Our Top 15 Picks: Best Books on Yoga

When most people think of yoga today, they associate it with the physical postures and exercises that increase flexibility and help relaxation. These postures and breathing exercises just begin to scratch the surface of what yoga truly is. Yoga, which is often translates as "to unite" or "to join", prescribes a way of living a disciplined life in order to attain a state of unity consciousness. Whether you are new to yoga or you have been practicing for over 20 years, the books listed below offer a wonderful introduction and further illumination of many facets and streams of yoga. Whether you read one or all of these books, hopefully they will support you in deepening your understanding and appreciation of this timeless tradition. 

1. The Yoga of Discipline by Swami Chidvilasananda

Following the path of yoga means so much more than attempting to do the physical postures ascribed by different yogis throughout the ages. Living a life of yoga means living a life of discipline. For those who hear the word discipline and shy away, do not worry. In this book, Swami Chidvilasananda illustrates how discipline is a beautiful, accessible virtue that sets the foundation for people to live a life of freedom. Through a series of talks she gave during the summer of 1995, Swami Chidvilasananda teaches us to bring yogic discipline to seeing, listening, eating, speaking, and thinking, so that people can, as Swami Chidvilasananda says, “break through boundaries and reach the highest goal.”

2. Where are You Going by Swami Muktananda

This book serves as a brilliant, accessible introduction to the yoga of the Self. In this book, Swami Muktananda provides readers with a complete map of the process of self-knowledge: from the first flash of questioning to the achievement of the state of perfect joy and freedom. This book combines essays and Q&As with Swami Muktananda to explore the different stages of the inner journey, the awakening of the Kundalini energy, the recognition of the inner Self, the function of the master, and the practice of mantra and meditation. If you’ve ever asked the question: Where am I going? This book might just have the answer for you.

3. Bhagavad Gita: Song of God By Swami Prabhananda and Christopher Isherwood

The Bhagavad Gita is one of the "great religious classics of the world."  The Bhagavad Gita occupies a chapter out of the much larger Mahabharata epic. For millennia, the Bhagavad Gita has taught people an active way to reach God that does not rely upon intensive knowledge of the Vedic scriptures and rituals. The yogic path outlined in the Gita provides simple and direct ways for people to reach eternal peace. At first glance the Bhagavad Gita appears to be a story about a charioteer encouraging his master to engage in battle, but upon closer scrutiny, the reader discovers that the charioteer is in fact an incarnation of God, and he is engaged in teaching the warrior about the path of righteousness. The teachings of the Bhagavad Gita sparked a revolution in spiritual thinking for millennia to come, and they are still as relevant today as they were when Lord Krishna first imparted them to Arjuna upon the eve of the battle at Kurukshetra. In this translation, Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhananda translate the ancient, Sanskrit verse into lyrical, modern English that makes the words as meaningful and accessible today as if Lord Krishna himself were speaking them to us right now.  

4. The Sacred Power: A Seeker’s Guide to Kundalini by Swami Kripananda

In The Sacred Power, Swami Kripananda, explains the nature of the Kundalini energy. She describes the transformative power of the spiritual awakening known as shaktipat diksha. Furthermore, through her own practice, study and experience, Swami Kripananda portrays in detail the unfolding of this energy as a seeker progresses in sadhana. For seekers wanting to deepen their understanding of the sacred energy that resides within all beings, this is the book.

5. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Commentary by Swami Satchidananda

In the great tradition of Indian Philosophers, Swami Satchidananda offers the world a modern and accessible commentary and guide to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In his translation and commentary, Swami Satchidananda translates the 1000s-of-years-old Yoga Sutras in a grounded, practical and relatable way for anyone interested in learning about Raja Yoga. It doesn't matter whether you are well-steeped in yogic tradition or know nothing about Indian philosophy. Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a foundational book for anyone’s collection. In it, readers will learn not only about the physical outer postures of yoga, but also the inner posture of yoga - readers will learn about meditation, ethics and teachings that can be applied to situations that occur in everyday life. It is a timeless manual on how to live a life of purpose and contentment.

6. Autobiograby of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yogananda

Cited as one of the most important spiritual books written in the 20th century, Autobiography of a Yogi is a great place for any aspiring yogi to start. More than that, it is a book that has inspired many important and influential people around the world for decades. Paramahamsa Yogananda compassionately and candidly shares his life’s story with the world, and in doing so, he shows seekers how to live a life of meaning and purpose. This is a story that can be read again and again, and each time readers will find new insight and meaning for themselves.

7. I Am That  by Nisargadatta Maharaj; Translated by Maurice Frydman

Books like this are rare jewels that should be treasured. In I Am That, Nisargadatta Maharaj offers readers pithy, direct teachings on how to attain God. Nisargadatta Maharaj teaches from his own experience of the Truth, which the audience can feel when reading the book. Like many Indian Philosophical texts, this book is not just to be read and understood, it is meant to be put into practice. These words mean nothing if they are not practiced and experienced. Yoga requires action, and Nisargadatta Maharaj’s book offers readers a simple, straightforward call to action.

8. The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar

If you are new to the idea of Yoga and are looking for a book that can give you an in depth overview of the study and practice of yoga, look no further. In this book, T.K.V. Desikachar distills the wisdom and teachings of his father, the great Shri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya into a practical guide on the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels of yoga. T.K.V. Desikachar offers students a clear, step-by-step guide to developing their own, tailored yogic practice that best suits them depending on their current state of health, age, occupation and lifestyle. This book beautifully illustrates how the practice of yoga is a path that is unique to every individual, and with the right direction and guidance, anyone can walk the path.  

9. Light On Yoga by BKS Iyengar

As Iyengar himself states in the introduction to this book, his purpose in writing the book is to: “describe as simply as possible the asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing disciplines) in the new light of our own era, its knowledge and its requirements.” This book is a “must-read” for anyone intent on learning and deepening his or her understanding and practice of yoga. Iyengar clearly and succinctly gives directions for 200 asanas (postures), describing what each asana is, how to get into each one, and the effects of each posture. Iyengar also rates the difficulty level of each pose, so that students can practice those appropriate to their individual skill level. All that said, while this book is a necessary book for any yoga practitioner to have, one cannot stress the importance of having a teacher to study with.

10. Yoga: The Science of the Soul by Osho

Yoga: The Science of the Soul serves as a precious resource for beginning or experienced yoga practitioners alike. Furthermore, this book provides invaluable insight into the complex and important relationship that exists between the body and the mind. In Yoga, Osho explains the meaning of some of the most important Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an early "scientist of the soul" who is credited with being the father of Raja Yoga. Combining his fresh translation and unique insights into these ancient texts, Osho brings Patanjali to life in this book and offers readers a path of yoga for greater self-understanding that is oh so relevant in these modern times.

11. Health Through Yoga  Mira Mehta

If you’re looking for a book that focuses more on the physical postures of yoga, this book by Mira Mehta might be the book for you. In this book, Mira combines her knowledge of Ayurveda (an ancient Indian system of medicine), philosophy, and asanas to offer readers a method of yoga that will support them in living a healthy life. Through her instruction, readers can find a method and sequence of postures that will support them in ways that are appropriate for their body type. This book is accessible to new yoga practitioners, and will also interest people with longstanding yoga practices.

12. Be Here Now by Ram Dass

This book is not to be dismissed. Highly creative and psychedelic, don’t let its appearance fool you - this book is full of wisdom. In his own unique way, Ram Dass offers readers a stream of consciousness, poetic, creative explanation of ancient yogic principles and teachings. Ram Dass takes readers through the spiritual journey he went through as a young man, and in doing so, shares an intimate look into the quest that many humans embark on in order to answer the timeless questions: “Who am I?”; “Why am I here?”; “What is my purpose?”.

13. The Secret Power of Yoga: A woman’s guide to the heart and spirit of the Yoga Sutras by Nischala Joy Devi

Nischala Joy Devi offers readers a much needed feminine perspective and interpretation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Her book is said to be the first translation intended for women. That said, it really should be read by anyone and everyone, regardless of gender. Devi writes in a poetic and uplifting manner, choosing to use heart-centered translations for seemingly "negative" sounding translations. For example, for Aparigraha, often translated as non-greed, Devi uses "awareness of abundance". In this way, Devi invites readers into a more abundant and uplifting view of the world. 

14. Yoga: The Greater Tradition by David Frawley

In this book, Vedic scholar David Frawley concisely expounds upon the greater tradition of yoga - as in the many yogic branches that are beyond what people in the West think of when they hear the word yoga. For anyone who wants to go deeper into their understanding but does not want to read 100s of pages about yoga, this could be a good introduction. In this book, Frawley explains the traditions of Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Karma Yoga, and offers his readers a foundation upon which to build their knowledge and understanding of the science of yoga.

15. The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice by Georg Feuerstein

For those looking for a comprehensive, in-depth look at the history and development of Yoga since its inception, look no further. In his book, Georg Feuerstein defines Yoga as a concept, explains the 8 main paths of yoga, and explores the development of yoga from it's pre-vedic roots to modern day. Furthermore, Georg looks at how other religions, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhisim incorporate yogic concepts into their philosophies. Feuerstein deftly uses scriptural excerpts throughout his book to illustrate some of the points he discusses, referring back to primary source material. This book truly deserves the description of being the "most comprehensive and reliable treatment of the subject available today".

List compiled by Rajmani Sinclair for Inner Splendor Media

August 9, 2016