Students and friends often ask me to recommend yoga and/or mindfulness books. Last year I posted about 5 classic yoga texts, but it’s high time I expanded that list!
This isn’t a completely comprehensive list of all the books I’ve read or am reading about these subjects, but those listed here are a fantastic place to start. If you have any questions, or would like to recommend any others, feel free to leave a comment!
I have divided the books into three categories – yoga, mindfulness & inspiration. It turns out the list (35 books in total) was far too long for a single post, so this is part one – the books I love, and I hope you’ll love, about yoga, meditation and mindfulness.
These are some of the books on yoga that I have collected over the years, and return to again and again…
Carol Horton’s eloquent exploration of yoga as we know it today asks many questions I have asked myself over the years. How can yoga be both an ancient spiritual practice, and a $6 billion booming industry ripe for commercialisation? Why does yoga hold such appeal, beyond physical fitness?
“At it’s best, there’s a creative energy at play in yoga today; a sparking of the inherent energies of mind and body in ways that can feel both mysteriously timeless and immediately, even absurdly, contemporary.”
If you ever wanted to contemplate the whys andhows of modern yoga practice, I definitely recommend reading Yoga Phd. It left me thinking about modern yoga’s evolution into what we practice today, and sparked an internal debate around the idea of conscious expansion and ancient yogi notions of freedom. All in all, well worth a read.
This book by Sarah Powers has become frayed at the edges because I refer to it so often when I teach! The yin-yoga bible of sorts, it also contains instructions and suggestions for a yang style (more dynamic) practice and meditation. She has a way of writing that is very easy to follow and understand.
The poses are well illustrated with step-by-step photos and whole sequences (long and short) are laid out for you. This book is for anyone who wants to practice yin on a more regular basis, or would like to know more about Sarah’s investigations into the interplay between yoga and the meridian system of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
This was the first yoga book I bought and I return to it again and again. Sharon Gannon and David Life are truly inspirational yogis, and their message of love and freedom is motivating and uplifting.
They are clearly passionate and committed yogis, just being in the same room with them encourages you to get back on the mat and let the magic happen.
“Every time you stalk your fear and choose life instead of oblivion, you’ll begin to reclaim the parts of you that have been blocked off.”
Ana Forrest is one of my yogi crushes. She’s just wonderful. I’d love to study with her one day. Her story is inspirational, and in this book she invites you to experience her tumultuous journey from addiction, trauma and fear to fierce strength and determination.
I love her no-nonsense approach to yoga -get on your mat, practice, connect with your breath and harness your inner power. Hell yes!
The teacher of our teachers, Krishnamacharya lead a fascinating life and helped bring yoga to the world. His students included B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois (of ashtanga yoga), Indra Devi, Desikachar, Mark Whitwell and more.
This biography, written by one of his long-term students A.G. Mohan sheds light on the life of this yoga master and reflects back on his memories of time spent studying with him.
“By staying present we find threads of connection between the sensations, emotions, thoughts and memories that shape how we feel about, and respond to experience.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this intelligent and eloquent book by Julian Walker. Much like Horton, Walker uses examples that really resonated with me and steers away from anything too new-age or hard to accept.
Yoga here is explored through the lenses of thought and feeling, and we are encouraged to embrace the complex reality of human experience on the mat. I’d recommend this for any yoga teachers out there, or yogi’s who are looking for a home practice gorunded in rational thought and interesting ideas.
Mindfulness Yoga by Frank Jude Boccio urges us to stay present as we practice, and weaves ideas from Buddhist philosophy seamlessly into a balanced approach to yoga.
With an emphasis on staying curious and aware throughout the asana practice, and making time to sit for meditation, Boccio’s ideas have greatly influenced my approach to teaching. If you are interested in combining meditation and mindfulness with yoga and an asana practice, then you should definitely read this informative and eloquent book.
Yoga of Heart by Mark Whitwell is a book about the simple beauty of a yoga practice. Mark asks us to remember that to practice yoga is to be present, with the breath, and the body just as it is. We fully inhabit our life through body mind and breath on the mat at that moment. This is another must-read for anyone who wants to take their practice deeper.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body, shook my long-held beliefs about yoga to the core. I discovered that the asanas (postures) we practice aren’t ancient, but come from body building and stretching methods of the early 20th century. I learnt that many yogins of the past were outsiders in Indian society, feared and avoided. He revealed the complex truth about the modern postural practice we take today – it reflects our needs, collectively, as a society and is not a direct descendant of an ancient art as many believe.
If you are keen to know the history of the practice we call yoga, this is an absolute must read.
“The primary text of Raja Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali…Sutra literally means “thread”, each sutra being the barest thread of meaning upon which a teacher might expand by adding his or her “beads” of experience, example, etc. for the sake of the student.”
This classic text is one of the foundations of yoga philosophy today, and you will hear it referenced by many modern teachers. Patanjali’s sutras form the basis of our understanding of path of yoga, as taught by Krishnamacharya. Sr Swami Satichinanda’s commentary on the sutras is a traditional but understandable approach to the ideas behind the threads of knowledge Patanjali shares.
Donna Farhi’s classic book on yoga was a core text for my yoga teacher training, and I still quote from it regularly. Farhi carefully explores the physical and mental aspects of a well-rounded yoga practice. In particular she offers beautiful guidance for correct alignment, explaining the principles of yielding to the earth and radiating from the core. This will be a classic for years to come, and certainly deserves a space on a yogi’s bookshelf.
This fabulous collection of pieces from some of the best writers on modern yoga was a fascinating read! Edited by Carol Horton & Roseanne Harvey (of It’s All Yoga Baby), 21st century yoga looks at exactly that – our modern practice, feminism and yoga, politics, commercialisation of yoga and more. A great read from start to finish.
B.K.S. Iyengar’s first book, Light on Yoga is also a classic text for yogis, but I particularly enjoyed Light on Life that he wrote a few years ago. Here Iyengar, one of the first yoga masters in the west, offers his wisdom and advice drawn from a life of practicing yoga. He offers a fantastic overview of yoga philosophy as it relates to real life, and advice for practitioners on and off the mat.
I would love to practice with Eric Schiffman one day. His approach to yoga seems so open, free and loving all at once. In this book he describes the sense of stillness in motion that a yoga practice can help you achieve – like a spinning top, perfectly centred. This idea really resonated with me, when you are participating wholeheartedly in the present moment, it feels as if the world stands still yet you are still moving, dynamic, alive.
“When you experience yourself in stillness – that is, when you give your undivided attention to experiencing the truth about you – you will experience the conflict-free, calm, dynamic peace of perfectly centred abundant life energy.”
Another classic text, written by T.K.V. Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya. The Heart of Yoga delves into yoga philosophy, correct sequencing of asanas as well as pranayama and meditation. This is another of the books that every teacher should probably own, and well worth a read for any dedicated yogi.
MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS
My interest in meditation and mindfulness began around five years ago. Learning to be more present in my life has helped me tremendously, and these are some of the books that have taught me how…
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
Thich Nhat Hanh’s classic book was the first one I ever read on mindfulness, and it’s fair to say it helped save me from the grips of an eating disorder. My therapist recommended it, and each week we would take time in our session to practice one of the meditations. The way he explains the art of mindful attention is easy to follow and the meditations he suggests are simple yet profound. We are encouraged to pay mindful attention in every moment of our life – whether washing the dishes, going for a walk or chatting to a friend on the phone. This book is a must read for anyone interested in mindfulness.
“The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we already are.”
Again, I’m not exaggerating when I say that reading Pema Chodron’s books changed my life. Pema writes eloquently and honestly about self-compassion and awareness, gently encouraging you to drop your guard and embrace all aspects of yourself. My copy of this book is almost four years old and coming apart – full of underlined sections, folded corners, and worn from cover to cover. I often quote from this book when teaching, and can pick it up and reread often.
Yep, I love her books so much I’m mentioning another one. Chodron’s latest book is about coping with uncertainty and change in modern life. She encourages us to stay open to all experiences, cultivate compassion for others and eventually learn to embrace the feeling of groundlessness as liberating instead of frightening. A must read for any anxiety sufferers or those looking to push back at fear.
Londro Rinzler offers a fresh modern approach to fundamental Buddhadharma, and suggests practical ways we can incorporate ideas from Buddhist philosophy into our daily lives. This books is a great light-hearted read for anyone interested in mindfulness and Buddhist concepts, and will ease you into a discussion of philosophy without diving deep into the more complex concepts.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
I feel like Eckhart Tolle’s classic book needs no introduction, but I had to include this on the list! If you haven’t read the Power of Now I highly recommend you do. Tolle writes in a very open and relatable way about profound ideas. Enough said!
“As we encounter new experiences with a mindful and wise attention, we discover that one of three things will happen to our new experience: it will go away, it will stay the same, or it will get more intense. whever happens does not really matter.”
I was first introduced to Jack Kornfield by one of my earliest, and loveliest, of yoga teachers who used to quote from this book all the time. Kornfield’s words are comforting and insightful and this book offers guidance for any who wish to take their mindfulness practice deeper. Whether you are a committed practitioner or new to the ideas of yoga and Buddhism, this classic definitely deserves a spot on your bookshelf.
Perfect for science nerds and lay-people alike, Rick Hanson’s in-depth look at the neuroscience behind Buddhist ideas of meditation is a fascinating book. I don’t have a science background, but I found this so very interesting, it offers explanations for many of meditations beneficial effects, and great reasons to maintain a regular practice.
“Imperfection is not our personal problem – it is a natural part of existing.”
This was another key text along my journey to self-acceptence. Tara Brach is a leading Buddhist scholar, teacher and therapist and her classic text on total self-acceptance speaks to anyone who has struggles with doubt and insecurity (which is most of us!). You’ll be encouraged and uplifted, and reassured that really, fundamentally, you’re beautiful and deserve love. Yup, soppy but important.
No discussion of mindfullness would be complete with reference to Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has spear-headed the acceptance of mindfulness practice into mainstream mental health care, with his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course that runs in hospitals across the world. This book is a great introduction to his work, and well worth a read.
“In Zen we say that the other shore is right here under our feet. What we’re looking for – the meaning of life, happiness, peace – is right here. So the question is no longer, how do I get from here to there? The question is: How do I get from here to here?”
I loved this light-hearted book from Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman! As a big big fan of the Big Lebowski and the Dude, I was keen to read this book. I found myself smiling and nodding the whole way through, as both Bridges and Glassman broke complex ideas down into totally relatable conversations. They covered meditation, death, loss, love, hope and that classic dudeism – “the dude abides… the dude abides”.
“No matter how hard we practice and how strongly we feel that we’ve mastered our life, new shit will keep coming to light.”
Phew!! That’s it – the first half of the list.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or could suggest any more to add. I’ll be back with my recommended reading list of motivational & inspirational books next week!