As someone who has read countless books about yoga and watched several yoga movies, I know all too well the positive effect that they can have on your practice and on your daily life.
Yoga is so much more than simply taking classes. It’s about changing our outlook on life and boosting our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s developing harmony between the mind, body and environment. And perhaps, most importantly, it’s a spiritual tradition that dates back thousands of years. So where better to learn about the fascinating history, traditions and practice of yoga than in the pages of a book?
To help out those who are perhaps new to yoga, or for more experienced yogis who are looking to advance in their yoga journey, here are 12 of the best yoga books you should definitely be adding to your reading list this year. These also make for great gifts, and for more info, check out my guide on gifts about spirituality.
The best books about yoga
Starting at the very beginning of books on yoga, ‘Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali’ has been my bible ever since I began practising Ashtanga and is intrinsic to understanding the potential depth of yoga practice.
The Yoga Sutras are a collection of yoga sayings written by a man named Patañjali over 2,000 years ago. They are among the world’s most revered and ancient teachings and are the earliest and most holy yoga reference.
With each of the original Sutras being just a couple of lines long and written in Sanskrit, the ancient texts have been translated and commented on by many people over the years, making these sacred teachings more accessible and helpful for those looking for an introduction to the spiritual philosophy that lies at the heart of yoga practice.
My personal commentary of choice is that of B.K.S. Iyengar, a man who is considered one of the most important yoga teachers of the modern era and credited with popularising yoga around the world, but I hear The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali By Sri Swami Satchidananda is equally as good.
Whichever you choose, a commentary on the Yoga Sūtras is one of the most important yoga books for any yogi, no matter what stage of your spiritual journey you’re at.
The Living Gita by Swami Satchidananda
Much like Light on the Yoga Sūtras above, ‘The Living Gita’ by Swami Satchidananda is actually a translation and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Indian scripture that makes up part of the Mahabharata – an important holy scripture within Hinduism.
The Gita is a speech given by the Hindu deity Krishna to a warrior named Arjuna before he goes into battle to win his family’s kingdom back. Krishna is reassuring Arjuna who is losing faith in his cause and feels he cannot fight his own kinsmen.
So from this short summary, you’re probably wondering why I’ve included the Living Gita in a list of books about yoga? Well, many recognise the book as the first fully realised yoga scripture.
In their conversation, Krishna uses three important branches of yoga – bhakti (love and devotion), jnana (study) and karma (service) — to present a spiritual rationale to Arjuna and to help him awaken his inner spirit in order to rise above human schemes and calculations. Therefore, the Gita is thought of by many as a sort of user’s guide to these branches of yoga.
For those looking to learn more about the spiritual aspects of yoga rather than simply the techniques of asana practice, The Living Gita is one of the best yoga books out there.
From spirituality to anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff’s ‘Yoga Anatomy’ is one of the best books about yoga’s physical effects on the body during practice.
With plenty of detailed anatomical drawings, this book takes you through the most common asanas and the underlying structures and principles of each movement.
Through understanding how each muscle is used in different positions and the link with breathing techniques, Yoga Anatomy is an invaluable resource for helping you perfect your physical technique and make sure you’re getting the absolute most out of your yoga practice.
‘The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice’ is another of the most important books about yoga written by T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya who was one of the greatest yogis of the 20th century and is often referred to as ‘the father of modern yoga’.
In Desikachar’s book, he takes his father’s fundamental concept of viniyoga — the idea that each person should adapt traditional yoga practices to fit their individual needs and goals which can change over time — with his own pragmatic approach which he describes as a “program for the spine at every level — physical, respiratory, mental, and spiritual”.
The Heart of Yoga is, therefore, one of those books on yoga that’s an essential practical guide for helping you develop your own completely personal practice, taking into account asanas, breathing, meditation and philosophy, based on individual factors such as your age, health and lifestyle.
Sitting on the New York Times bestseller list for over a decade, Don Miguel Ruiz’s book ‘The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom’ is an important self-love guide to managing stress, overcoming grief and growing as a person.
Taking inspiration from a set of spiritual beliefs held by the ancient Toltec people, the book is based on the premises that everything you do and go through in life is based on agreements you make with yourself and others, many of which are socially-imposed, fear-based and self-limiting, which can subconsciously influence your behaviour and lead to personal struggle.
Ruiz, therefore, discusses how you can get rid of these self-limiting agreements and instead outlines four more beneficial agreements that you can make with yourself in order to transform your life into a new experience of freedom, true happiness and love.
Although not strictly a book about yoga, Ruiz’s Four Agreements is still a highly beneficial read for any yogi looking to advance on their personal and spiritual journey.
British philosopher Alan Watt’s ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ is a fascinating self-help book that draws from Eastern philosophy to discuss how we can overcome anxiety in Western societies which have moved away from religion and into consumerism.
Watts believes that the root of modern human anxiety, especially in our current age of materialism, is our tendency to live for the future rather than fully embracing the present, and that in our search for stability and security we actually achieve the exact opposite result.
In this book, he argues that we can’t have security without accepting insecurity and teaches the reader how to overcome anxiety by shifting perspective and accepting the uncertain.
As you’ve probably noticed by now, many of the yoga books I’ve recommended so far were either written a few decades ago or are a commentary on texts written thousands of years ago. That’s not to say this is a bad thing – yoga is a tradition that dates back many millennia and these books on yoga are still as important and relevant today as ever.
But what about those looking for something a little bit more up-to-date?
‘Do Your Om Thing’ is a must-read yoga book for the modern-day, written by yoga teacher and fellow blogger Rebecca Pacheco, which cleverly takes ancient yogic philosophy and tradition and makes it more accessible and relatable for twenty-first-century yogis.
Very different from the more heavyweight yoga books of Iyengar and Satchidananda, Pacheo pairs a personal, down-to-earth and often hilarious style of writing with her deep understanding of yogic tradition to create a fun and easy read for learning how to incorporate the ancient principles of yoga into your modern and hectic everyday life.
Another more contemporary yoga book which is definitely worth reading is Stephen Cope’s ‘The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living’ which uniquely delves into the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali by showing them at work in the lives of six of his friends.
By taking the ancient wisdom of yoga and bringing it to life in the stories and personal struggles of real modern-day people, be that in their careers or relationships, interwoven with insights from religion, philosophy, neuroscience and modern psychology, Cope makes the spiritual teachings of the Yoga Sutra relatable and understandable for those looking to incorporate yoga into their daily lives beyond the physical practice.
‘Yoga and the Quest for True Self’ was Western-trained psychotherapist and yoga teacher Stephen Cope’s first book about yoga and is another invaluable addition to every yogi’s library.
Once again drawing on his own experiences and the stories of his friends and fellow yoga students – which are often deeply personal and moving – Cope combines ancient yogic wisdom with modern psychotherapy to discuss how yoga practice can enhance the goals of Western psychotherapy, as well as how these ideas can be applied to the dilemmas of modern-day life.
Published in 2019, Naomi Annand’ book ‘Yoga: A Manual for Life’ is a simple and accessible practise companion which is a must-have for both complete beginners and expert yogis.
As well as easy to understand diagrams and guides leading you through all of the essential asanas and vinyasas, Annand’s book includes a number of different sequences which vary depending on the goals of your practice, important breathing techniques and exercises, and plenty of mindful ‘life hacks’ for modern yoga practice and for bringing yoga into your daily life.
‘Yoga: A Manual for Life’ is an essential yoga book for those just starting out or even for more experienced yogis looking to take their home practise away from the digital distractions of Zoom classes and YouTube videos – a prominent yoga trend in the modern age.
Plus, it also makes for a beautiful coffee table book.
‘Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body’ is one of the best yoga books for beginners, which uniquely combines a novices guide to asana yoga with Jessamyn Stanley’s own memoirs of being a plus-sized millennial woman attempting to overcome emotional and physical barriers in her search for self-acceptance.
Tackling the issues of body acceptance and the meaning of beauty in modern-day society, Stanley’s uplifting and body-positive book is a much-needed reminder that anyone can start practising yoga, no matter what your age, shape or size, and provides plenty of accessible and personal advice on how to step out of your comfort zone in order to achieve self-love.
If certain stereotypes about how a ‘typical yogi’ should look or act are holding you back, or you’re simply looking for that extra little push to start practising, ‘Every Body Yoga’ is an absolute must-read!
Last but certainly not least, Hareesh Wallis’ ‘Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition’ was the first book written in the English language to really bring to light the Hindu and Buddhist spiritual movement of Tantra.
With many forms of yoga being so profoundly influenced by Tantra, ‘Tantra Illuminated’ is an important book for those who want to delve deeper into the ancient Indian spiritual thought that has had such a large effect on the notions of spirituality today.
Wallis’s book clears up many myths and misinformation in the Western world surrounding Tantra, and offers an accessible introduction to its history, philosophy and teachings.
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