Practicing yoga is more than just a butt lift and ab toner (though it’s certainly those things too). This ancient Indian spiritual practice has dozens of amazing benefits — hello elevated moods, protection from injury, lower stress, better sleep, better athletic performance, lower blood sugar, better posture, boosted immunity, balanced metabolism... I could go on, but I think you get it. True, many of us originally came to the mat for the toned triceps chatarunga gives us, but over time the more you practice, the more you can feel the awesome effects in so many other aspects of your life. For me? I’m way nicer.
You're welcome, everyone in my life.
At some point, I realized that I was ready to take yoga to the next level — and I don’t mean nailing that handstand. The asanas (poses) are only one of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga (more on this Patanjali guy in a sec). Really, yoga is a lifestyle. No, you don’t have to eat vegan hot dogs, wear organic bamboo yoga pants, and stop sarcastic tweeting to be a yogini. Mostly, it’s about self-awareness and all that other stuff that makes you happier.
If you’re feeling like you want to deepen your yoga practice on and off the mat, here are 10 books to get you started:
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda
Compiled in about 400 CE by Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras includes a series of aphorisms about yoga divided into three books. No one really knows for sure who Patanjali was, but this book constitutes the philosophy of yoga as we know it today. Really you could read any translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, but I recommend this one because the commentary is pretty in depth. Interesting note: only one of the 196 sutras even mentions asanas.
Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
One of the early students of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar is often attributed with helping to make yoga popular in the west with this 1966 authoritative manual, Light on Yoga . One of the great things about this book is how in-depth the descriptions are of each posture. The illustrations are pretty great, too. This is a perfect reference manual if you are trying to figure out exactly how you get that toaster slot alignment in Triangle pose.
Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
This illustrated guide to postures, movements and breathing techniques are not for people squeamish about the stuff that goes on under our skin. (Or is that just me?) The color illustrations show you exactly what muscles you’re using in which poses and which organs are affected. It also explains the actions of your joints and breathing in each posture. Shedding a whole new light on the immense effects of yoga on our bodies, it’s kind of funny to think about when you’re trying to stay balanced in Tree Pose.
Poser: My Life in 23 Poses by Claire Dederer
Speaking of funny, this memoir by Seattle native Claire Dederer is hilarious. We don’t want to take our yoga too seriously after all. Each chapter in the book is named for a different pose which corresponds with the period of her life when she is working on that pose and all the stuff that comes up for her. This book is also about being a new mother and Dederer’s reflections on her own childhood. If you want someone to joke with about the challenges of yoga and life in general, this is the title.
Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman
Another funny book, this time in the realm of fiction. A freelance writer for “Idiot Guides,” protagonist Amanda travels to India to write about enlightenment and discovers the world of yoga, ashrams, and meditation, as well as the ways in which Western spirituality has become a profitable business. Learn a little more about eastern philosophy while following Amanda’s quirky travails.
Healing Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrand
Does your yoga teacher ever ask you to chant Om at the end of class? Ever wonder what that’s all about? This book gets into the important details about Sanskrit mantras, why we chant them, and their benefits. The author even offers up suggestions for mantras that you can chant yourself for any situation including abundance, personal power, healing, and creativity. Om shanti.
Journey Into Power by Baron Baptiste
Don't let the cover mislead you. For Baptiste, the founder of Power Yoga, a strong physical practice of yoga is a reflection of our internal self. Pushing through a posture even when it burns is also going to help you push through the difficult times in your life while gaining a strong core (double entendre intended). Spirituality is perfectly paired with physical alignment as he describes his Power series in step-by-step detail.
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachara
Are you dependent on going to yoga classes to maintain your yoga practice? Are you interested in saving money on classes or just practicing more at home? This book does exactly what the title says. A step-by-step guide, it shows you how to create your own practice at home based on your individual needs. Aside from advice on how to do the poses, Desikachara also gives insights into yoga traditions in a way that is easy to understand.
The Amazing Secrets of The Yogi by Charles F. Haanel
I don't want to give away the secrets, but this is a great introduction to yoga. This book is especially helpful in its descriptions of breathing techniques to calm the mind and enter a state of meditation. Haanel is the original guru of self-help books, and here he uses teachings from India to enlighten readers and raise vibrations.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga by Deepak Chopra
If you only have time for one book on yoga, try this one. Chopra does a good job of covering the spiritual aspects of yoga in brief while including meditation techniques, mantras, chakras, breathing exercises, and poses. It’s light and interesting enough to be read in an afternoon while touching upon the key elements of the yogic path.