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Recommended Reading for the Student of Yoga

I’m a bit of a book-hound, especially when it comes to my favorite subjects – dogs and yoga. As a yoga teacher, I’m frequently asked for suggestions on reading material to further enhance ones knowledge and practice. While my bookshelves, both at home as well as at my studio at The Canebrake, can attest to the plethora of great books on the market today, in this article I’ll only showcase what I refer to as ‘the sauce’. If you really plan on making a life-long study of the art and science of yoga, the following three are necessities.

1. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

  1. 1. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra means ‘thread’ and this text, consisting of 4 chapters, weaves together the thread of yoga, laying down the philosophy, the roots, of our practice. Patanjali pours the foundation for what we refer to as the 8 limbs of yoga – or ashtanga yoga (astau = eight, anga = limb) – through succinct verses that are ripe with meaning and significance. I love the Sutras as there’s not the heavy emphasis placed on the physical poses that we tend to aim for here in the West. Rather, Patanjali explains right out of the gate that yoga is found in the stilling of the mind. And just how the hell are we ADHD-Type-A-Ultra-Stimulated-Western-People supposed to accomplish that?? Well, get the book and read on. There are an enormous number of translations and commentaries on the Yoga Sutras of Patanajali, though my favorite by far is “Light on The Yoga Sutras” by B.K.S. Iyengar.

2. Hatha Yoga Pradipika

  1. 2. Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Written in the 15th century, this could well by the oldest surviving text on yoga. Pradipika literally means ‘that which illuminates’ and this book is plenty illuminating. The author Swami Svatmarama provides us with a detailed manual on asana (postures), diet, pranayama (breath retention), kriyas (cleansing practices), mudras (gestures), bandhas (locks) and more. Not every pose is outlined here – actually only 15 – just as not every pranayama practice is described either. The techniques that are laid down in the Pradipika are a guide to Samadhi and meant for the serious practitioner. Many should only be undertaken with the supervision of an experienced teacher. Some other time, I’ll enlighten you as to my own experience on kapalabhati-overload and its outrageous effects on my digestive system….Ah well, another article, another time! The translation with commentary to get is by Swami Muktibodhananda.

3. The Bhagavad Gita

Sigh…Love this beautiful piece of literature. Definitely required reading! Probably the best-known of all Indian scriptures, The Gita, as it’s lovingly referred to, literally means ‘the song of God’. Taken from the great epic of theMahabharata, The Gita dramatically takes place on a battlefield where the young warrior Arjuna turns in despair to God for answers to this war that’s about to be waged. Taking the form of Krishna, God takes the reigns of Arjuna’s battle chariot and proceeds to counsel and advise him in regards to the tough questions of life and the war ahead. This is a timeless classic – as relevant today as it was when it was written (somewhere between the 2nd and 5thcentury BC). I’ve read that Gandhi didn’t make a move without consulting The Gita for wisdom, inspiration, and guidance. I have several wonderful translations; my two current faves are “The Living Gita” by Swami Satchidananda and “The Bhagavad Gita” by Eknath Easwaran.

The famous yogi Dharma Mittra (NYC) was quoted once as saying something to the effect of ‘practicing yoga without also studying these three essential texts, is like eating spaghetti without the sauce’.

Happy studies!!

Lisa Bracken teaches yoga at The Canebrake as well as at NSU in Tahlequah. As a child, she used to enjoy her spaghetti plain; just butter and cheese. These days as an adult and yogini, she savors the sauce and enjoys a bite of sustenance everyday.

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