Reading is one of my all-time favorite things to do; I am a book nerd. I have been that way since I can remember, although the content of what I read has changed. At this point in my life, I read mostly nonfiction books about different aspects of spirituality, and it continues to amaze me the knowledge we can receive from books. In a perfect world, I could travel all over the world to learn directly from amazing teachers and thinkers. In my world, that’s not exactly possible. But the wisdom from these teachers and thinkers is available to me right on my bookshelf.
A mentor recommended a book called The Untethered Soul (Michael A. Singer) about ten years ago, and it was really the first ‘spirituality’ book I had ever read. I found it in the ‘self-help’ section of the bookstore, and I remember thinking there was very little chance I’d find it interesting. I thought books like that would be boring and mostly informational, reserved for people who were pursuing a rigorous spiritual path.
I read The Untethered Soul from front to back in two sittings. It was one of those situations where I stayed up way too late and started going cross-eyed, reading the same sentence over and over. The book answered a question I’d had for as long as I can remember: Why is my mind so chaotic? It showed me that most of my problems were a result of an untamed mind, and not understanding how blindly following my thoughts leads to destruction.
After this enlightening read, I started asking for book recommendations from anyone and everyone who might have similar interests or knowledge about the things I wanted to learn about. I read books about yoga, Buddhism, Zen, meditation, and basically anything that I thought might help further my quest to tame my mind. What I discovered was an entire world of knowledge that can transform lives and take spirituality skeptics such as myself and turn us into meditating, downward dogging, peace lovers.
Yoga became my main form of spiritual practice, and I’ve been introduced to a number of amazing yoga books that have deepened my knowledge of the practice of yoga, and where its’ benefits stem from. I was shocked to learn that yoga is about so much more than the poses we do in class. The books listed here are personal recommendations based on how much they helped me, and opened my mind to new, healthier ways of thinking. This is part 1 or 2, so check back later for the next four book recommendations!
Yoga Book #1 – The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer
The Untethered Soul is a fascinating read to me because it introduces a concept I had never considered before, that our thoughts are separate from who we are. It refers to mental chatter as our “inner roommate” and encourages readers to take an honest look at how crazy that voice can be sometimes, not to judge ourselves, but to identify when we’re being misguided. The voice is our ego, and it is controlled by fear.
We have a tendency to contract, both physically and mentally, when we experience something unpleasant or confusing. This is the ego’s attempt to protect itself, to resist that which threatens its agenda. The solution the Untethered Soul offers is simple: keep your heart open, and stay in the present moment. Openness of the heart allows energy to move through us freely instead of getting stuck inside us, causing mental and physical suffering.
Yoga Book 2 – Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar
Light on Yoga has been described as the ‘bible of modern yoga’. It was written in 1966 by B.K.S. Iyengar, an Indian yoga teacher and author, crediting for popularizing yoga in both India and the Western world. The book goes into detail about over 200 yoga poses including about 600 pictures of the author demonstrating them, as well as explanations of the main philosophies of yoga. It is broken down into three parts: a technical introduction to yoga, illustrations and descriptions of the poses, and an introduction to pranayama, or controlled breathing.
This is a perfect book for learning specific poses of yoga and the benefits they have. It focuses on alignment and doing postures safely and explains the therapeutic effects this has on the body. There is a section about pranayama, or controlled breathing techniques, as well as a section that breaks down commonly used Sanskrit words. B.K.S. Iyengar also wrote a translation of the Sutras called Light on the Yoga Sutras, as well as Light on Pranayama.
Yoga Book 3 – Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates
Meditations from the Mat is one of the most informative yoga books I have ever read. It is split up into a short read for each of the 365 days of the year, so it’s a good one to incorporate into your daily routine without taking up a lot of time. Throughout the book, Rolf Gates breaks down the concepts of yoga (The Eight Limb Path, the five kleshas, the four aims of life) in an insightful and applicable way. He uses real-life examples to show how yoga has changed his life, allowing his readers to see how they can use yoga to do the same.
Rolf Gates is in recovery from alcoholism, and he doesn’t hold back this information in his book. He talks about how Alcoholics Anonymous was his introduction to spirituality, and how he used the concepts he learned in AA to create his own spiritual path. From there, he discovered yoga and has since opened his own yoga studio and retreat center, and written several books. Meditations from the Mat does not cover specific poses, but rather focuses on an introduction to they why behind yoga as a way of life.
Yoga Book 4 – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras are considered the textbook of yoga. They are a collection of Sanskrit aphorisms that outline the way of life necessary to reach samadhi, or enlightenment. The Sutras were written a loooong time ago by the Indian sage Patanjali. The Sutras are most well-known for their outline of the Eight Limb Path of yoga, the path to enlightenment. The path includes things like moral restraints, meditation, and breathing exercises.
There are different translations of the Sutras, arguable the most popular being Sri Swami Satchidananda. The concepts are complex and abstract, leaving room for personal interpretation and application of the lessons. I personally feel that reading the Sutras from front to back would be a little overwhelming; it’s definitely a deep read, so I typically reference it for specific topics. Either way, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an essential yoga book.
Do you want to add yoga to your life? Maybe you do but you are hesitant because you’ve never tried it or you don’t know what to expect, or you are intimidated by the thought of experienced yogis flowing circles around you. If any of those are the case, Inspiring Actions is the place for you. Although we have plenty of classes for the experienced yogi, we cater specifically to newbies. Our Yoga 101 series was specifically designed for beginners, and introduces basic yoga poses as well as introductory yogic philosophy.
Inspiring Actions is the yoga studio that will take away your anxiety about walking into your first class. And, we have resources! Our staff members have experience well beyond the mat, and many are certified in other practices such as reiki and prenatal yoga. Check out our blog here for tons of helpful information on all things yoga. Our posts about beginner yoga and yoga myths are especially helpful for people who have never tried yoga and are hesitant to give it a try. We hope to see you in our studios in Hudson or River Falls, Wisconsin; we also have online classes!
Thanks for reading!