use for each particular ailment. Tara Stiles’s Yoga Cures: Simple Routines to Conquer More Than 50 Common Ailments and Live Pain-Free tackles everything from blurred vision to “monkey mind” to “tummy trouble.”
And then there’s William J. Broad’s The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, which caused an uproar among the yogic community when it was first excerpted in the New York Times back in 2012.
If you take the time to read the entire book, though, you’ll see that it presents a fascinating, well-written, well-balanced, and well-researched account of the ways in which yoga can benefit you… and the ways in which it can injure you as well if you don’t practice responsibly.
For Those Seeking Enlightenment in Their Day-to-Day Lives:
This was probably my greatest interest when I first started to get into yoga. As soon as I found out that yoga made me feel less insane, I wanted to make that feeling last long after I’d left the studio.
In order to apply the basic tenets of yoga to my day-to-day life, I started with Kripalu veteran Stephen Cope. Two of his books—The Wisdom of Yoga and Yoga and the Quest for the True Self—delve into his own struggles with finding inner peace through his asana and meditation practice. (His latest book, The Great Work of Your Life, is on my TBR list.) To round out my education, I then read Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga and Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life. The titles act as explanation, no?
I still act like a raving lunatic when I get behind the wheel of a car, but I like to think my yogic form of continuing education has added just a bit more balance to my life.
For Those Looking To Master Meditation:
Buaahahahaha! Good luck with that one. Quieting the mind is hard, yo.
I did, however, recently read a chapter on meditation in Deepak Chopra’s Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives (it’s a book on pregnancy) that made me feel a whole lot better about my own, faltering attempts. So perhaps it’s still worth a shot?
Actually, the book that really helped me wrap my mind around the concept of meditation, in all its many forms, was Davidji’s Secrets of Meditation: A Practical Guide To Inner Peace and Personal Transformation. More than just a primer on the various types of meditation you can try, the author also includes a spot-on description of the experience of meditation that lets you know what you can expect vs. what you were perhaps envisioning (enlightenment? levitation? ultimate wisdom?).
For Those Who Plan to Join the Multitudes of Yoga Instructors:
Sometimes, I feel like such a cliche: thirty-something suburban white chick… work-at-home writer… yogi. But I can’t deny that teaching yoga has fulfilled me in ways I never foresaw. Especially considering my reclusive, hide-behind-my-laptop tendencies. If you’re also thinking of taking the plunge and shelling out thousands of dollars for a teacher training program, these two books by Mark Stephens are well worth adding to your yogic toolbox: Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques and Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes. From giving verbal cues to giving hands-on adjustments to putting together a class that follows a logical arc of poses, sequences, and counter-poses, these books truly have it all.
And Finally, Just for Funsies:
I’m not the zen, vegan, lithe, namaste-dropping, Hammer pants-wearing yogi you typically see on the cover of Yoga Journal. I like my yoga with a bit of sass and a whole lot of humor. Which is why I absolutely loved the following books:
- Suzanne Morrison’s Yoga Bitch (a memoir of the author’s time at a teacher training retreat)
- Claire Dederer’s Poser (a memoir that utilizes the author’s journey through the yoga poses as a metaphor for the even more difficult journey through life)
- Neal Pollack’s Stretch (a memoir that looks at the slowly all-consuming addiction to yoga with a healthy dose of irreverence)
- Neal Pollack’s series of Kindle Serials, starting with Downward-Facing Death (a ridiculous [in the best way possible] mix of crime novel and yoga novel)
- Sanjay Patel’s The Little Book of Hindu Deities (an adorable mix of vibrant artwork and Hindu history)
- Brian Leaf’s Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi (a memoir of the author’s quest to heal his various anxiety symptoms through yoga)
True enlightenment, here we come.