Top 8 Books on Yoga and Wellness
Looking to begin a yoga practice but want some background knowledge before joining a studio? Or are you a regular yoga practitioner and looking to dive deeper into the the study of yoga? Or maybe you simply wish to increase your knowledge on health and wellness?
Whatever your goals, I have compiled some of my favorite books--all of which can be borrowed from our local Toledo Public Libraries--on yoga and health to guide you along your wellness journey.
To be honest, I hadn't used a cookbook since the purchase of my first smartphone. I always think, why spend the money if I have a plethora of recipes literally at my fingertips?
Eat Feel Fresh is the first cookbook I’ve used in the last decade that I actually want to purchase for myself (and I did). The author, Sahara Rose Ketabi, gives an introduction to Ayurveda, along with a simple quiz to figure out your constitution--vata, pitta, kapha, or any combination of those three--and then each recipe has modifications you can make to eat for your dosha, or “mind-body type.”
Ketabi explains, “Ayurveda is based on two guiding principles: 1) The mind and the body are inextricably connected, and 2) Nothing has more power than the mind to heal and transform the body.”
Ayurveda takes every aspect of “you” into account--your frame, your skin, your eye shape, your bowel movements, your ability to learn, your speech patterns, and much more--to identify your constitution. Ayurveda and yoga are closely linked--one complements the other and they work together seamlessly.
The recipes themselves are vegan, gluten-free, and alkaline. I’ve only tried a few recipes, but they were all delicious and simple (and we are a carnivorous family). My picky 6-year-old even found a recipe he liked: the sweet potato bites with cashew butter and strawberries!
Update: Eat Taste Heal has become my newest go-to Ayurveda cookbook. It has all of the same qualities and chapters as Eat Feel Fresh, but I find the recipes are simpler and authentically Indian. There are also dishes that include meat for my carnivorous family!
2. Yoga: Path to Holistic Health by Iyengar
If you’re new to yoga, you may not know that there are numerous styles of yoga in the world, from Iyengar to Ashtanga to Jivamutki to Vinyasa to Yin and so on. The various forms of yoga derive from certain lineages, and practitioners are often wholeheartedly devoted to their specific style of yoga.
B.K.S. Iyengar is undeniably one of the most important yoga figures in the Western world, and he is considered one of the fathers of modern yoga. Iyengar practiced under his guru Krishnamacharya, and as Iyengar was not naturally inclined to yoga and suffered from some health issues, he had to work harder than most to achieve the same results.
sustaining a yoga injury attempting hanumanasana (or full splits), Iyengar said, “I realized that attempting certain asanas suddenly, without preparation, could harm the body and the mind. I started evolving the asana sequences scientifically. I developed a progressive approach from simple to difficult asanas. I categorized them by their effects, as being purifying, pacifying, stimulative, nourishing, or cleansing.”
Thus Iyengar yoga was born, a branch of traditional yoga that focuses on alignment and safety, using props and modifications frequently. Iyengar believed that yoga was for everyone, regardless of age or size, and that yoga is a holistic experience that benefits the body, mind and emotions.
Yoga: Path to Holistic Health is the most comprehensive yoga book I have yet read. He categorizes poses, giving detailed written instructions as well as multiple visual images from every angle, and he even includes yoga sequences for ailments--such as yoga for osteoarthritis, yoga for headaches, yoga for insomnia, and more--with images and sanskrit asana names. Props are used in every sequence.
This book is great for all levels of yoga practitioners. Beginners will learn yoga poses and names, as well as their modifications, while yoga teachers could use the sequences at the back for their own classes and learn how to modify poses with props so they are accessible to all. With a hefty price tag of $40, this is definitely one you will want to borrow from the Library.
3. Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley
If you’re new to yoga, this book is for you. Jessamyn approaches yoga with an inclusive, accepting approach, encouraging budding yoga practitioners that, “you only need to attend one drop-in class at your loca yoga studio to notice that the modern Western yoga world is very diverse and practitioners come in every color, shape, and size in the flesh-toned rainbow. But if you’re only paying attention to the media’s idea of a yoga practitioner--one that mirrors the stereotypical image of a physician-approved Western health: slender, long, and young--it’s easy to see how you might feel a little alienated and lost.”
Jessamyn covers frequently asked questions, the history of modern yoga “in a nutshell,” the eight-limbed path, and the varieties of yoga practices out there before diving into the “ABCs of yoga.” The last three-quarters of her book includes pictures and descriptions of fundamental yoga poses (asana), as well as offering modifications for the more challenging poses.
Her honesty and frankness are refreshing to read, and as a bigger-bodied yogi myself, I appreciate her open discussions on size and race as they relate to society and the world of yoga. The only downside: her ready-use of profanity. If curse words irk you, this may not be the book for you.
Oh, how I love this book. I took two yoga and anatomy trainings during my 200-hour yoga teacher training, and both trainings used this book. The Key Muscles of Yoga focuses on the anatomy and alignment of each yoga pose, encouraging the reader to understand how the muscles work in each asana (pose) in order to perform and teach them safely.
If you are a yogi who also happens to be an anatomy nerd, you need this book. If you are thinking of becoming a yoga teacher or want a deeper understanding of the anatomy and alignment of each pose, you also need this book. The pictures are fantastic and the knowledge is priceless.
5. The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
The Book of Joy documents the insightful conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Douglas Abrams, the author, records the humorous and wise dialogue between these two men so vividly that you feel like you’re in the room, laughing and crying alongside them.
The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu unravel the mysteries to finding joy in our lives, which, they argue, is the ultimate goal of all humanity. The Dalai Lama clarifies, “It does not matter whether one is Buddhist like me, or a Christian like the Archbishop, or any other religion at all. From the moment of birth, every human being wants to discover happiness and avoid suffering. No differences in our culture or our education or our religion affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire joy and contentment.”
The rest of the book then outlines the simple, yet impossibly difficult, steps to achieving true and lasting joy.
6. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Autobiography of a Yogi has been dubbed one of the best spiritual books of the 20th century and praised by renowned figures such as Andrew Weil, George Harrison, and Steve Jobs (apparently the book was even the "party favor" at his funeral).
My own teacher during yoga teacher training highly recommended the book, encouraging me to listen to the audiobook, narrated by Ben Kingsley. In complete honesty, since I listened to this book near the beginning of my yoga journey, there was much I didn’t understand. However, as I continue to deepen my spiritual and physical practice, tidbits from the book pop back into my mind, making more sense now than they did years ago. I suspect that when I reread the book, it will resonate even deeper than it did the first time.
The novel is exactly what the title suggests: the autobiographical narrative of the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, born Mukunda Lal Ghosh in Gorakhpur, India, into a Bengali family. Yogananda encounters immortal yogis, witnesses magical materializations, and meets mythical men and women who can live without eating and can meditate for days without moving, sleeping, or eating.
His yoga journey is fantastical and interesting, and whether you believe his accounts or not, the book examines many important philosophical questions, along with the power of a regular meditation practice.
7. Good Morning Yoga by Mariam Gates
We own many children’s yoga books, but Good Morning Yoga is our favorite. The illustrations are cute, the flow is simple and includes several core yoga poses, and the writing encourages readers to breathe in each pose.
On top of that, even though this book is geared toward younger children, I have used it with success during my kids yoga classes with mixed age-levels. It’s easy enough for 3-year-olds to follow but still interesting enough for 10-year-olds to stay focused. It’s a great way to begin or end a kids yoga session, mixing literacy with exercise and breathing techniques.
8. The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Ideals by Deborah Adele
While this book is not at our local library, I had to include it because it is, by far, the most influential yoga book I have read. I have reread it more than any other book, and I frequently read short excerpts from it at the end of my yoga class.
If you want to learn more about yoga's ethical tenets, called the yamas and niyamas, this is the book you want.
The first yama is ahimsa, or nonviolence, and while the book is littered with great quotes, here is one I enjoy: "If you are light hearted and forgiving with yourself, others will feel the ease and joy of being with you. If you find laughter and delight in yourself, others will be healed in your presence." In short, she is explaining that nonviolence also applies to ourselves. We must be as kind to ourselves as we are to others.