As I'm sure you know by now, Yoga is a deep and complex Indian philosophy which is so much more than Asanas, the physical practice of yoga. We've had a few discussions within some of my classes about Yoga Philosophy and learning more about the practice, with students asking for book recommendations so I thought I would pop together a list of a few books to get you started.
Yoga Philosophy Texts
If you want to understand more about the philosophy and the reasons why we do certain practices, then these are the books for you.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The word Sutra can be translated to "verse". The Yoga Sutras are 196 short verses, designed to be easily memorised, about the practice of yoga. It is not known whether Patanjali was one person or multiple people but we do know that they were not the founder of Yoga, they compiled the information that already existed and put it into one text, the Yoga Sutras.
There are countless translations and commentaries of the Sutras, which can make them more easily accessible. My personal favourite is by Sri Swami Satchidananda.
The word Upanishad can be translated to "sitting near too", this is referring to the notes students took from there lessons being sat next to a scholar or Rishi. The Upanishads are a commentary on the Vedas. The Vedas are four ancient texts written 7,500 to 12,000 years ago. It has been said that it will take more than one lifetime to be able to fully understand the Vedas, so the Upanishads were written, which is a summary of the Vedas, and is made up of 108 verses. It was written so it could make the wonderful information within the Vedas more accessible to a wider group of people. As with the Yoga Sutras, there are many different commentaries on the Upanishads, my personal copy is Eknath Easwaran.
The Bhagavad Gita
As mentioned above, the Upanishads were written to make the Vedas more accessible, but it is still very scholarly, so to help the common person understand these texts, they were made into stories. The most popular and well known of these stories is the Bhagavad Gita. This is a story that grandparents in India would read to their grandchildren and has been passed down through generations. The story is about Prince Arjuna, heading into war against an army that he believed his kin. Arjuna find this difficult, seeks counsel from his charioteer, who is Lord Krishna. As with all of the other books discussed, there are many different translations and commentaries, my personal copy is also by Eknath Easwaran.
Physical Yoga Practice / Asana
Bihar School of Yoga Library
I think it is worth noting the Bihar School of Yoga, that have many different books in regards to yoga practice, with plenty of therapy based books to help various different health conditions. They are widely available to buy from different book sellers, here is a link to their website so you can browse the titles. They also have a free online magazine available, discussing various topics around Yoga.
The lovely "Yoga Matters" has an amazing range of the Bihar books available to buy here: https://www.yogamatters.com/yoga-books/by-school/bihar-school-of-yoga?p=1
There are two books from this series that I would recommend if you would like more information on practicing yoga asanas.
This is my go to guidebook. As suggested by the title it has various different practices including Asana, Pranayama, Mudra and Bandha. It has beautifully simple drawn depictions of poses along with physical instructions, where your mental focus and awareness should be, when to breath, along with the benefits of each pose as well as any contraindications.
Important Note!: There are some practices within this book which should only be completed under the guide of a competent teacher. This are highlighted within the book.
The bible. This is THE guide about everything you need to know about the science behind Hatha Yoga. Originally written over 5,000 years ago (mind blowing isn't it?!), this book is a commentary on not just asana and pranayama, but also discusses awakening prana, chakras and kundalini shakti. It is quite a big read but is a wonderful text to help broaden and widen your knowledge of Yoga.
Iyengar - Light on Yoga
A very detailed and popular guide to practicing Yoga asanas. Written in 1966 by B.K.S Iyengar himself. Iyengar had the same primary teacher as K. Pattabhi Jois, who popularised the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sequence. The book consists of over 200 different poses, with pictures of Iyengar himself in each pose. Some of the pictures can be daunting, but don't let this put you off. He has even added a 3 year plan of which asanas you should practice each day at the back of the book!
Hopefully all of these will give you a good start! If there are any other books you have read that think belong in this list, comment below.
Each week Wildflower Yoga Therapy run a Yoga Philosophy class at 6:15pm UK time to discuss the philosophy and science behind Yoga. Grab yourself a cup of tea and come and join us for an open discussion. You can book your space here.