Investigating Yoga – Suggested Readings to Grow Your Practice

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At first glance, beginning a study of yoga looks a lot like a physical workout. The practice of asana – the physical postures of yoga – is the way that most people in the west are introduced to this ancient art and science. As you attend classes, you might notice your teacher offering you ideas to consider as you go through your asana practice. You may hear your teacher refer to the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita or another work that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Downward Facing Dog. As we become more seasoned practitioners, we expect these little thought nuggets as practice accessories. Most of us welcome this intertwining of body and mind, energy and spirit as a deeper form of practice that speaks to universal themes of human existence.
Where you might have wondered, do my teachers get these ideas? 
The truth of yoga is that it is much, much more than a physical practice. What we know today about yoga has been informed by teachers and practitioners for centuries, and we can enrich our asana practice by investigating some of the knowledge that has been handed down over the generations. There is something for everyone in the practice of yoga, so please read on to see how you can direct your personal journey through some of the significant texts in the Yoga Library.

Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) from Pexels

Are you interested in the stories of classical yoga? Check out these titles:
  • The Ramayana is the story of Rama and his dharmic adventure to rescue his bride and slay the demon Ravana. You might enjoy the William Buck version if you like a dense read. If you want something a little lighter, try Sanjay Patel’s beautifully illustrated version, A Tale of Gods and Demons.
  • The Mahabharata is the tale of the great king Bharat and his descendants. This is the larger story from which the Bhagavad Gita comes. You can find many translations of this story in print, but you can also find an epic video version of it if you prefer to watch the events unfold. 
If you are interested in the journey of the spirit, you might enjoy reading these:
  • Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda is the story of a yogi’s journey along the spiritual path. This is a wonderful book that helps the reader gain an understanding of what a more traditional yoga education might look like. It also shows us one of the pathways that brought yoga to the west.
  • Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater is a guide to practicing yoga with a mind toward spiritual growth. Each chapter begins with reference to a sutra or verse from the Bhagavad Gita. Lasater shows the reader how to employ that wisdom both on and off your mat with suggested practices, activities, and mantras. 
For a deeper understanding of the physical practice, you could look to these texts:
  • The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar is a great instruction manual for the basic elements of asana practice and a good introduction to some of the basic philosophical tenets. 
  • Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar is one of the most respected books on the practice of yoga asana. 
For those of you who would like something a bit lighter, there are some wonderful books to ease you into the process. If you are interested in the mythology of yoga, these are a great introduction:
  • The Little Book of Hindu Deities by Sanjay Patel is a children’s book that offers basic information about the Hindu pantheon. All the descriptions are one page and are accompanied by charming illustrations. 
  • Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij takes the reader through descriptions of postures and their mythological origins. This gives both a basic retelling of the story behind the posture as well as basic instructions for the pose. 
Finally, if you are looking to explore some of the accessory practices of yoga, you might check out these:
  • Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands by Gertrud Hirschi takes you through some of the many mudras that can accompany the practice. There are illustrations as well as suggested practices. 
  • Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss is a great look at the subtle anatomy of the chakras and how they affect our well-being.
The titles above are only the tiniest of scratches on the surface of all that is available to us in our study of yoga. Still, they are a wonderful beginning for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of yoga and its practice. 
Looking for a guide into this territory? Considering formal training?
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About the Author, Lauren McLaren:
Yoga found me in 1998, and it is certainly responsible for transforming my life from an unexamined existence into a deeply felt experience. The physical practice has its rewards, and I found relief from chronic back pain on my mat. What amazed me and continues to amaze me is the subtlety of yoga’s power.

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