My qualification for this blog is that I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years, the last five of those being Ashtanga and also a dusting of Kundalini. I’ve been reading books associated with yoga for over twenty years and I thought I’d let everyone in on what I think are amongst the best books available on yoga *that I’ve read so far* and I would love to know what other yoga books people have read and been positively changed by.
My longest mention is firstly to Ram Dass. His books have been mind blowers to me. Born as Richard Alpert (curiously the name that the TV show Lost chose for one of its main characters) he became one of the leading professors of the Psychology department at Harvard in the 1960’s. He was best friends with Timothy Leary and was at the forefront of LSD research that pretty much spawned the post Beatnik flower power movement that overtook the world (apart from some villages in Northern England who have yet to this day to be introduced to Bill Haley)
This LSD research got him famously thrown out of Harvard and after a time he wound up in India and found his ‘guru’, Neem Karoli Baba, became Ram Dass, which means servant of God, and at the same time realised that Psychology didn’t know much about the workings of the mind, which is quite something coming from a professor of Psychology at Harvard! His workshops and lectures since then are legendary and his book ‘Be Here Now’ is a classic. His writings and anecdotes are as laugh out loud funny as those of Bill Bryson, if Bryson did inner travels.
His latest book though is, for me, the ultimate biography/instruction manual on the reason we are here – which is to perform yoga. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean buying lycra and trendy mats and saying hello in a low misty voice, but the discipline of life, that is yoga. ‘Paths to God, Living the Bhagavad Gita’ has been called the greatest commentary ever written on the Gita and is an enlightening, humorous and very easily digested and highly recommended to all those beyond lycra 🙂
I came across the book ‘The 8 Limbs of Yoga, Pathway to Liberation’ by Bhava Ram in a second hand bookshop in Glastonbury, UK. Seeing the cover of an aging western hippy sat on a rock, somewhere warm, wearing a garland around his neck I very nearly put it back on the shelf but thought I’d read the back cover so I could be reinforced in my initial cynicism.
It stated that ‘Bhava Ram overcame a broken back, failed back surgery and stage four cancer through yoga’. Stage Four is to cancer what Category Five is to hurricanes – so I bought the book – and I’m very glad I did as the book is essentially a modern and western explanation of , as the title states, the eight limbs of yoga – which is Ashtanga yoga as written down 2200 years ago by Patanjali. If you’ve never read about the sutras and the whys and wherefores of yoga, this is a good place to start, though the book is not that easy to get hold of but worth the extra effort to find.
Mysore in India exists as the place to visit for western yoga enthusiasts and tens of thousands do visit each year. Indeed, for westerners, Mysore is to yoga as Goa is to hedonism.
This is thanks to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
who began practicing yoga at the age of 12 and at 15 ran away from home to study Sanskrit in Mysore. He eventually held a teaching position in yoga at the Sanskrit College of Maharaja becoming vidwan (professor) as well as being Honorary Professor of Yoga at the Government College of Indian Medicine. He is renowned for bringing ashtanga yoga to the west when he visited California in 1975.
He wrote just one book which is a book of his original teachings with photos showing all the postures of the ashtanga primary series and reading the book feels like one is reading history and all ashtanga practitioners today, in the west at least, have Jois and this book ‘Yoga Mala’ to thank.
I’m currently reading ‘Heaven Lies Within Us’ by Theos Bernard, an American who is allegedly the first westerner to go to India to study and practice yoga, back in the 1930’s, and from what I’ve read so far he delved more than most ever have since and the book is all about his travel and his delvings and is proving to be another must read for yogi’s. It has just been republished having been out of print for many years.
Although I’ve read many books that refer to the yoga book of books, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I’ve never read the actual book itself. I feel that I may have been leaving it to last, getting everybody else’s viewpoints and translations before going for my own – but now I have a copy and it will be accompanying me on an upcoming visit to India which includes a week in Mysore not doing any of that hedonistic stuff. 🙂