I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to keep learning and practicing. Learning enables growth and it seems I am experiencing somewhat of a growth-spurt in mid-life. Every day my mind is challenged by another book, story, podcast written by amazing teachers. On this page I am sharing some of the books that have inspired and have been insightful. Going forward I’m aiming to setup some kind of book-club via my instagram account.
Stephen Cope is a psychotherapist and senior yoga teacher at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts, the largest residential yoga center in the United States. I would totally recommend you to read all of his books as he is an amazing writer!
I have read his three first books a few years ago, but because Mona and I are trying to set up yoga book-club, and we both agree that Stephen’s books most definitely belong on the list, I want to read them all again! Also, I haven’t yet read his latest; Soul Friends.
In his first book, Yoga and the quest for the true self, he demystifies the philosophy, psychology, and practice of yoga, and shows how it applies to our most human dilemmas: from loss, disappointment, and addiction, to the eternal conflicts around sex and relationship. And he shows us that in yoga, "liberation" does not require us to leave our everyday lives for some transcendent spiritual plane--life itself is the path. Above all, he shows how yoga can heal the suffering of disconnection in our modern life, leading us to a new sense of purpose and to a deeper, more satisfying life in the world.
In his second book, The wisdom of yoga, he unlocks the teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra by showing them at work in the lives of a group of friends and fellow yoga students who are confronting the full modern catastrophe of careers, relationships, and dysfunctional family dynamics. Interweaving their daily dilemmas with insights from modern psychology, neuroscience, religion, and philosophy, he shows the astonishing relevance and practicality of this timeless psychology of awakening. It is a superb companion and guide for anyone seeking enhanced creativity, better relationships, and a more ethical and graceful way of living in the world.
In his third book, The great work of your life, he uses the Bhagavad Gita to talk about Dharma. We often feel overwhelmed by the realities of daily life and about how to realize your life's true purpose—what spiritual teachers call dharma. He writes that in order to have a fulfilling life you must, in fact, discover the deep purpose hidden at the very core of your self. In The Great Work of Your Life, Cope describes the process of unlocking the unique possibility harboured within every human soul. The secret, he asserts, can be found in the pages of a two-thousand-year-old spiritual classic called the Bhagavad Gita—an ancient allegory about the path to dharma, told through a timeless dialogue between the fabled archer, Arjuna, and his divine mentor, Krishna. If you are interested in reading the Bhagavad Gita, I really enjoyed Eknath Easwaran’s interpretation below.
Just finished reading
I read this book as a friend of mine was dealing with depression and I really wanted to understand depression better. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book especially Matt’s view on modern life and how stress effects us all. It is an incredibly honest and true story of how the writer came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. I found myself highlighting passages which resonate from a yoga/mind-training/mindfulness point of view; it is all about anxiety and depression in modern day life and I know few people who are not effected by this… He writes: “The world increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”
I just finished reading this book and even though it was written in 1951, it is still apt as it is to do with our age of anxiety, which I guess with the coming of technology and social media has even more relevance . Towards the end I had a little more trouble with the datedness of some of his text (different times, different language), but overall the message of the book and the trickiness of the mind made this an amazing read.
Alan writes about science replacing religion halting our belief in eternal life which makes us anxious as we think we are missing something, and frustrated and depressed due to the need of the feeling there has to be something more. Consequently our age is one of frustration, anxiety, agitation, and addiction to “dope.” Somehow we must grab what we can while we can, and drown out the realization that the whole thing is futile and meaningless. This “dope” we call our high standard of living, a violent and complex stimulation of the senses, which makes them progressively less sensitive and thus in need of yet more violent stimulation. We crave distraction—a panorama of sights, sounds, thrills, and titillations into which as much as possible must be crowded in the shortest possible time.
Solve for happy by Mo Gawdat is a wonderful book, in which I recognise a lot of yoga philisophy, but it is a scientific book (Mo was Chief Business Officer for Google X) on how to be happy by identifying what makes us unhappy (he believes that everyone is born happy); it dismantles 6 illusions and 7 blind-spots, before leading to the 5 truths which connect us all. The 6 illusions are Thought, Self, Knowledge, Time, Control and Fear which are all concepts our mind wants to cling onto, but are destined to make us disconnected from ourselves. It is followed by the blind-spots which are hard-wired into our DNA, but outdated in the modern world; Filters, Assumptions, Predictions, Memories, Labels, Emotions and Exaggeration. Finally the 5 universal truths of Now, Change, Love, Death and Design. It is all packaged in some way or another in our yoga philosophy (awareness, being present, letting go of judgement, what causes us to suffer) so it was fascinating to read it in a scientific way. It is easy to read; I am a very slow reader and I read it in one go and have gifted it to many friends.
I was lucky to be able to hear Mo speak live at an ActionForHapiness event recently and he is such an inspirational, eloquent, insightful, grounded and open person; hearing him talk about Solve For Happy revealed more insights and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Please check out his #onebillionhappy mission; together we can make the world a happier place!
Into the Magic Shop by James Doty, was another book which I read in one go. Dr. Doty is a clinical professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University School of Medicine. His book is about how as a poor young boy, he was taught some invaluable life-lessons by the lady he met in the magic shop. She taught him how to 1. relax your body, 2. tame your mind, 3. open your heart and 4. set your intent in order to achieve your goals in life. He practiced and visualised how he would be a rich doctor and it cam true however as he hadn't opened his heart he lost everything and this is when the compassion started playing a big role in his life. Now he has turned things around and has opened a department for the research into the relationship between mind and heart; it is The Center for Compassion And Altruism Research And Education, an affiliate of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. He works together with the Dalai Lama… I guess the compassion aspect has truly been integrated!
The power of now by Eckhart Tolle is a classic bestseller from 1997 but is just as relevant now. "His message is simple: living in the now is the truest path to happiness and enlightenment. And while this message may not seem stunningly original or fresh, his clear writing, supportive voice and enthusiasm make this an excellent manual for anyone who's ever wondered what exactly "living in the now" means. Foremost, he is a world-class teacher, able to explain complicated concepts in concrete language. More importantly, within a chapter of reading this book, readers are already holding the world in a different container--more conscious of how thoughts and emotions get in the way of their ability to live in genuine peace and happiness.
Tolle packs a lot of information and inspirational ideas into The Power of Now. (Topics include the source of Chi, enlightened relationships, creative use of the mind, impermanence and the cycle of life.) Thankfully, he's added markers that symbolise "break time". This is when readers should close the book and mull over what they just read. " I', thoroughly enjoying listening to this book again on audiobooks.
In A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: he expands on these powerful ideas to show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world. Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows readers how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence. "The Power of Now" was a question-and-answer handbook. "A New Earth" has been written as a traditional narrative, offering anecdotes and philosophies in a way that is accessible to all. Illuminating, enlightening, and uplifting, "A New Earth" is a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life and for building a better world.
Why zebras don't get ulcers. Your body is a sophisticated machine. If it were an automobile, it would be a top-of-the-line, luxury-class vehicle with all of the latest options. There’s just one problem: Your body was designed for the savannas of Africa, not the streets and sidewalks of some urban metropolis. This is a major issue due to one of your body’s great fail-safe systems: the stress-response mechanism, also called the “fight-or-flight syndrome.” This mechanism provides your body with its best chance to get away safely from sudden peril, such as when a lion attacks you. It immediately floods your muscles with robust energy. Thus strengthened, you are far more able to evade the hungry predator. Unfortunately, this same stress-response also kicks in during psychological stress. In much of modern city life (even without stalking lions), such stress is often chronic, making your stress-response mechanism work dangerously overtime, and putting your body at risk of numerous stress-related disorders and diseases. Robert M. Sapolsky, a leading neuroendocrinologist, explains it all in this lively and entertaining, yet highly informative book. He writes with delightful, ironic verve and dry, irrepressible wit. He details how chronic stress can undermine your health, and explains what you can do about it, even in the urban jungle.
The untethered soul by Michael A. Singer. Where to begin? This quite rapidly has become my new favourite book to gift as a present to friends. Amazing, I highlighted pretty much every page. Oprah Winfrey put it on her favourite books and wrote the 12 step guide: “1. Realize that you are in there. 2. Realize that you are not okay in there. 3. Realize that you're always trying to be okay. 4. Realize that your mind has taken on the job of figuring out how everything needs to be for you to be okay. 5. Realize that the process of defining how the outside needs to be is not going to make you okay. 6. Learn to not participate in the mind's struggle to be okay. 7. Learn to go about your life just like everyone else, except that nothing you do is for the purpose of trying to be okay. 8. As you sincerely let go of the inner energies you are watching, you begin to feel a deeper energy come in from behind. 9. Your inner experience becomes so beautiful that you fall in love with the energy itself, and you develop a very deep and personal relationship with it. 10. You begin to feel the energy pulling you up into it, and your entire path becomes letting go of yourself in order to merge. 11. Once you get far enough back into the energy, you realize that your personal life can go on without you, leaving you free to become immersed in Spirit. 12. Now you are truly okay, and nothing inside or outside of you can cause disturbance—you have come to peace with it all. “ In short, we need to learn not to resist life, don’t cling onto your likes, don’t resist your dislikes. Just ride the waves life brings and be present.
At first mindfulness seemed a bit of a hype to me, as books and apps and colouring in books seemed to spring up everywhere. However during my Yin teacher training last year a lot of emphasis was placed on mindfulness and meditation. Meditation had come up during my original teacher training and I had started to practice at home but I had never linked the two. Yin yoga requires you to stay in sometimes uncomfortable postures for a length of time and to observe, be aware of the sensations in your body (and mind). The mindfulness aspect simply means to stay focussed on the 'thing you are doing' in the moment. This I translated to other yoga classes, as you are always trying to be completely focussed and aware of the movement and of the breath. So practicing yoga is a form of mindfulness.
The book on mindfulness I really enjoy is written by Edel Maex and is a very practical guide to learning mindfulness.
On Mindfulness and Yoga
I wanted to make this special section as this book is written by a beautiful woman, Mina Semyon whom I met during my advanced Thai yoga massage course in Samos (she is Kira Balakas’ mother - see below in Thai Yoga Massage). The Distracted Centipede (click on the title for the link on Amazon) is a wonderful book about awakening to the unified sense of your whole being — body, mind, spirit — through the practice of Yoga and Mindfulness. It is about listening and tuning in to your body, gradually realising that wholeness can only be retrieved by identifying and letting go of unnecessary holding on. If you can stop straining you might discover that inside that tense, unbalanced body there is a 'sensible body' which can be effortlessly at ease, with the energy flowing freely and the mind becoming calm. In the midst of the mental storm there is stillness where we can experience our presence.
Mina taught us some amazing yoga classes whilst in Greece, guiding us with her deep wisdom (she has been teaching for almost 50 years!!) and passion for yoga. I feel very lucky and grateful. If you can buy the book (I know it’s a little tricky, perhaps try amazon.com) then please do; it is full of wisdom, very down to earth and funny - you can also get her later book which follows on from the distracted centipede and is called Yoga Stories for Healthy Living.
I've been reading this most insightful book focussing emotional balance, and there are many simple exercises which can help us create awareness of our breath, body and mind. With this awareness we can practice to calm our nervous system and balance our emotions. They are very simple exercises, so be aware for your (egoic)mind to tell you that surely these exercises won't be beneficial as they are too simple. They DO work, however these small, yet effective exercises need to be practised regularly and it will take discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya). Stick with it please, as I cannot begin to tell you how much benefit it will bring you if you can cultivate breath and body awareness - your mind will become spacious and calm.
BKS Iyengar writes incredibly insightful books on the healing power of yoga. He knew first hand how it transformed his life as when he was young he suffered from many illnesses (tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria) and from malnutrition. His brother-in-law however was the great Krishnamacharya and even though he didn't believe in the ability of Iyengar, he trained him and this made Iyengar one of the great yogis of his time. He focussed very much on the alignment aided with props.
The first book I bought was Yoga, the path to holistic health where he details the main postures with many variations and adjustments and with the use of props. It has sequences for many illnesses ranging from headaches, to astma and spondylosis.
Then for my training I bought Light on yoga and Light on pranayama, both fascinating and in depth. Finally I bought Light on life where he writes about his lifetime's experience (he wrote it when he was 86) on the yoga path. The structure of the book follows the different aspects of that path (from Freedom Awaits, through The Physical Body, The Energy Body, The Mental Body, The Intellectual Body, The Divine Body to Living in Freedom) and provides a learning framework for yoga as well as an invaluable discourse on life. Incredibly insightful and a must read.
Books on Yin Yoga have taught me the most about the different types of body there are. Where at the beginning of my yoga practice I thought that if just tried hard enough, my body could get into any shape, Yin has taught me that due to bone structures, certain postures are physically easier for some than others and that I might never be able to do padmasana (lotus pose).
I did my 50 hour Yin training with Sarah Lo -which I loved!- and the main book in the course was Insight Yoga by Sarah Powers which combines traditional yoga with the meridians of Chinese medicine, as well as Buddhist meditation. The other book used was with The complete guide to yin yoga by Bernie Clark. He presents comprehensive information on how to do the practice, including a deep look inside over two dozen Yin Yoga postures showing the benefit of the pose, how to get into and out of the pose, contraindications and warnings for those who may have trouble with particular aspects of the posture, and other important information. The benefits are explored in three main sections: the physiological benefits, the energetic benefits and the mental/emotional benefits.
The latest book I bought was written by Norman Blair and is called Brightening our inner skies Yin and Yoga. It provides the principles and practicalities of Yin, highlighting how it acts as a bridge to a meditation practice and can allow the practitioner to experience the energy channels of Traditional Chinese Medicine (with a helpful chart of meridians, health issues and emotions). It draws together decades of practice, teaching experience with thousands of students and a deep desire to help the practitioner change themselves and change the world, one posture, one practice at a time. Students and teachers have said it is that rare thing: a yoga book that's a page turner!"
For my teacher training I had a reading list which included; The Bhagavad Gita - I chose the version introduced by Eknath Easwaran who writes beautifully. The Bhagavad Gita opens, dramatically, on a battlefield, as the warrior Arjuna turns in anguish to his spiritual guide, Sri Krishna, for answers to the fundamental questions of life. Yet the Gita is not what it seems – it’s not a dialogue between two mythical figures at the dawn of Indian history. “The battlefield is a perfect backdrop, but the Gita’s subject is the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious.” I also bought the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - David Gordon White.
Two books which I found good introductions to 'the deeper meaning of yoga'. The first is Radically Simple Yoga For Now which focuses on several key themes in yoga philosophy, presenting this age-old wisdom in the language of our times, and offers an approach to yoga that is deeply empowering and relevant for our lives as a whole. The recurring theme of the book is that it is how we practice our yoga - our inner approach or attitude - that makes it yoga rather than the specific form our practice takes or our reason for practicing. The seven props he uses in the book are: Awareness. Curiosity. Surrender. Focus. Purpose. Mystery. Creativity.
The second book The spiritual teachings of yoga book explains the philosophy and teachings behind Yoga in a fresh and accessible way, and also includes clear and poetic translations of the key yoga scriptures: the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads. These ancient texts contain instructions for the philosophy, method and practise of yoga and are guides to inner wisdom.
During my 200 hour teacher training there was a lot of focus on anatomy and anatomy in relation to the postures. We used The key muscles of yoga to learn about specific postures. This book offers a scientific approach to understanding the practice of yoga. Through four-colour, three-dimensional illustrations of major muscles, tendons, and ligaments, it describes the practice and benefits of yoga. Specific anatomical and physiological descriptions highlight the agonist, antagonist, and synergist muscles that come into play with each pose. Volume I of the series describes the key muscles of yoga and how they are utilised.
I also bought the book Yoga Anatomy which provides you with a deeper understanding of the structures and principles underlying each movement and of yoga itself. From breathing to inversions to standing poses, see how specific muscles respond to the movements of the joints; how alterations of a pose can enhance or reduce effectiveness; and how the spine, breathing, and body position are all fundamentally linked. Whether you are just beginning your journey or have been practicing yoga for years, Yoga Anatomy will be an invaluable resource one that allows you to see each movement in an entirely new light.
Finally I bought Functional anatomy of yoga, which was another very insightful book. Written with a conversational tone, the book delivers the complex subject of human anatomy in a way that is both provocative and clear. The underlying theme of the book is integration. David Keil outlines how we can utilize a deeper understanding of their anatomy as we approach the larger scheme of yoga. How do the supposed "parts and pieces" of the body synchronize to support integrated movement? Finally, how do the various yoga postures interrelate from the perspective of functional anatomy? Beautifully illustrated throughout with colour images and photographs to clearly explain the concepts and asanas, Functional Anatomy of Yoga will assist you in reaching new heights in your yoga practice using the "laboratory" of the body and the tools of yoga asana.
If you are new to the anatomy of yoga and you are looking for a book I would probably recommend the Functional Anatomy of yoga as it is more descriptive; but all three are good books for broadening your understanding.
If you have questions, comments or book tips, please contact me via the Contact page