Open the various sections and discover some gems!
Books are a wonderful way to deepen your understanding of yoga. There are books of philosophy, poetry, mantra and art. In times of lack of inspiration or despair or boredom with your practice, a book can be just the thing to get you going again. They are one of the few ways that the wisdom of the ancients can reach us nearly unchanged. The words of Rumi, Buddha, Vyasa and all the rest resonate today as they did when they were written, especially if we can read them in the original (unlikely for most of us, though). Books are a way to point to the true self, as yoga practice can. The quest for knowledge is called Jnana Yoga, or the yoga of knowing and understanding. We can use the mind as well as the body as a tool for the spirit.
I encourage you to find books that interest you and that add to your spiritual knowledge. It does not have to be the Upanishads or Shankara in translation (or in Sanskrit for that matter); try to find a few books that propel you to explore yourself in a deeper way. Books are a mirror, and one can learn a lot by gazing and spending time. For years i have sat in the morning before asana practice with tea and a book, getting inspired for the upcoming practice. Often the favoured tome is Rumi’s poetry or Tagore’s inspired prose, Hafiz is wonderful as is Aurobindo.
Find something that speaks to your heart and your inspiration, nothing too heady or wordy. Books are a great way to get inspired and interested in fresh aspects of the work. Often people practice less over time because they get bored with the same old same old; so keep it fresh by rummaging around and uncovering things that were previously hidden from you.
The following list should help you find something you are interested in. Many on this list are books I have read and enjoyed, others are by authors who are good sources for knowledge. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start. Like everything, once you start looking, many things are revealed!
My Current Favourite Yoga Book:
I am currently reading and re-reading this little gem by Dr. Svoboda. It is absolutely packed full of useful wisdom and profound passages that help us live life in a more wholesome and harmonious way. The title and subject of course imply that the book is for women alone, but men will also benefit from its wisdom. Not only does it benefit men to understand the cycles and unique situation of women, but much of what is written also applies all life.
The book is not highly technical, but is more of the practical nature. It investigates the three phases of a woman’s life through the eyes of ayuvedic knowledge, namely infancy, womanhood and old age. Free of dogma, the book tries to create empowerment of women through understanding of her own cycles and tendencies. By bringing to light the pattern of life in a woman, Dr. Svoboda introduces principles of Ayurveda and spirituality. The beauty of the book is that the knowledge presented is so very practical and easy to understand; without any previous knowledge of the Indian medical system, a person can easily grasp and apply the wisdom.
The book begins by recognizing the many realms of life which are unique to women and continues to unfold such things such as: constitutional type (dosha), creativity, diet, toxins, the needs of infants, menstruation, imbalances, routine, sex, growing old and many more. A woman’s life is highly complex, especially in the modern age. The doctor manages to bring together these many aspects of life into a holistic view which can truly improve the life of any woman.
The book is not simply one to read and toss aside, but is worthy of re-reading and deeper study. Much of the content does not reveal its depths and profundity at first glance, but demands reflection and assimilation if we are to truly absorb the knowledge and apply it. Perhaps this is the book’s greatest strength and what puts it above so many other books on the subject of Ayurveda. It is a book devoted to cycles which all women share but treats them in such a way that not only can these phases of life be understood, but easily refined so that a woman can life a better, healthier life full of juiciness and joy.
A few passages from the book would be the best illustrations:
The literal meaning of svastha, the Sanskrit word for “healthy,” says it all: to be svastha is to be “established in yourself.”… Ayurveda’s eye stays firmly fixed on establishing living beings within themselves. P.5
Of all the many establishable constituents of our complex beings, what we most need to establish within ourselves is our sense of flow… All organisms, even those that are multi-bodied such as families, societies, and cultures, depend of healthy flow for their vitality. P.6
The ultimate in healing is to attune a body-mind-spirit complex so finely to the universal consciousness that the consciousness begins to direct the organism’s functions. The individual can then grow into a state of harmony with each and every flow in the universe. P.12
Sometimes imbalances are created by acts of commission: by eating too many of the foods, or by doing too many of the things, and thinking too many of the thoughts that empower one of other of the doshas. Other imbalances, however, arise from omission, that is, from failing to compensate for the influence of one of the natural cyclic changes that form Nature’s constitution. P.26
Preventative medicine, which is based on individual constitution, is called in Ayurveda svastha vritta, “establishing oneself in good habits.” It teaches the rejection of excess in everything, for harmony and health can develop only when we enjoy the things in our lives in the proper amount and at the proper moment. P. 30
Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. H. David Coulter, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi
Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Vasant Lad
Ayurveda, Life, Health and Longevity. Robert Svoboda
Yoga for Wellness. Gary Kraftsow
Prakruti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution. Robert Svoboda
Ayurvedic Healing A Comprehensive Guide. David Frawley, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi 2000
The Tao of Detox. Daniel Reid, Simon and Schuster London 2003. Based on Chinese medicine but a deep guide to deep cleaning.
Ayurvedic Beauty Care. Melanie Sachs, Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi
Yoga and Ayurveda. Dr. David Frawley. A wonderful book to help you further refine your practice to suit your individual dosha. If you do a set series this will be of no use to you of course, but if you want to do just the right yoga to bring you into balance and perfection this one is for you. It includes the yoga of herbs, lifestyle, breath, mind, emotions, colours, asana and much more; If you have done much study of topics related to yoga like Ayurveda or Jyotish you will realize that they all are coordinated in their world-view and knowledge of one will certainly help you with the others.
Light on Yoga – BKS Iyengar. The premier asana guide, best for photos of the poses and medical effects. Also great for the clear and concise introduction to yoga philosophy at the beginning. An excellent reference manual but not your most approachable book on the subject.
Light on Pranayama – BKS Iyengar. The guide on breathwork, same general comments apply as above.
Yoga for Wellness – Gary Kraftsow. A most respected teacher of mine, he leads the west in the practice and teaching of therapeutic yoga. An excellent book for the treatment of various ailments and a most holistic approach to yoga, not just asana and breath but devotion and chanting as well as philosophy. Also a good book for understanding what we do in Jungle yoga.
Yoga for Transformation – Gary Kraftsow. A deeper investigation into yoga as a means to spiritual transformation, if such a thing is possible.
The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice by Georg Feuerstein and Ken Wilbur
Living Yoga by George Feuerstein
Shambhala Guide to Yoga by Georg Feuerstein
The Deeper Dimension of Yoga: Theory and Practice by Georg Feuerstein
Yoga Morality: Ancient Teachings at a Time of Global Crisis by Georg Feuerstein
The Lost Teachings of Yoga by Georg Feuerstein
Yoga Gems: A Treasury of Practical and Spiritual Wisdom from Ancient and Modern Masters by Georg Feuerstein
Holy Madness: Spirituality, Crazy-Wise Teachers, And Enlightenment by Georg Feuerstein
Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man. Gopi Krishna. An amazing, if not scary, account of what happens when the Kundalini energy awakens in an unprepared body. A great book.
Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Mircea Eliade A classical, scholarly text by a very famous author.
Mandala Symbolism. C.G. Jung Modern Psychology meets Archetype and Symbol.
In Search of the Cradle of Civilization. Frawley and Feurustein
Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. Anagarika Govinda
The Alchemical Body and Siddha Traditions in Medieval India. David Gordon White
Sacred Geometry, Philosophy and Practice. Robert Lawlor, Thames and Hudson Ltd. London, 1997
Secrets of the Tarot. Barbara G. Walker
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Barbara G. Walker
Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine. David Kinsley
Primitive Erotic Art. Philip Rawson
Tantra. Georg Feurerstein
Sacred Sexuality: Living the Vision of the Erotic Spirit. by George Feuerstein
Sacred Sexuality: The Erotic Spirit in the World’s Great Religions. by Georg Feuerstein
The Hindu Temple: Deification of Eroticism. by Alain Daniélou
Complete Kama Sutra. by ALAIN DANIELOU
Tantra: Path of Ecstasy. by Georg Feuerstein. Excellent book.
Aghora I, II & III – Robert Svoboda (3 books). Like nothing ever written before or since. The first book is about the life of his teacher Vimalananda and his experiences as a reluctant Tantric. The book is quite intense and not for the faint hearted, but is a good wake up call for all those who think that tantrism is just better f~*#ing. It can be, if you like corpses. Anyhow, the second book softens somewhat and explores rituals and kundalini and more everyday sorts of affairs. The third book covers karma in its many forms and how it works as we wind our way through this tangled mystery called life. I have personally read them all a number of times and plan to keep reading them until i die (in the true tantric spirit) or i get it. This is the real!
Magic and Mystery in Tibet. by Alexandra David-Neel. A treatise on the very odd things that can and do happen when one is left alone in a cave in some of the most remote country on earth. This is another treatise that seems too strange to believe but the credibility of its author is beyond dispute. You can decide, or try for yourself.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – Various. The study of the Yoga Sutras in a very deep one. It is the basic text of all the yoga systems currently in use or nearly all, it is the real ashtanga yoga, the eight limbed path. The Sanskrit text by Patanjali is always the same but the interpretations vary, one must explore and find the one that suits your mind and temperament. With so many translations and commentaries, there must be one for you, so look around. Iyengar’s is very clear but a bit cold, Taimini is good but scientific (The Science of Yoga), Ferustein’s is quite a good one as well… good luck.
Siva Samhita – Various translations. A text on Hatha yoga and its practices, more esoteric but a good look into what the old yogis were up to. There are some very illuminating passages.
The Serpent Power – Arthur Avalon. Thick as a brick, but if you can handle it and digest it you will possess a working knowledge of Sankya and Tantric philosophy.
Gheranda Samhita. One of the classical texts on Hatha Yoga.
The Tantras. All these are classical Vedic texts that are the source of the Yogic and Vedic wisdom. Difficult of access, these classical tomes can give great insight into spiritual teachings if you can get through them. This could be considered more advanced studies than many other books listed here.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell. Princeton Press,1973 or anything from Joe Campbell.
Creative Mythology all by Joseph Campbell
Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva. Wendy D. O’Flaherty
The Ramayana by William Buck. There are many, many other authors of Vilmiki’s classic tale to choose from.
The Mahabharata. Various translators. Unless you can read Sanskrit, you will have to find a translation that suits you, but all in all, still a difficult book.
The Bhagavad Gita. Various translators. Just a slice of the epic Mahabharata, this most holy book of wisdom is short but the source of many teachings. It was actually the main text for yogis until recently when the Patanjali Yoga Sutras took over again.
Gradually more available in the west, these books are some of the best ones with regards to daily practice and the how and why of Hatha yoga and Tantra. These books provide a Classical approach to Hatha yoga but adjust the work to the modern practitioner. Many of these books are a ‘must read’ for yogis and yoginis. There are many books printed by the Bihar School but the most popular are:
Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha. A wonderful resource for practicing yogis who want to deepen their understanding and their practice. An essential book for all people who want to go beyond the mat practice.
Moola Bandha The Master Key. This one gets to the root of the problem of Moola Bandha, its methods and its effects and uses in yoga.
Kundalini Tantra. Meditations and explanations of Kundalini, that mysterious energy, and the Chakras.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika. One of the best translations of this classical book on Hatha Yoga. It provides great insights into the methods traditionally employed by the yogis of olde.
Meditations from the Tantras.
While the Gods Play: Shaiva Oracles and Predictions on the Cycles of History and the Destiny of Mankind by Alain Daniélou
Music and the Power of Sound: The Influence of Tuning and Interval on Consciousness by Alain Daniélou
Shiva and the Primordial Tradition: From the Tantras to the Science of Dreams by Alain Daniélou and Jean-Louis Gabin
The Phallus: Sacred Symbol of Male Creative Power by Alain Daniélou
Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe by Alain Daniélou
The Way to the Labyrinth: Memories of East and West by Alain Danielou
Shiva and Dionysus: The religion of nature and Eros by Alain Danielou A great book of cross-cultural mythology. Read it if you like to see how spiritual symbols cross link India and Europe.
Jyotish is Vedic Astrology, a highly refined system of Astrology. Its proper study is a deep one, full of pitfalls and difficulties and many rewards. For the layman, it can be hard to get a grasp of the subject without having a brain meltdown, but it can be done. Here are a few of the better texts on the subject:
Astrology of the Seers. David Frawley
Light on Life. Robert Svoboda
The Greatness of Saturn: A Therapeutic Mythic. Robert Svoboda. Knowledge about the nature of the planets in myth and story form. Recommended!
Letters on Yoga – Sri Aurobindo. When the author went into seclusion after the founding of his ashram, he communicated to his disciples through letters. When they had a problem, they simply wrote to him and he responded. This is a collection of those responses, which contain many gems about the pitfalls of spiritual life and their solutions. A treasure.
A Life Divine. Sri Aurobindo. An intimidating and very thick book, not meant to be read cover to cover, but dripping with wisdom, even if you only read a few sentences. Sri Aurobindo was an enlightened master who saw deep into human consciousness. Not a beginner’s tome but worth every minute spent on it.