Books on a coffee table

Reading yoga books is an important aspect of developing practical wisdom.

We gather yoga wisdom from a variety of sources. There’s our teachers, who observe our patterns and lend their own experiential insights. We can soak it up at retreats and conferences and workshops. There’s magazines and videos too. Of course, nothing beats our very own practice, which shows us where our bodies and minds are on any given day.

But sometimes a book comes along that rocks our whole concept of yoga—and what it means to practice yoga. Some solid alone time with a book like this can help us evolve our practices in ways we might not have been able to do otherwise. In a way, such books allow us to study with teachers who are no longer alive and who don’t live or work in our local communities. That’s what I’ve found in my 3 favorite books of yoga wisdom, anyway.

Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind, Frank Jude Boccio (Wisdom Publications, 2005). A longtime meditator and yoga teacher, Boccio weaves his understandings of Buddhist meditation practices with Patañjali’s class teachings of yoga. He makes a case that the asanas can be practiced as a form of meditative awareness:

The Sanskrit word smriti (Pali: sati), most often translated as “mindfulness,” literally means “remembering.” I often like to point out to my students that the other meaning of remember (and also recollect) is synonymous with yoga—to re-member or re-collect is to bring back together all the (seemingly) disparate parts of our experience into an integrated whole. When we remember, we pay attention to what is happening. Mindfulness always arises in the context of relationship—within ourselves and with other people or things. It is not something like a technique or tool we use but an inherent power or capacity we tend and cultivate.

I’m on board with that!

The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, Edwin Bryant (2009, Northpoint Press). The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali is required reading for any serious yogi. There are many translations of Patañjali’s Sutras available, but Bryant’s version takes the cake for me. With a Ph.D in Indic Languages and Cultures from Columbia University, Bryant is a true scholar of Vedic culture, yoga history and the Sanskrit language. In addition to presenting the Sanskrit text, Bryant offers concise English translations. His own informed commentary brings modern readers a clear, graspable understanding to the work, which was written about 2,000 years ago.

The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by Step Guide to Pranayama, Richard Rosen (Shambala Publications, 2012). As the title suggests, Rosen’s The Yoga of Breath focuses on the elements of breath awareness. This practical how-to features concrete descriptions, exercises and illustrations. It’s truly a must-read for anyone looking to deeply understand and safely increase their life energy. P.S. Rosen is a contributing editor to Yoga Journal and a co-founder of Piedmont Yoga in Oakland, CA, which offers programs to a wide spectrum of people, including those with cancer and Parkinson’s. So, he really gets it when it comes to breathing.

Sure, there are plenty of worthy yoga books in the sea. But I find myself going back time and time again to the ones mentioned above. If you’re new to yoga, these 3 books represent Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Yoga but Were Afraid to Ask. The more experienced practitioner, on the other hand, will find them most eye-opening during growth spurts, when it’s most vital to reconnect with beginner’s mind.