You’ll notice that the titles I’ve chosen lean towards the academic (history, anthropology) side — I am after all, an ex-academic.
Eighty-four Asanas (A survey of traditions) by Gudrun Buhnemann: Make sure you get the 2011 edition.
Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace by N.E. Sjoman: It looks like its price on Amazon has dropped considerably, in the past a used copy of this title was at least $75. I’ve reviewed this here and here.
Yoga Body by Mark Singleton: My review of this book was the first ever entry on this blog!
Krishnamacharya (His Life and Teachings) by A.G. Mohan: I really enjoyed this short book by one of Krishnamacharya’s longstanding students.
Extra Love (The Art of Hands-on Assists) by Jill Abelson: One of my pet peeves is that many yoga instructors don’t spend enough time teaching safety precautions and learning how to properly assist students. Popular Jivamukti Yoga teacher, Jill Abelson (formerly based in DC, but now in SF), has been conducting workshops on yoga assists for years. I’m glad she put together this well-written manual.
The Science of Yoga (The Risks and the Rewards) by William J. Broad: This book from atwo-time Pulitzer prize winning NY Times Science writer, “… shatters myths, lays out unexpected benefits, and offers a compelling vision of how the ancient practice can be improved.” While Broad confirmed many of the benefits of Yoga, he devotes a chapter to its downsides — including the risk of stroke and vertebrae damage in the longtime practice of plow, headstand and shoulder stand!
A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers by Mel Robin: The reference book for those interested in physiology and anatomy, from a rigorous scientific perspective. A gentler intro is Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff.
History of Yoga
Yoga in Practice, edited by David Gordon White: I’m currently reading this just published title. White’s introductory essay is a fantastic overview of Yoga across several religious traditions.
History of Modern Yoga by Elizabeth de Michelis: I’ve met several teachers who’ve read Singleton’s book, and I always point them towards this book. Vedanta and Neo-vedanta have heavily influenced modern yoga but I suspect many teachers are unaware of the historical impact of the movements discussed in this book.
Yoga in Modern India by Joseph Alter: Make sure you get the 2010 edition.
Positioning Yoga by Sara Strauss: A well-written ethnographic study of Swami Sivananda’s Divine Life Society. Modern postural yoga instructors seem to be descended mostly from either Krishnamacharya or Sivananda. Many contemporary teachers in the US are familiar with Krishnamacharya either directly or through his students (who founded Ashtanga and Iyyengar yoga). The late Swami Sivananda also has his share of famous students, including Mircea Eliade, Lilias Follan, Sachtidananda (Integral Yoga) and Satyananda (Bihar School).
First There is a Mountain (A Yoga Romance) by Elizabeth Kadetsky: You don’t hear much about this book, but I think it’s one of the best portraits/memoirs out there. During the course of her Fulbright scholarship in India, this longtime Iyengar student “… pieces together the unlikely life journey of her teacher”.
Nine Lives by William Dalrymple: I love this book, I’ve read each chapter multiple times.
Wandering with Sadhus by Sondra Hausner: I learned so much from this book, and unlike many academic titles, it is extremely readable and even entertaining. Hausner conducts an ethnographic study of renunciates, and along the way provides a wonderful overview of the organizational structures behind the scene.
India (A Sacred Geography) by Diana Eck: A beautiful introduction to India, that I think travelers to that country should read. Her other book, Darsan (Seeing the Divine Image in India) is a great guide to the statues that are so popular in Yoga studios.
Transcendent in America (Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion) by Lola Williamson: Profiles the Self-Realization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, and Siddha Yoga, through interviews with longterm and former members. (Williamson herself was a former member of two of the organizations.)
Theos Bernard, the White Lama (Tibet, Yoga, and American Religious Life) by Paul Hackett: Last year I thought Douglas Veenhof wrote a good book on the same subject (White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard). But reading Hackett’s book is a way more satisfying experience, at least for me. Hackett’s narrative style is just as entertaining as Veenhof’s, which is high praise for an academic/scholar. But what I really like about Hackett’s account is that his account is backed up with scholarship — his footnotes are fantastic!
Yoga in the Modern World edited by Mark Singleton and Jean Byrne: An underrated collection of essays.
21st Century Yoga (Culture, Politics, and Practice): a collection of essays, co-edited by Carol Horton
Distilled Spirits by Don Lattin: A wonderful short book about Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson.
Alternative Medicine and American Religious Life by Robert Fuller: I just stumbled upon this 1989 title, and already I’ve learned so much about the history of different forms of alternative medicine.
My Life in Orange (Growing Up with the Guru): Moving account of growing up inside the cult, founded by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.