We’ve compiled a varied collection of 14 must-read yoga book reviews by yogajala writers and yoga teachers.
We hope to inspire you to open one of these books and dive into yoga’s rich history & philosophy.
By Andrea Jain
Is yoga religious? Andrea Jain is not a yoga practitioner but an American scholar of Religion so this isn’t necessarily an easy read.
Her book Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture highlights the importance of context and interpretation when viewing yoga as a “transnational cultural product”.
In other words, Jain argues that yoga does not have an “authentic” or “true” origin but is instead a product of changing culture and later, capitalist influence.
The book opens with an in-depth look at pre-modern yoga history. She sets out to inform the reader about yoga’s “malleability” and how it transitioned from counterculture to pop culture through three main things: global travel and the free market, disillusionment with religious traditions, and the uptake in consumer culture.
Yes, this is pretty political and arguably brings a new dimension to yoga for many of us. She also explores how branding and the entrepreneurial teacher put yoga on the commerce ladder through “guru” brands such as Iyengar and Anusara.
The book’s main argument states that yoga is a “body of religious practice”. Most of us would immediately jump to defend yoga as not being religious but Jain says that the shared ideologies around values, goals, mythologies, and rituals whether it be yoga or Christianity make it a religious practice.
A real strength is her ability to highlight that the spiritual, transformative, and ritualistic practice of modern yoga becomes the “sacred,” setting it “apart from the ordinary” and every day.
Jain successfully magnifies what cultural changes occurred for yoga to become part of pop culture and champions yoga as a religious practice.
This book is thought-provoking, provocative, and refreshing and a must for keen practitioners and teachers as well as academics.
By Hermann Hess
Siddhartha traces the exceptional life of a young Brahmin through the vicissitudes of his life during his quest for self-realization. A literary classic, Herman Hesse narrates a spellbinding Buddhist journey inspiring the likes of Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist) and more.
Based on the early life of the Buddha, ‘Siddhartha’ is an expertly woven piece of simple literature, filled with remarkable insights that has understandably inspired generations.
The story has an astonishing familiarity to it, in which Siddhartha struggles with the human condition as he navigates the pleasures and hardships of everyday life.
Prominent in the story is Siddhartha’s unwavering youthful spirit, as he readily rejects teachers. This alludes to a key Buddhist insight: that intellectual understanding is not enough to become enlightened. Siddhartha, imperfect in his humanity, tenacious in attaining his goal, lives the Buddhist principle of experiential wisdom.
The book is written in a concise, lyrical format which is super digestible.
Similar to the Suttas of the Buddha, Hesse uses listing to describe actions, feelings, realizations and teachings. A treasure chest of spiritual goodness, Siddhartha is an accessible and easy-to-read novel that deserves a spot on everyone’s bookshelf.
The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice
By Deborah Adele
This short book is centered around the 2 first limbs of the 8-limb path of yoga according to Patanjali.
Deborah Adele does an incredible job at dissecting these two philosophical principles; the Yamas, the external codes of conduct, and the Niyamas, the internal observances one must follow to lead a worthy life.
This book is great to read all in one sitting, but it is even more impactful when taken in bite-sized pieces, and chapter by chapter explores each of these principles and how we can begin to implement them organically into our lives.
The down-to-earth and approachable tone makes this book a great companion to your yogic and spiritual journey.
The Truth of Yoga
by Daniel Simpson
The Truth of Yoga is a well-structured breakdown of all and everything to do with yoga theory.
Have you ever wondered how the Bhagavad Gita is related to what you are doing in your asana class? You’ll be pleased to hear you are not alone.
Simpson breaks down yoga topics and theories from ascetics to the Upanishads, Patanjali to tantra and everything in between within short, digestible essays.
There is a distinct lack of books that bridge the gap between academic yoga and the beginner practitioner. However, The Truth of Yoga fills this gap nicely.
It offers an accessible introduction to many yogic concepts, while at the same time providing a helpful reference guide for yoga teachers, experienced practitioners and scholars.
Myths Of The Asanas
By Alanna Kaivalya & Arjen van der Kooij
Have you ever wondered how yoga poses got their names? Why do we call eagle pose “Eagle Pose?” And what about all the other yoga names we hear and recite?
If you’re curious about the origins of yoga posture names, consider reading Myths of the Asanas.
For the longest time as a yoga teacher, I would name the poses we practiced during my classes. I wasn’t entirely aware of the meanings behind the names given to these poses, nor did I fully understand how they came to have those particular names. It wasn’t until I discovered this book that unlocked those mysteries.
Yoga teachers and students alike will enjoy this captivating and informative book. It tells the mythological stories behind some of the most practiced poses through an engaging storybook-telling fashion to bring life to each posture.
The book will expand your knowledge about the origin of yoga poses like Warrior I, II, and III, how to experience the power and energy of a child while practicing Child Pose, and experience the richness of love and devotion while reading about Hanuman.
As a teacher, it provided a way to deepen my teaching by channeling the energy of these ancient Hindu stories into the yoga practice. These stories offer a depth of information to yoga practitioners, too. They will experience greater meaning and intention behind the postures they practice.
I would highly recommend this book to teachers and students. It is especially helpful during Yoga Teacher Training courses as a textbook for enhanced learning when teaching about the yoga asanas.
by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
Ever since its initial release in 2007, Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews has been revered among the most comprehensive and accessible handbooks for yoga anatomy, used across yoga schools, somatics courses, and physiotherapeutic treatments.
Packed with wisdom and clarity, the success of the book perhaps comes as no surprise from a quick glance at the authors’ illustrious résumés. For over 40 years, Leslie Kaminoff has been internationally recognized as a principal authority on yoga and breath anatomy, leading him to found The Breathing Project in 2001.
Equally impressive, Amy Matthews is a certified Laban movement analyst with almost 30 years of experience working in the field of yoga therapy, anatomy, and somatic movement.
Two editions later, the book has only got better. Still holding the title of the best-selling asana guide, Yoga Anatomy is a must-read for any yogi looking to deepen their practice.
Through beautifully clear color illustrations and concise, accessible descriptions, Yoga Anatomy details how each muscle group responds to specific joint movements; how variations of a pose can alter its impact; and how the spine, breathing, and skeletal-muscular positions combine to produce particular effects on the body and mind.
By Theodora Wildcroft
Introducing the term Post-Lineage Yoga; Wildcroft describes the teachers and communities that have deliberately withdrawn their connection to traditional lineages, guru figures and hierarchy.
This comes at a time when stories of misconduct, criminal activities and allegations of abuse have been surfacing and gaining mainstream attention.
As the subtitle suggests, the book analyzes the transition from ‘yoga guru worship’ to the ground-breaking movement #MeToo in which women’s personal stories of abuse came to the forefront of social media, ultimately changing the terrain of the yoga industry.
Divided into three parts, part one identifies a lack of awareness of these low-profile movements, challenging the popular viewpoint that Western contemporary yoga is submerged in marketing, branding and close links with the health and diet industry.
Part two documents the home practices of six dedicated practitioners using photographs and a notation system. In the third part of the book, Wildcroft explores additional components that define this subculture, such as the fact that most of the leaders in this field are female, a contrast to the male-dominated leaders who first introduced yoga to the West.
The book is an original piece of research for an underrepresented subculture. However, the subject and style of writing is perhaps most suited to yoga scholars and researchers.
The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga Postures
by Christina Brown
The Yoga Bible is a wonderful reference and guide for any yoga instructor.
In my early days as a yoga teacher, I mostly taught the Sun Salutation and other various postures. My knowledge about asana was quite limited. As I began my research for additional information about yoga, I stumbled across this little gem. Just to be clear, this was before the time of the internet, so my research was browsing the shelves of local book stores.
I mostly ran across books that provided very basic poses and sequences. They were things I was already doing in my yoga classes at the time. But this little book (and it is little….it measures 14cm by 17cm) caught my eye.
The book is composed of many yoga postures. They are categorized by type. For example, there is a section on standing postures, twisting postures, backbends, etc. Each page includes a color photo of a yogi practicing the posture.
The text describes the pose, its Sanskrit name, how to get into the posture, lead-up postures, counter poses, and modifications of the yoga position.
This reference text book explains the different styles of yoga and a comprehensive index of yoga poses.
Even though I have been teaching yoga now for over 20 years, I still turn to this book to get ideas for poses and sequences. My copy is a bit tattered, but I love this book. I highly recommend it to new and seasoned yoga teachers alike.
Roots of Yoga
By James Mallinson and Mark Singleton
Roots of Yoga is a must-have for yoga teachers and experienced practitioners. The authors are amongst some of the leaders in the field of yoga studies.
This is an academic and heavy read, not one to be read from start to finish, necessarily, but to navigate its chapters as and when needed.
It includes the most up-to-date timeline of known yoga manuscripts, plus each chapter is filled with translations from these Sanskrit texts, including instructions for postures, pranayama and the yogic seals.
There is also a useful glossary of Sanskrit terms included. In addition, its bibliography/secondary literature is a brilliant resource for yoga teachers or scholars to expand their studies.
Go In And In
By Danna Faulds
This short poetry book written by long-term Kripalu yoga teacher Danna Faulds is a must read. Go in and in is a great source of inspiration for yoga teachers and practitioners alike.
This book is a delectable compilation of short and longer poems on subjects like breath, love, nature, and of course yoga.
Danna’s writing invites us to pause and allow the words to guide us into presence and awareness.
It is a great book to pick up when you’re in need of some inspiration for yourself, but it can also be great to use as a tool to theme a yoga class or offering, or to read one of the pieces at the end of a yoga class. Danna Fauld’s poetry is absolutely delightful.
The Language of Yoga: Complete A-to-Y Guide to Asana Names, Sanskrit Terms, & Chants
by Nicholai Bachman
As a yoga teacher, I have always been fascinated by the language of yoga and its origins. I first heard about “The Language of Yoga” by Nicholai Bachman, during a secondary yoga teacher training.
A portion of the training was entirely focused on Sanskrit, the language of yoga. I was only familiar with a few Sanskrit words at the time, and I certainly wanted to expand my knowledge. The training, along with this book, helped to improve my yoga knowledge and teaching.
This book is not your typical school textbook. It is a workbook and reference guide that teaches you about the language of yoga, Sanskrit.
When I first picked up the book, I was pleasantly surprised. The author did a great job of breaking down the complex subject of Sanskrit into manageable sections.
The book starts with basic linguistic concepts like the alphabet and pronunciation and gradually progresses to more advanced topics like syntax, sentence structure, and how/when Sanskrit is used in chanting and Bhakti Yoga.
What I particularly liked about this book is the way it is organized. Each chapter builds on the previous one, making it easy to follow and understand.
But my absolute favorite part of this reference guide, and something I use to this very day, is the CDs that accompany the book. Some versions of the book can be purchased with these CD recordings. They are recordings of the author pronouncing the broad list of Sanskrit words and using them in yoga prayers and chants.
When I need help learning a Sanskrit term along with the proper pronunciation, I turn to these recordings.
Overall, I highly recommend “The Language of Yoga” by Nicholai Bachman to anyone who is interested in learning about the language of yoga and its origins.
Three Japanese Monks
By Saigyo, Kamo no Chomei & Yoshida Kenko
A worthy member of the Penguin Great Ideas book collection, Three Japanese Buddhist Monks is a fantastic, compact introduction to the Zen school of Buddhism.
Featuring a collection of writings by three of Japan’s most influential Buddhist monks; Saigyo, Chomei, and Kenko, this book offers a thought-provoking glimpse into the rich spiritual heritage of Japanese Buddhism and its mindful traditions.
Where Saigyo’s piece examines the concept of time and the impermanent nature of all things, Chomei details beautifully the importance of true mindfulness and the futility of material possessions, and Kenko offers a captivating critique of morality, aesthetics and Buddhist psychology with a wisdom and relevance far ahead of its time.
Masterfully translated into accessible language that preserves the precision and intelligence of its importanct teachings of mindfulness, rejection of material desires, and compassion, Three Buddhisit Monks is ideal for those who are new to or experienced with Buddhist philosophy.
Overall, with less than 150 pages, this little gem is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the teachings of Zen Buddhism.
Stop Stretching!: A New Yogic Approach To Master Your Body And Live Pain-Free
By Yogi Aaron
As a seasoned yoga teacher, I was intrigued by Yogi Aaron’s book “Stop Stretching!” and I must say, it did not disappoint. The author’s personal journey of pain and injury is a powerful reminder that sometimes we need to question conventional wisdom in order to find the truth.
Yogi Aaron challenges the idea that stretching is always good for us and explains how it can actually cause harm to our bodies.
He provides practical solutions and alternatives to traditional stretching, such as muscle activation techniques, that can help restore balance to our bodies and prevent injury. He takes a deeper dive into yoga anatomy and muscle activation (AYAMA™) and provides simple techniques that can help us build stability and strength.
The book lastly focuses on living pain-free and releasing our attachment to suffering, emphasizing that yoga is not just about physical fitness, but also about spiritual growth and finding our soul’s purpose.
Overall, “Stop Stretching!” is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to improve their yoga practice, prevent injuries, and live pain-free. T
he bonus yoga sequences at the end of the book are also a nice touch and provide practical guidance for incorporating the author’s teachings into our daily lives. I highly recommend this book to all yoga practitioners, regardless of their level of experience.
By Joe Dispenza
I recently had the opportunity to read “Becoming Supernatural” by Joe Dispenza. He is a neuroscientist and researcher turned author and has several books on the New York Best Seller List. He is also known for his meditative work and how this practice offers healing to those who
This is an intriguing book about how to cultivate healing within yourself. Going in, I was thinking this would be another book that only focused on breathing, meditation, and other yogic practices.
But because of his medical and scientific background, Dr. Dispenza not only delves into the metaphysical aspects of self-healing but also the scientific research that supports his findings.
If you’re looking for the science and data that supports your personal work as a healer, yogi, and practitioner of meditation, I would recommend this book.
To help explain the mystery behind many of these Eastern practices and traditions, he provides relatable stories of individuals who used the power of meditation to help achieve healing.
I was inspired by this book. Since I teach yoga and meditation, it reinforced my belief that both
disciplines are highly beneficial and can offer great healing to an individual if they are open to