Recently a client asked me to recommend books to him both strictly "yogic" or related in some way.
Almost everything I know (within my "yogic" field) and communicate in my classes and my blog comes from the books I am about to name. To them and to my teacher Beatrice Calcagno.
Now I have to say that I am always loathe to mention Buddha in my posts as I think it applies a label which is not useful to content. If I saw the name "Jesus" togehther with a book recommendation I probably wouldn't touch it with a barge pole (all be it mistakenly), and fear that some may have the same reaction reading the name of Buddha, and here below you will find his name mentioned frequently. Please do not be put off by this "slant". I'd just like to add here "for the book" (excuse the pun) that I am not a buddist.
I have tried to reduce and divide the choice of books into three or four per "group" (what a difficult choice!) the groups being
1. Strictly yoga (mainly asana)
2. Yoga anatomy
3. Spirituality (from Buddhism o the mystic)
GROUP ONE - STRICTLY YOGA (mainly asana)
Light on Yoga
by BKS Iyengar
The instructors bible, a Must Have although I don't dip into it as often as I should. Iyengar is perhaps the worlds most famous teacher, and in this book you will have the opportunity to see him in each of the hundreds of asana he proposes. It's almost scary.
Pro; It's complete. Almost every asana you would want to experiment with is here. Great as a resource to find asana which help with ailments and problems; everything from flat feet to diabetes.
Cons; It's very very dry. Not user friendly (the print is very small). It's kind of old fashioned. No messing! Each asana is given it's name in sanskrit only.
Asana Pranyama Mudra Bandha
By Swami Satyananda Saraswati
This has to be one of my favorites and the one I dip into the most.
Pros; Easy to read. Concise. Illustrations are excellent. The asana are given in their sanskrit and non. Discusses not only asana but all four topics in the title. A wonderful resource book.
Cons;There are no photos. It's dry (but easy to use).
Yoga - The spirit and Practice of moving into stillness
By Erich Schiffmann
This guy knows his stuff. You can tell he's totally passionate about what he does, he lives and breathes yoga and wants to transmit everything he knows. He must be a great teacher.
It has a very "American feel" about it.
Pros. He's extremely thorough, very precise in "talking you through" the exact physical structure of each asana.
The asana are given in their sanskrit and non.
There are photos of each asana presented.
Takes you into a different yogic dimension; one which you may have experimented with but not yet put into words. He does the latter for you. (talks about energy lines for example).
Cons. where as the previous two are on the dry side this is exactly the opposite. We are talking "flowery" bordering on the "touchy feely". As you read it sounds like he is talking to you during a yoga class. It's full of "energize the leg lines", "Enjoy what's happening, it's exhilarating" "be cosmic and grounded". Whether this is a PRO or a CON will depend on you!
Il Libro dello yoga
By Centro yoga Sivananda
This was one of my first books of yoga. Great for beginners and the very basics.
Pros. Explains the basics (in one page or maximum two) of meditation, pranyama (breathing excersises), fasting, changing diet, mantra, before going onto the asana.
Each page discusses one of the more well known asana with illustrations, and shows on the other page a photo of the position discussed - so it's very user friendly.
Cons. It's a little dated. It has a very eighties feel about it. There aren't that many asana to choose from.
GROUP TWO - YOGA ANATOMY
Anatomy of Hatha Yoga
By H.David Coulter
My all time favorite yoga book. If I were stuck on a dessert island and had to choose just one out of these two groups of books it would be this one. But saying this I warn you - it's an instructors book rather than a yoga practitioner's - so be warned!
I could have easily put this book in the first group too as the section on yoga asana is wonderful, inspiring even though explained in a very anatomic way (obviously!).
He's a doctor, incredibly articulate, dry, sharp, precise and has so much knowledge of both the human body and Hatha yoga that it's difficult to believe that only one person can cover so much. An incredible piece of work.
Pros. Well....where to start? He's excellent at explaining clearly quite complex anatomical matters. He uses great metaphors to help the non-medical minded among us to cope with what he's communicating.
In order to get his point across he often litters his explanations with little exercises to do to help you get your head around what he's saying.
He is thorough with a capital "T".
If you have any anatomical question about yoga this book will answer it for you.
Great photos and illustrations.
"Cons." (please note the inverted commas!) it's incredibly dense. I would not recommend this book to a beginner, unless she has an incredible thirst for anatomical knowledge.
By Leslie Kaminoff
Far more user friendly than the above. Gives the anatomical basics of the most well-known basic asana.
Pros; Dedicates on average a double page to each asana, so you open it anywhere and on one side you have an illustration and on the other an explanation. This makes it very user friendly.
Gives each asana in sanskrit and non.
The illustrations are wonderful!!!! They have taken photos of the the person in the pose from the side, top and even sometimes from the bottom (so the practioner is doing the pose on a glass table so the photographer can get underneath) then a very precise drawing is made from the photo with the muscle groups in question drawn in. Fantastic.
Tells you what muscle groups are worked what obstacles you may encounter and how one should breathe.
Cons. Being basically an anatomy book unsuprisingly it's dry - the opposite of Schiffmann. No "cosmic grounding" going on here.
Anatomy for Yoga
with Paul Grilley DVD
A great eye opener into your yogic limitiations. He gets people of different sizes shapes and bone architecture to come and do the same asana to show you how the above can limit or help you in your asana.
It has a very Amercian feel about it.
Pros. It's wonderful to see real people of all shapes with tensile and compression limitations doing yoga poses to demonstrate the differences in "results". I found it fascinating.
Cons. it's very repetitive. The concept is easy and can be summed up in a few words - we are introduced to hours of it. However it's definitely worth buying, but more for an instructor than a practitioner.
GROUP THREE - SPIRITUAL
This is going to be really hard - I don't quite know where to start.
Ok - I'll commence with the book that started me off on all of "this". After my first experience with yoga (going on a yoga holiday in Tuscany for a week) I popped into a book shop and bought "Il libro dello yoga" and this one together. I couldn't have spent my money better. All I can say is that doors opened.
La Pratica della Consapevolezza
By Henepola Gunaratana
A book on mediation - which gives great insight into how our mind works. It's practical, gives answers to any questions you may have about mediation. I would say it's a beginner's guide but makes a fascinating read. Although it talks about life on the zafu (mediation cushion) it's also an interesting insight as to how your mind works. If you don't have a mediation instructor get this book. Although it talks about vipassana mediation (from a buddhist tradition) there are little references to buddhism itself.
Pros. a very practical guide, perfect for beginners who are definitely NOT dummies.
Happiness a guide to developing life's most important skill
By Matthieu Ricard
This is quite a recent discovery, and one which was both startling and revealing. Stunning. Very well written and researched. Matthieu Ricard, son of a french philosopher, is a cellular geneticist and a Buddhist monk (if one doesn't put you off the other probably will!). He's currently an active participant in scientific research on the effects of meditation on the brain. You do not have to be a Buddhist sympathizer to reap the rewards of this excellent read.
This is one of my favorites and I have bought many a copy for friends.
His thesis is that happiness is not an emotion but a skill which can be learnt. He goes into all the different elements of happiness and gives practical exercises to train the mind in developing this very important "talent". A lifeboat in the shape of a book. Anyone interested in happiness (so everyone) should read this book.
"Start where you are" A guide to compassionate living
By Pema Chodron
A very western modern slant on implementing some of Buddha's teachings.
Pema takes 59 tibetan Buddhist maxims and puts them in a very contemporary light. She is very to the point, uses "everyday" life situations which are often funny and usually eyeopening, to get the maxim's message across. Pema is an american who became a buddist nun. And is usually dressed as one. I'd like to give you a snippet of something in her book which made me laugh out loud but which may have something to do with my english sence of humor. She's talking about the maixim "Whatever you meet unexpectedly , join with mediation." Which is basically saying that nothing in life is an interruption. It all makes up the tapestry of life even the bits that are a bit shabby or dirty. Doesn't matter. And when you DO come across something that SEEMS like a distraction instead of turning yourself AGAINST it, turn yourselves towards it and use it as a wake up call. It's like saying "hey!!! wake up and get yourself out of that mental film in your head and back to this present moment in time!!!" (which is why when I mediate I think of outside noise as a great tool in getting me back to "here and now"). Anyway.....One day when she was driving along, kitted out I presume in her buddhist attire....
"I was being driven in a car one day, when a horn honked loudly from behind. A car comes up to my window and the driver's face is purple and he's shaking his fist at me - my window is rolled down and so is his - and he yells, "GET A JOB!!!". That one still stops my mind."
I don't know why but I find it amusing - and how about that for a wake up call!
Svegliati a ciò che fai!
By Diane Eshin Rizzetto
I LOVE this book. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Again it uses buddhist philosophy as a back drop. To be specific it uses buddist precepts to find self awareness. Diane is American too and very switched on. In each chapter which starts with a precept that she has interrupted for a more western mind so she talks about a precept, gives her own or her students experience with each one, has a 'discussion" part (between her and her students) at the end and gives you an exercise to help you work on each particular aspect. My "homework" on "speaking" was heavily based on a chapter in this book.
By Alejandro Jodorowsky
Ok for the more "buddhist shy" amounst us - for funny, mystical, a little outrageous, incredibly motivating suggestions about life and Living. Littered with anecdotes, it's a great wake up call. If you are having trouble seeing the wood for the trees, this gives you the the right vision and an very interesting view. Contemplating a major change in your life or find you are unable to do so? Read this.
Others worth mentioning:
The attention revolution - Alan Wallace Mediation for the hard core. For those who already have some mediation experience, but interesting if somewhat intense for nonetheless for a beginner.
Eight mindful steps to happiness - Bhante Henepola Gunaratana Great introduction to Buddha's teaching.
Voices of insight - Sharon Salzberg Western teachers share stories in this wonderful anthology - Particularly interesting are those who describe how and why they decided to choose their spiritual path.
Swallowing the river ganges - Matthew Flickstien For the serious student of buddhist teachings - a practical accessible guide based on Vishuddimagga which is a work far more technical and far less user friendly.