Yoga is not just a physical practice. You can learn a lot at your local studio but if you’ve reached the point where you want to go deeper, yoga books are a natural next step. In this post, you’ll find our short-list of must-read yoga books, plus a longer list of books focussing on various aspects of the yoga practice.
If want to take your yoga further than going to couple of yoga classes a week, I recommend you dive into some of the best yoga books that have ever been published.
A lot of our favourite yoga teachers drip-feed us tastes of yoga philosophy, anatomy, history, and Hindu mythology. If you’ve heard something in class that piqued your interested, then expanding your own understanding and deepening your knowledge is just a bookstore (online or otherwise) away.
Whatever aspect of yoga you’re interested in, there are some great books out there to expand your knowledge.
In this post I have selected my must-read books — the books I think every yogi should own and read. Plus, I recommend other yoga philosophy books, books for yoga sequencing, the best yoga anatomy books, and even some yoga books for beginners.
I’ve added even more books for people who have already read the basic texts and are ready to go even further down the rabbit hole of yoga education. Yay yoga nerds!
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Essential Yoga Books
Of course, any list of the best yoga books is subjective, but these are the books I recommend and think should be in the library of — and actually read by — every yoga student in the world.
I use all of these books regularly in my own practice and teaching. Many of them are on the required reading lists for my Yoga Teacher Trainings and Yoga Immersions.
Light on Yoga
by B.K.S. Iyengar
The most influential book in the world of yoga, Light on Yoga was the first yoga book I added to my yoga library. It is considered by many to be “the yoga bible”, and it helped popularize yoga all over the world
It contains detailed instructions for approximately 400 yoga poses, including pictures of Mr. Iyengar practicing the poses.
While I love this text and come back to it on a regular basis, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you about a particular quirk of this book. Mr. Iyengar makes claims of all sorts of health benefits that come from practicing the poses, without presenting any evidence. There are some claims that are downright outrageous and others that are highly questionable, while still others have been proved false by modern science.
So take everything in here with a grain of salt. Just like The Bible, you should read and filter it through your modern understanding of the world — you don’t have to follow it to the letter.
Yoga Resource Practice Manual
by Darren Rhodes
I think of the Yoga Resource Practice Manual as a modern Light on Yoga and it has actually replaced Light on Yoga as my go-to book when I lead teacher trainings.
Darren Rhodes, who was one of my first teachers, is well known for the simplicity of his use of language (and his affinity for alliteration). In this book, his instructions are incredibly concise and clear. Plus, since the book is 50 years more modern that Light on Yoga the photos are also a big improvement in clarity and quality over Mr. Iyengar’s book.
The hard copy of this book is invaluable for inspiring new sequences and learning how to do the poses with alignment. The ebook version also has audio recordings of the pronunciation of each pose name in Sanskrit, as well as a few extra videos instructing some of the poses.
Classic Human Anatomy in Motion
by Valerie L. Winslow
Where have you been all my life Classic Human Anatomy in Motion? I only discovered this book in early 2020, and it’s the anatomy text I wish I had when I was enrolled in my first Yoga Teacher Trainings.
This book wasn’t written with the intention of being used by yoga students — Valerie Winslow created it for artists! But her drawings are incredible, showing details of how joints work, different movements of the body, and what particular muscles look like as well as how they work.
This book is particularly useful for yoga teachers because Valerie’s approach focuses on the body and how it moves from an artist’s perspective, which translates to how yoga teachers view students moving on the canvas of their yoga mat.
The Bhagavadgita in Translation with Introduction
Student Edition by Dr. Douglas Brooks
This is a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita by one of the leading Sanskrit scholars in America. Dr. Douglas Brooks translates the text into prose so it is presented in a format that is easy to read and digest. The translation is paired with the original Sanskrit poetry on each facing page.
The Bhagavad Gita is the most important and influential text in the history of Indian religions and Douglas’s introduction alone should be considered an essential read for anyone interested in learning more this text.
This translation encourages you to explore the Gita as a path not just to understanding the context and content of this text, but also the history of India, and as a path to understanding your own humanity.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali — Yoga and the Luminous: Patanjali’s Spiritual Path to Freedom
by Christopher Chapple
Christopher Chapple is an Indologist and yoga scholar who is a professor at Loyola Marymount University in California. This book compiles several essays he wrote about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and also includes his translation of the sutras.
While no translation can be truly unbiased, this version of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali may just be the least biased translation you will find. Many authors use the Sutras as a way to indoctrinate you into their belief system, but Christopher has done an exceptional job of presenting the text as it is, without colouring the content with ideals or intent.
His translation is exceptionally clear and accessible.
Yoga Philosophy Books
There are endless options when it comes to Hindu texts that relate to yoga and the mythology we teach in yoga. This list gathers some of the most important books for starting to understand the Hindu texts. If you’re just starting out with yoga philosophy, I recommend you start with the two philosophy books in my Essentials list, Bhagavadgita in Translation and Yoga and the Luminous.
translated by Eknath Easwaran
The Upanishads are ancient Sanskrit texts of spiritual teaching and ideas of Hinduism focusing on Brahman (ultimate reality) and Atman (the soul, or self). They are part of the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, and focus on meditation, philosophy, and spiritual knowledge. They are an essential part of the evolution of the Hindu tradition.
This translation of The Upanishads is the most common English language translation, in part because it is a reliable translation and is approachable and readable. This translation also includes an overview of the cultural and historical setting of the original text and a Sanskrit glossary.
How To Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
translated by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda
This translation of the the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is written by British author Christopher Isherwood, who became a Vedantic scholar upon moving the Los Angeles in 1939. His use of language is immaculate and this translation is a joy to read.
He approaches the text with a Vedantic view, and where Patanjali refers to Atman (the soul, or the self), Isherwood translates this as God —but what is God other than a concept to help us know our self more?
Siva Sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity
translated by Jaideva Singh
I was debating whether to put this under the Yoga Nerds section but, because I have found this text to be so beneficial to my understanding of yoga and the yogic concepts, I chose to include it here.
The Shiva Sutras were said, in one version of the story, to have been carved into a rock by Lord Shiva on Mahadeva Mountain. Shiva (aka Śiva) then appeared in a dream to Vasugupta, a 9th century CE sage, and told him where to find the rock.
The Sutras are the foundation of Kashmir Shaivism. They are an explanation of universal consciousness, and outline how Shiva makes it possible for the material associations of the physical world to have meaning. The Sutras detail the ways in which our mind limits us from knowing reality, and help to peel back the layers of mystery to reveal our true nature, and the connectivity of all things.
Books for Yoga Teachers
These books can be used by everyone but they focus on tools that are especially useful to yoga instructors – like asanas, sequencing, and theming. Of course, a couple of the suggestions in my Essentials section, like Light On Yoga and the Yoga Resources Practice Manual are invaluable for teachers as well.
The Yoga Practice Guide – Dynamic Sequencing for Home Practice and Teachers
by Bruce Bowditch
The Yoga Practice Guide is filled with illustrations of the poses along with the Sanskrit names and is a great way to start learning pose names in Sanskrit.
The book features a modular system designed to help you plan a well-rounded practice including sequences of standing poses, hip openers, back bends, twists, inversions, and finishing poses. This section is useful for teachers learning to sequence classes, as well as students of any level looking to develop an effective and balanced home practice.
The book is spiral bound which makes it really easy to use during your practice without the pages continually flipping on you.
Bruce has written several excellent books including his newest, The Yoga Teaching Guide: Teacher Training Manual.
Also check out:
- The Yoga Asana Index
- The Yoga Technique Guide: Principles of Sequencing and Postural Alignment
- The Yoga Practice Guide 2: Sequencing and Pranayama for Energy Balancing
Yoga for Everyone: 50 Poses For Every Type of Body
by Dianne Bondy
I have known Dianne Bondy for years and am so inspired by the work she does. She has transformed the yoga community and helped make yoga truly for everybody, and every body.
Her book Yoga for Everyone offers yoga poses for every type of body. She has thought carefully about what modifications are appropriate for students who are big, small, elderly, pregnant, or of various physical abilities.
For teachers, this book will help you keep all of your students in mind when planning your classes, so that your classes can be inclusive and a vital offering to your community, no matter what shape or size they are.
Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World
by Michelle Cassandra Johnson
It is often said that yoga is skill in action and that we practice yoga on the mat to help us take our yoga off the mat. Michelle Cassandra Johnson’s book is here to inspire you to take action and turn your yoga practice and classes into an opportunity for social change.
Skill in Action clearly defines power and privilege, oppression, liberation, and suffering, and invites you to take steps to recognize where you can make changes in your life to create a more just world for all.
The end of each chapter includes a practice of breath work, asana, meditation and interpersonal relational work to help you put this wisdom into action in your daily life. These are practices you can bring to the studio and offer to your students to inspire them to become more active in your community.
Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition
by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij
If you want to weave Hindu mythology into your classes, this book is a must-have. This is the go-to book for teachers looking for the stories behind the pose names.
Often teachers will know that Hanumanasana is named after Hanuman, but do they know why? The why behind pose names such as Hanumanasana, Astavakrasana, Vishvamitrasana and Garudasana explains so much about these poses. Discovering these stories can help you help your students to embody the ideals wrapped up in the characters these poses are named after.
Myths of the Asanas includes short descriptions of each featured asana, including an image, myths, stories and teachings behind the asana.
Your students will love hearing these stories and adding a new dimension to their practice and understanding of yoga.
The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work
by Donna Farhi
Breath work, or pranayama, is a key aspect of many yoga practices, but unless you have a yoga teacher who is interested in exploring different forms of pranayama, your experience might be limited to Ujjayi.
Enter The Breathing Book by internationally renowned yoga instructor Donna Farhi. In this book, she provides a simple and practical guide to breathing techniques so that you can offer these to your students as a way to help improve their physical and mental health.
Including 75 photos and illustrations, The Breathing Book features sections on the anatomy of breathing, practices to help create space for your breath, and detailed instructions for several breathing techniques.
Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga
by Michelle Berman Marchildon
You don’t have to theme your classes, but if you choose to, it can help your classes have more impact beyond the mat. However, it can be challenging to learn how to theme, what themes to use, how to weave them into you classes, and how to personalize the theme.
Michelle Berman Marchildon’s Theme Weaver uses a formula she calls The Other Eight Limb Path to help you learn how to plan themed classes that land with students, and how to interweave your theme into the class without disrupting the flow of your sequence.
Best Yoga Anatomy Books
I didn’t get really into yoga anatomy until a couple of years ago, but now I am a certified anatomy nerd. If you’re just starting with anatomy, check out the anatomy book I recommend in my Essentials section, Classic Human Anatomy in Motion. Below, I’ve listed some other useful anatomy texts.
by Leslie Kaminoff
This is probably the most-used yoga anatomy textbook.
It begins with sections about what anatomy is involved in breathing, the spine, the skeletal system in general, and the muscular system. It also includes diagrams of yoga poses, detailing the muscles involved in creating the shape of each pose, what the different joints are doing, and breathing suggestions.
However, there are limitations to this text. Some anatomical movement details have been simplified to a point where they are no longer accurate. Also, there are only approximately 75 poses detailed in the book.
The Yoga Anatomy Coloring Book / The Anatomy Coloring Book
by Kelly Solloway / by Wynn Kapit & Lawrence M. Elson
These two books are terrific tools to add to your education if you are learning the structures of the human body. They are both actual coloring books. Colouring in the muscles and bones helps you learn to their location in the body.
The Yoga Anatomy Coloring Book includes line drawings of the human body doing different yoga poses, while The Anatomy Coloring Book is a more general anatomy book showing details of different areas of the body.
Both show details of the planes of movement, teach general anatomy, and help make learning anatomy a bit more fun — which is great because, in the wrong hands, anatomy can be a very dry subject!
The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Volume 1
by Ray Long, M.D.
Dr. Ray Long has written a series of popular books detailing the muscles we use in various yoga poses.
These books are good reference tools and can help you understand what is happening in your body in the poses. The illustrations in this book highlight the active muscles in each posture with different colours for flexing muscles and extending muscles. This can help you learn what muscles you need to strengthen and stretch to deepen the expression of each pose.
Where these books let you down in in Ray’s explanation of the Chakras. He is a medical doctor and I was shocked and disheartened to see him describing these as actual physical discs within the human body spinning at the speed of light. It really made me question what else was incorrect in these books.
But the drawings are great!
Best Yoga Books for Beginners
Yes, there are even yoga books that are great for yoga beginners, or students who are just starting to crave a deeper understanding of the yoga tradition. A great starting place is Myths of the Asanas, which I recommend in my Books for Teachers section above. The books below will help expand your knowledge in other areas of your practice.
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice
by T.K.V. Desikachar
T.K.V. Desikachar is the son of Krishnamacharya, the godfather of modern yoga. He wrote The Heart of Yoga partly to share his father’s story — and this is a great resource of you’re interested in the history of yoga — but also as a guide for students wanting to develop a yoga practice.
The book covers the foundations of a yoga practice, pose variations, tools to help you create a home practice, breath work, meditation practices, and a study of yoga philosophy, including a complete translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life
by Judith Hanson Lasater
Judith Hanson Lasater is recognized as one of the leading yoga teachers in the world — she helped to found The California Yoga Teachers Association, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, and Yoga Journal magazine.
In Living Your Yoga, Judith encourages you to look beyond your yoga mat to find the true meaning of yoga, and asks you to consider all aspects of your daily life as opportunities to practice, and live, your yoga.
She uses the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita to guide you, while offering off-the-mat practices to take you deeper into your relationship with yourself, your family and friends, and the world around you.
Books For Yoga Nerds & Yoga Teachers
If you’ve plowed your way through all the books above, or you’re just looking for a deeper perspective on specific aspects of the practice, these books below provide an extensive rabbit hole for you to explore.
by Christoper Wallis
Tantra Illuminated is a detailed and accessible introduction to Tantra, a sacred tradition that began 1,500 years ago in the far north of India. Christopher Wallis uses translations from primary Sanskrit sources and looks at the spiritual practice, rich history, and powerful teachings of Tantra.
The book is an opportunity to explore the key teachings, foundational lineages, and transformative practices of Tantra (removed from the mainstream media’s obsession with Tantra) to help you uncover its true origins and belief systems.
Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship
by Donna Farhi
Teaching Yoga is an excellent tool for yoga teachers who have completed their 200-Hour Teacher Training and are dealing with the challenges of teaching in the studio setting.
Donna Farhi shares the knowledge she’s gained from decades of experience and covers topics such a teaching ethics, the business of yoga, creating a safe space for students, healthy boundaries of the student-teacher relationship, and much more.
translation by J.A.B. van Buitenen
J.A.B. van Buitenen made it his life’s work to translate the entirety of the Mahabharata. He didn’t quite succeed. Before his death he had edited and translated the first 5 books, having planned 7 volumes!
So while this collection, at 3 volumes, is still incomplete, it is incredibly well researched and highly recommended.
He also published a translation of the Bhagavad Gita, which is considered one of the finest translations of the text.
The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India
by David Gordon White
This is not an easy read, but what it lacks in readability it makes up for in its grounding in facts. David Gordon White reviews the original Sanskrit texts relating to the Chakras, the Kundalini, without colouring his view with Neo-Hindu appropriations.
Do you really want to know what the Chakras are for and what awakening the Kundalini was meant to do? It’s not what you think! The Alchemical Body illustrates how the ancient disciplines of Hindu alchemy and Hatha yoga were practiced by medieval Siddhas, and that they can be truly understood only when viewed together.
Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom
by B.K.S. Iyengar
In Light on Life, rather than focusing on the asanas as he does in Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar explores the inner journey of yoga. The chapters are organised around the koshas, or the metaphorical layers within the human body. He describes each kosha and how you can integrate them to achieve wholeness.
Light on Life tells Iyengar’s emotional, spiritual and personal journey as a way of encouraging us to explore beyond the physical practice of yoga asana to discover “the internal physiological and psychological effects of the practice.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika
translated by Swami Muktibodhananda
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of 3 classic texts on Hatha yoga, alongside the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita.
Likely written in the 15th century CE, the text is one of the earliest texts on Hatha Yoga, and explains the practices of Hatha yoga, including asana, pranayama, shatkarma, mudra and bandhas.
The Gheranda Samhita: A Treatise on Hatha Yoga
translation and commentary by Sris Chandra Vasu
The Gheranda Samhita is another of the 3 classic texts on Haṭha yoga, alongside the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita.
The Gheranda Samhita was written in the 17th century CE and describes seven limbs of yoga as taught by Sage Gheranda to his disciple, King Chandakapali. The text outlines a system to move from purification of the body to the highest states of Samadhi and knowledge of the soul.
Divided into 7 chapters, each chapter corresponds to a different part of the journey of yoga. It is focused on the shatkarmas, and the text outlines a similar path to Samadhi as is found in Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga.
translation by James Maillinson
The Shiva Samhita is the third in the trio of classic texts on Haṭha yoga, alongside the Gheranda Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
The Shiva Samhita was likely written sometime in the 17th or 18th century CE (but there is speculation it may have be written around the 13th–15th century). It is considered by many to be the most complete yoga compendium. It emphasizes that even a common householder can practice yoga and benefit from it, and in this way is closely related to the householder tradition of modern yoga.
The Shiva Samhita is conversation between Shiva and his wife Parvati. In their conversation they talk about all aspects of yoga, including how to do 84 different asanas, practicing mudras, describing 5 types of prana and pranayama techniques to control them, meditation, yoga philosophy, and other Tantric practices.
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A Final Note About the Best Yoga Books
When it comes to collecting yoga books, your options are endless. One of my teachers has a massive set of book shelves filled with yoga books from all over the world and covering all disciplines of yoga.
I recommend starting with a few key books (which is why I recommend what I consider Essential Yoga Books) and then see what inspires you to go deeper.
Some of you will be anatomy nerds, for some of you the philosophy of yoga will be your jam. Others will want to learn all that you can about creating amazing sequences with beautifully interwoven themes.
One of my teachers reminded us in a training that it is time to find a new teacher when your teacher stops being a student of yoga. I hope this post will inspire you to continue learning and to continue expanding your knowledge no matter what stage you have reached in your yoga journey.
Never stop learning!
The path of yoga is endless and the breadth of yogic knowledge is vast. Please keep exploring it.
See you on (and off) the ice OMies, Stephen