Whenever I try to come to grips with something, I tend to want to get a book — it’s a kind of emotional crutch. When I was researching during my Peru days, I ended with a huge library. But that was before the Web. Now, I am looking at buying books more judiciously. I plan on doing some book reviews here so that people can understand which ones are worth paying for.
All the book links go to Amazon where your purchase will generate a small commission to help me defer the costs of running this site.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a linchpin for me. I started reading about his work at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and the Stress Reduction Clinic at the Massachusetts University Hospital. I bought some inexpensive audio CDs of guided exercises in relaxation, yoga and meditation from his Mindfulness Tapes website and began exploring. The CDs (there are now three sets of them) actually allowed me to have a first taste of a home practice of gentle yoga — something even a klutz could do — and overcome any fear that I might do something wrong. These simple sessions gave me a taste for yoga and meditation, hungry to find out more. I then read most of his books. If you’re a visual person, you can find several videos of his presentations on YouTube.
- Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness (Hyperion, 2005) is a really ambitious book that addresses the personal and the global. It is not the easiest read because it is so extensive.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hyperion, 1994) consists of up of short chapters that are concise invitations to meditation. It is very accessible and highly recommended for the novice.
- Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Delta, 1991) explains the science and medicine that support the increasing interest in mindfulness and meditation in the healing process. It was the first coherent assessment of the value of mindfulness as an aide to healing and alleviating human suffering and pain.
General reading about yoga
- Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (Bantam Books: 1999) by Stephen Cope is a great narrative about the transformation that occurs in body, mind and spirit. I’ve commented about this in my blog: here, here and here.
- The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living by Stephen Cope (Bantam Books: 2006) is commentary to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, but also a narrative about a group of friends at the Kripalu Center.
- Happy Yoga : 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About by Steven Ross (ReganBooks, 2003) intriguing title because it underscores yoga’s baseline. It’s not about poses or vinyasas. Steve Ross is a trendy teacher in LA and stars in Oxygen TV’s Inhale yoga program.
- Yoga : The Poetry of the Body by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002): Creative mixture of posture and position mechanics with yoga philosophy. This was the first book that I bought to understand yoga. I went back and thumbed through it recently and was reminded that it’s a nice approach because it provides eight routines or practices, ending with Sun Salutation. In the second half of the book, Yee emphasizes modifications on key positions, as well as breathing and restorative poses. Many arftul and instructive black and white pictures. A more lusciously colorful presentation is made in Moving Toward Balance : 8 Weeks of Yoga by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow (Rodale Books, 2004). The book includes a step-by-step process to transform your home practice.
- Yoga: The Spirit And Practice Of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann (Pocket Books, 1996). This book has turned into a classic. The opening section is about getting your bearings in yoga by understanding some central concepts (stillness, the core of goodness, why yoga, what does it feel like, asana fundamentals, the wind through the instrument, lines of energy and playing the edge). Then, it’s on to the asanas and pranayama.
- Cool Yoga Tricks by Miram Austin. (Ballentine Books, 2004). This book has proven really useful because it focuses on how to modify poses so that people like me, with impaired flexibility, can modify poses to make them more accessible. Lots of pictures, tips and hints.
- First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance by Elizabeth Kadetsky (Little Brown 2004) is a curious, but compelling testimony of a writer’s inquiry into the historical roots of yoga in India, the contemporary practice in India and the United States, and her own quest to understand her demons. She studies under B. K. S. Iyengar and then switched to the Ashtanga school. The blend of historical research and personal narrative make it a book that stands out in the literature of yoga.
Breathing or pranayama is a core part of yoga; indeed, yoga’s breathing techniques may be what distinguishes it from calisthenics or aerobic exercise.
- Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga by Amy Weintraub (Broadway Books, 2004). Don’t be misled by the title, the book is really about yoga’s capacity to energize the spirit and restore psychological and emotional balance. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 20 million Americans suffer from depression and another 20 million suffer from anxiety disorders. No wonder Paxil and other psychotropic medications are big money-makers for the pharmaceutical industry. But I believe that a lot of these symptoms are due to the distortions of modern life and the disconnect between the body and the mind under stress. Yoga gives you tools to manage the imbalances better. This was the book that opened my eyes to the yoga’s potential. Other opinions about this book from experienced yoga teachers can be found at YogaLifeStyle.com. Amy also has audio CDs and a DVDs. More information at her web site. I’ve taken a workshop with her, and she really crammed a lot of wisdom into a couple of hours. Other articles include this one and that one.
- The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama by Richard Rosen (Shambhala, 2002). A detailed, thorough primer on how to begin the yogic discipline of breath control. This is for the serious practitioner. I am working through the book slowly. Rosen’s methods are in the Iyengar approach, which means gradual progression, starting with reclined positions.
- Donna Farhi has been an early proponent of breathing’s crucial role in yoga: The Book of Breathing: Vitality and Good Health Through Essential Breath Work (Owl Books, 1996). Also see her Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness (Henry Holt and Co., 2000) and Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living (Harpers San Francisco, 2004).
Meditation flows on the breath and the energy that yoga creates.
- Breath by Breath: The liberating practice of Insight Meditation by Larry Rosenberg with David Guy (Shambhala, 2004)
- The meditative mind : the varieties of meditative experience by Daniel Goleman (HarperCollins, 1999)
- Peaceful Mind: Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Psychology to Overcome Depression by John R. McQuaid (New Harbinger Publications, 2004)
- The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by J. Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, Zindel V. Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn (The Guilford Press, 2007)
- Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (Bantam, 2004)
Reference and Classics
- Scientific Keys Volume I: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga by Ray Long (Author) and Chris MacIvor (Illustrator) (Bandha Yoga; 2006) is a remarkable reference book because of the striking illustrations and the thoroughness of the knowledge about poses and physiology. There have been three editions already, each time with augmented pages and more illustrations. I’ve decided to affliate with Bandhayoga and feature the book on the site.
- Light on Yoga by B.K.S.Iyengar (Schocken; Revised edition 1995)
- The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar (Inner Traditions; New Ed edition 1999)
- Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers; New Ed edition 1979)
- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners by H. David Coulter (Body and Breath, Inc. 2001). Coulter applies Western science to map out the intersection between body and physical discipline.
- ExTension : The 20-Minute-a-Day, Yoga-Based Program to Relax, Release & Rejuvenate the Average Stressed-Out Over-35-Year-Old Body by by Sam Dworkis and Peg Moline (Fireside, 1994). Probably faster ordering from Dworkis’s own website.
- Mastering the Secrets of Yoga Flow by Doug Swenson (Perigee, 2004)
- Yoga for Transformation: Ancient Teachings and Practices for Healing the Body, Mind, and Heart by Gary Kraftsow (Penquin Compass, 2002)
- The Spirit of Yoga by Kathy Phillips ( Barrons, 2002) This actually has an excellent tree of yogic philosphy showing the roots and branches of modern-day lineages.