Top 10 Yoga Books to Check Out

book-loveThere’s a slew of yoga books out there, but there are a few standouts that have been deeply helpful or influential to my yoga practice. This is my list of yoga books that you should read and keep on your bookshelf to thumb through again and again*:
10. Living Your Yoga, Judith Hanson Lasater
I’ve written before about this great book, which was my first introduction into the deeper aspects of yoga. It’s a terrific dive into the philosophical principles behind yoga, but written in a way that’s very accessible, tying applicable examples to everyday life.
9. Bhagavad Gita (I’ve linked to the translation I have, but there are numerous translations out there).
I first read this classic text of Indian Spirituality in a college class on religious traditions and then again in my first yoga teacher training. It’s a simple, but beautiful story that is full of parables. It’s a tale you can re-read in its entirety or just a section or two, and continue to get new nuggets of wisdom.
8. Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness,Erich Schiffman
This one is a classic. Erich breaks down all aspects of yoga, from physical sequences to breathing to philosophy to what he considers the main practice: meditation. He has way of describing what can often be abstract concepts in a way that makes sense and gives you detailed practices for how you can begin with meditation and a physical practice of yoga.
7. Anatomy of Yoga, by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
Beyond just anatomical terms, this book illustrates what muscles are at work in a variety of different yoga poses, so you are able to see how these muscles engage and interact in each pose.
6. The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, T. K. V. Desikachar
If you want a good overview of how different styles of yoga emerged in the West, this book explains the teachings of the author’s father and renowned yogi, Krishnamacharya, and how other elements of his teachings came to the West through other major yogis who were students of Krishnamacharya.
5. Yoga as Medicine, Timothy McCall
As an MD, McCall blends his Western medicine background with a holistic approach to health and how yoga can help with healing with a variety of conditions, from back problems to depression.
4. Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual, David Swenson
Not only is this book a fantastic introduction to ashtanga yoga, but it’s a very practical guide for learning many foundational poses in yoga. Each pose in the first and second series of ashtanga yoga is broken down to the components of its sanskrit name and instructions for each pose are illustrated with photos of the full version of each pose, as well as three modified stages of the pose. The book is spiral-bound so you can follow along from your mat as you practice.
3. Yoga for Pain Relief, Kelly McGonigal
Kelly is an amazing yoga teacher, psychologist, and Stanford University instructor. Her book is full of research about the mind/body connection with chronic pain and is full of meditation and movement exercises for relief from any kind of chronic pain.
2. Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, Claire Dederer
This is a compelling memoir of a young mother’s discovery and exploration of yoga through the challenges and issues in her own life. It’s told with a sense of humor, but also a deep respect for the power and support a yoga practice can provide.
1. Fierce Medicine, Ana Forrest
If you read no other yoga book, get this one. An inspiring, compelling story of Ana’s healing journey and her development of Forrest Yoga. It’s not just for reading though; this book is an experiential one, as Ana shares healing poses and guided processes that have helped her heal that you can use as tools in your own life.

*Note: I purposely omitted two big yoga philosophical texts: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Hatha Yoga Pradipka in favor of some books perhaps less widely known and not just philosophical in nature.

Got a favorite yoga book I missed? Add it to the comments!

Tip Tuesday: Good Book to Bring Yoga into Your Daily Life

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

After I’d been practicing yoga for awhile, I was curious to learn more about the philosophical origins of yoga and deeper meaning behind the physical practice. However, I was a bit daunted by scholarly philosophical texts and searched for a book that explored yoga philosophy, but in a way that was accessible and applicable to my life.

Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater was just such a book. It was the first yoga book I ever purchased. This book looks at the spiritual practice of yoga, citing relevant passages from the yoga sutras, and explores the relevancy of philosophical teachings in real life. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of the yoga practice, from the challenges that cause us suffering (including self-judgement, greed, and fear) to the kind of qualities we seek to cultivate in our daily life (such as compassion, love, and connection). There are suggested practices and mantras you can do to begin to live out your yoga practice beyond the yoga mat.

I highly recommend checking this book out. It was instrumental to getting me interested in learning more about the spiritual teachings of yoga–and yes, getting me comfortable enough to pick up the more meaty philosophical yoga works. It’s a must-have for your bookshelf and one I flip through often. Lasater’s book helped me to understand how the old philosophy behind yoga could make sense and add value to my life. As she puts it beautifully in the book:

“It is our dedication to living with open hearts and our commitment to the day-to-day details of our lives that will transform us. When we are open to the present moment, we shine forth.”


Chade-Meng Tan: Create World Peace

Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow”, got the nickname for a reason. He is a person who radiates happiness. Normally I’d be suspicious of someone who seemed that content. With Meng, you can just tell by his presence that this is a man who is extremely intelligent and passionate about his work, yet genuinely playful and peaceful.

I loved seeing Meng speak at the first and second annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference, so I was thrilled to see that he was in San Francisco giving a talk and book-signing through California Institue of Integral Studies (CIIS). Meng’s book: Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path for Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) is a culmination of Meng’s experience of developing and teaching a successful course by the same name for Google employees.

You might think getting participants for a seven-week course on mindfulness in any company could be difficult, much less in a high-pressure, high-stress environment like Google, where taking time out for a mindfulness course might seem counterproductive to success. Yet Meng’s course is filled up weeks in advance. Being an engineer himself, Meng is particularly skilled in teaching in a way that speaks to even the most skeptical engineer or business person. “I am selling you better employees”, Meng says. “This course is a key to effective employees.”

The results speak for themselves. The success has been overwhelming, both in terms of employee productivity and anecdotal evidence. The feedback from employees has been overwhelmingly positive, with countless stories participants have shared about how the course has positively impacted both their professional and personal life. One such story in the book is a manager who discovered during the course that he was unhappy and was not taking care of himself. He chose to drop-down to working part-time hours. The result? He was promoted and became the first part-time manager at Google to receive a promotion. With the demonstrable changes in job performance from course participants, Meng has the evidence to show that ignoring the value of mindfulness is poor business sense. Recognizing this, other companies are starting to follow suit and realizing that the way to success isn’t pedaling faster.

Meng highlighted some important points on mindfulness practice:

You have to do it. Meng compared mindfulness to fitness. You can read about fitness all you want, but that doesn’t make you fit. It’s great to learn about mindfulness, but you have to practice it to get the benefits of it.

That said, it doesn’t take as long as you would think to make a difference. Meng cited studies that showed with just ten minutes a day, people begin showing positive effects of mindfulness in just a few weeks. Of course, just like fitness, if you train for longer, the benefits can be even greater. Still, regular repetitions even with a small hand weight help create strength.

It need not be complicated. One practice Meng teaches is loving-kindness meditation. To get started, you only need to look at any person and think, “I want this person to be happy.” It can be as simple this focused, intentional attention that creates profound effects.

It’s all about the ripple effects. Small actions have a way of multiplying. When you feel more loving towards another person, you start feeling more compassionate and loving towards people in general as well as yourself. When you feel better about yourself and others, this can’t help but spill over into other aspects of your life: work, relationships, health, etc.

There’s still a place for anger. Just because we’re practicing awareness and compassion doesn’t mean there are not times where anger is warranted. In the moment, we always have a choice about whether to react from a place of anger. Meng related a time he was at a rental car counter and the employee there was trying to rip him off. He was aware of his anger and chose to get angry. As a result, he was not taken advantage of and the situation was resolved.

So far, Google employees are the only ones to have road-tested Meng’s course. That’s about to change, as Meng has formed the nonprofit, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), which in keeping with Meng’s playful spirit, is pronounced, “silly”. SIYLI seeks to build upon the success of Meng’s program and train leaders to offer the course to others. Meng is donating all proceeds from his book to support SIYLI.

But to reduce SIYLI or Meng’s work to mere business performance would be a gross underestimation of Meng’s mission. Meng’s life purpose is to create world peace. Perhaps what makes him most inspiring is witnessing his commitment to his goal. He doesn’t scoff or get overwhelmed by the loftiness and scope of such a goal. Instead, he finds joy in the changes he works to to create and delights in the way peaceful actions have a way of spreading.

How do you stay connected to your purpose?

It Looked Like Spilled Milk…but it was really yoga

I’d seen It Looked Like Spilled Milk  listed as good book to use for teaching kids yoga so I decided to give it a try.

The book went over well with the kids. I think one of the reasons it works well is that it leaves a lot up to interpretation by the kids. The class interjected periodically when they thought the picture looked like something else entirely. You can then riff off of what students find and have them get creative with taking the shapes that they see in the pictures.

Here are some ideas for incorporating yoga with the story:

Rabbit: Try bunny breath (big inhale, three bunny sniff exhales through the nose). Take hops in a squatting position with hands up as ears and a forward bend with floppy ears (shaking head and arms). Kids can also be rabbits in a hutch (kneeling with head rounding to knees, hands on heels).

Bird: All kinds of options here. Try making bird wings with the arms and balancing on one foot with the other knee bent and foot up towards standing leg. Or fly around the room and land in airplane (warrior three) pose back on your mat. Be a squatting bird or a bird flying south (half moon pose).

Tree: Go beyond the basic tree pose and ask kids what kind of tree they’d like to be (i.e. cactus, palm, swaying tree, etc.) or what they think the tree in the picture might look like.

Ice cream cone: Start off with your ice cream cone by standing with arms out in a “V” shape. Then bring hands together and slowly scoop your ice cream as you roll down into a ball and roll all the way down to the back and then back up to your standing “V”. Make it a double or triple scoop by taking another roll. One of my students decided that she’d slowly melt down from her “V” all the way down to a puddle on the mat.

Flower: Grow up from a seed (child pose) to a flower, spreading arms out. Or take flower pose by sitting down, lifting legs and threading the arms through bent knees. Make a group flower circle by joining each of your hands in flower pose with the other flowers next to you. Practice smelling your flower by making a flower shape with the hands and taking a big breath in to smell your flower and exhale out, “Ahhhh.”

Pig: Pigs often roll around in the dirt. Roll kids up in the mat like a pig rolling in its sty. Get a curly pig’s tail by crossing the legs and coming into a laying-down spinal twist.

Birthday Cake: Bake a cake with a partner by taking a wide-legged seated position with feet connecting to the feet of your partner. Add various ingredients, reaching forward and over to the sides in your forward bend. Mix the cake by taking your partners hands and circling around, using the pull from your partner to come forward and back. Put the cake on the oven rack (legs up to table top, modified boat pose). When oven dings, take the cake out and frost it (stretching out into forward bend). Then of course, eat it!

Sheep: Walk on all fours. Sheep often move in herds so you can make a herd of sheep with each student holding onto the ankles of the person in front of them to make a big line. One student can even be the sheep dog (downward dog) to guide the herd.

Owl: Take owl pose (squatting on toes with hands clasped behind the back, arms reaching back). Get still, turn your owl head from one side to the other. Let out a hoot or a little jump, landing back on the toes.

Mitten: Take wrist stretches by bringing fingers together, then turning the hand open and stretching one finger at a time. Bring the arms out to a “T” shape and then one finger at a time, make a fist with the hand to test out each finger of the mitten.

Squirrel:We tried bounding like a squirrel, hopping the feet to hands from downward dog and then taking hands forward.This one is very open for interpretation, however, and my students had some very different ideas of what a squirrel pose might consist of.

Angel: Make a halo with hands interlaced overhead, rise up onto toes and float on tiptoes, perhaps flying around the room.

If timing works out, the end of the book makes a great segway into final relaxation. The spilled milk is revealed to be a cloud. You can take kids through a floating like a cloud visualization as they come into savasana/ending quiet time.

Other ideas? I’d love to hear ’em!