In the first installment of our Bodhi Surf + Yoga Book Club, we will hear from head yogini and Bodhi Surf + Yoga co-founder, Pilar Salazar, about the yoga books which have had the greatest impact on her, and have changed the course of both her yoga and life paths.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Pilar’s favorite yoga books, and why she recommends them
There are many ways we can learn about yoga. The practice and the teacher are essential components in the path, of course. Additionally, there are many other tools that can contribute to a deepening of our knowledge of the history, philosophy, and anatomy of yoga. Among those tools is a very sacred one for me: books!
I am often asked by students which yoga books I recommend and I thought it was about time to sit down and write a list of the books (and writers) that I have enjoyed the most in terms of yoga. Adding to that, I thought it would be nice to share the reasons why I have found these books so precious to my own yoga journey.
My yoga book list is long and extensive. Today, I will be sharing the “crème de la crème” of my personal library! So, let’s begin.
List of essential yoga books
This list answers a common inquiry I get in the classroom: “I want to learn more about what yoga is about, what books would you recommend?” Well, there are many books with good information, but I personally like the simplicity of two of my personal favorites.
- Light on Life by B.K.S Iyengar. This is by far one of the best books in the yoga world! I have read it about five times and I still use it as a reference book. I have found it incredibly helpful in learning several complicated concepts of yoga in a very simple and easily digestible way.
- The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V Desikachar. This book was the best part of the first yoga teacher training course I ever took. What I love about this book is the practical approach to the yoga system taught by his father Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is known as the “architect of modern yoga.” It is a very didactic and helpful book that can be used as a reference to go over some of the basic elements of the practice.
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda. This is the book that had the most impact on me at the beginning of my journey. It has accompanied me for almost two decades and still sits on my nightside table — that’s how much I appreciate this jewel. The Yoga Sutras are one of the main foundations of several systems of yoga. There are many versions of the Yoga Sutras, but in my opinion, this is the best. While the best way to get a clear understanding of the Sutras is by continuing studying with someone who is both a seasoned student and teacher, this book still provides the most basic definition of what is yoga and why and how we can practice it.
- The Living Gitta by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Just like the Yoga Sutras, the Baghavad Gitta is a book that should be studied instead of just read. It is quite dense and rife with very metaphoric explanations. However, if we want to explore the Gitta on our own, this is a great option.
Now, let’s move to the list of books to learn and understand more about the body and the physical postures.
Books about the anatomy of postural yoga
Books about the anatomy of the body as it pertains to yoga.
- Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff. When it comes to anatomy there is one book that always shows up as the first recommendation. Although I consider it to be a very good yoga book, I don’t use it often enough to recommend it.
- Functional Anatomy of Yoga: A Guide for Practitioners and Teachers by David Keil. He is the teacher that I follow the most in terms of anatomy. His website is very resourceful and he has a book called which I found very interesting.
Yoga books about the Asana practice.
- Light on Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar. When it comes to best Asana books, again, I have to start with one of the greatest masterminds who has contributed so much in building both the Asana practice and the therapeutic approach of postural yoga. Iyengar’s book is probably the best place to start to understand the intention, benefits, and contraindications of each standard yoga posture.
- The Art of Vinyasa by Richard Freeman. This recommendation is the most dense, complex, intrinsic, and exquisitely written book I have ever read. This is not an easy, light, before-bed type of reading. This book demands your full attention, and some parts will need to be read more than twice to get the real juice out of them. But the knowledge you can acquire by deeply immersing yourself in this book is priceless. Different than the other books, it utilizes terms and concepts that go beyond trying to explain the yoga postures based on the proper physical alignment. It has limited observation of the anatomy of bones, and muscles, and correct breathing. Instead, it talks about the subtle body, the flow of energy within posture and movement, and how to use the Asana practice to awaken the body’s intelligence. Freeman’s profound knowledge and excellent writing style make this an invaluable tool for those who want to go deep into the rabbit hole of yoga Asana and Vinyasa.
Last but not least, the books that have spoken to my soul and spirit.
The spiritual list of yoga books
This last list may not include what we would consider to be typical “yoga books.” Rather, they are books that have somehow contributed greatly to the spiritual value of my own practice. There are many beautifully expressed ideas within this list that I have also seen in other yoga-related places.
- A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: This is the book I have to start with. The Power of Now by the same author pops up frequently in many yoga book recommendations. In my case — and maybe it was because of the moment and place I was when I read this book — it was almost like a magical experience. I particularly recommend this book because many of the things writing in it still lingered in my mind today. For me, the lingering effects of reading this book have been to leave these sort-of voices in my head, whispering to me to be more compassionate, kind, and present in specific situations. Particularly, ones where I may have been about to act in reactive ways. For me, that is one of the most useful challenges of the yoga practice: to learn how to take it off the mat and into our daily lives.
- The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell. This is another very simple book I go back to once and again, and I keep it close to my heart for one simple reason: it brings me peace, acceptance, and understanding. It allows me to surrender and realize that control is nothing but an illusion. I do notice that I definitely navigate better through life when I am reading it.
- The Places that Scare You by Pema Chodron. As I say frequently in my classes, yoga is not about feeling good, happy, and cheerful all the time. Rather, it is about self-realization as we explore the dark corners within ourselves. This book has been helpful for me to explore all these dark corners and find the light. In this book, Pema translates some valuable information from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in a very appealing way, which can help us learn how to lead a more compassionate life. This book offered me comfort in very challenging times, but I believe we can all find something that resonates with us wherever we may be.
As I am writing this list, so many other books are coming into my mind. For example, how could I not include The Autobiography of a Yogi by Parahamnsa Yogananda? Or any book I have read from Thich Nhat Hanh, or even The Hatha Yoga Pradipika? What about The Four Agreements or many of the books by Ramana Maharishi!? But I don’t want to make this list too long, and I also wanted to be faithful to the books I tend to reach for the most — the ones which have brought so many positive changes in my life.
I hope you enjoy this list and if you find any of them interesting, useful, or life-changing, I would love to hear from you.