As an Iyengar Yoga teacher, I have many books that I use as references for teaching and for my own practice and study. My beginning yoga students often ask me what resources, including books, would help them to further their own work and development in the poses, and in their overall understanding of this beneficial practice.
Here are the five books that I recommend most often to my beginning students. Experienced yoga students also benefit from these books.
I own all of these books (and many more!) and refer to them often. The first two listed are the books that I bought as a new yoga student, on the recommendation of my first yoga teacher.
Even though these books are all written from an Iyengar Yoga perspective, they will benefit any yoga student who wants to learn more about how to do the poses in a healthy, well-aligned way, and learn more about the whole of yoga beyond the asanas.
Yoga: The Iyengar Way
Yoga: The Iyengar Way, by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta, is an excellent resource book for beginners and for more experienced yoga students. What first attracted me to this book were the beautiful, large, clear photos of yoga asanas (poses) including the image on the cover, which is of a woman doing Utthita trikonasana (Extended triangle pose). Iyengar Yoga puts a strong emphasis on developing good alignment in the poses, which is apparent in these photos.
There are clear and detailed instructions for each pose that is featured, including how to work if we can’t do it fully as shown. Variations are given, as well as suggestions for moving more deeply into the pose.
There are also sections on Pranayama (yogic breathing techniques), Meditation, and on the philosophy of yoga in general.
The appendix includes suggested courses for developing your own yoga practice, and sequences that can be used to alleviate certain health problems. What may turn some people off is that these sequences and courses don’t show images of the poses, and the poses are all in Sanskrit (classical language from India). But this is an excellent way to learn the classical yoga pose names! Think of it as part of your yoga practice, as a way to improve your mind, since after all the practice of yoga is much more than just doing poses.
Light on Yoga
The subtitle of this book, written by B.K.S. Iyengar, is The Bible of Modern Yoga – Its Philosophy and Practice. In my opinion, it should be in the library of any serious yoga student. Although some beginning students may feel that this book is intimidating and too difficult for them, it has a wealth of information on the full practice of yoga. Beginners can work on the poses from the front part of the book as a way to complement what they learn in their yoga classes, and be inspired from paging through the rest of the book to see what can be possible with diligent and intelligent practice.
The first 60 pages of the book include a detailed overview of the philosophy of yoga, and tips and cautions for practice. The back of the book has suggested course work for our own practice, and sequences for working on physical ailments and health problems. This is more for the experienced yoga student.
Light on Yoga is one of the required books for anyone studying to become a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher. As a teacher, I refer back to this book often. I’ll occasionally get it out to show my students what we’re working toward in our practice of certain poses.
How to Use Yoga: A Step by Step Guide
While the first two books were my personal favorites when I was beginning yoga (and they still are among my favorites), How to Use Yoga by Mira Mehta, is more accessible overall to the average beginning yoga student.
You’ll notice that Mira Mehta is also one of the authors of Yoga: The Iyengar Way (the first book on this page), and as such, How to Use Yoga has a similar look. The color photos are nicely done and the instructions are clear. The poses that are featured include a well-rounded assortment of those that are suitable for beginners and intermediate yoga practitioners. There’s more emphasis on prop usage to make the poses more accessible for the average student.
A 10-week course of practice is included toward the back, with photos of the poses along with their Sanskrit names. There are also sequences of poses suggested for common problems, including photos and prop usage. Problems that are covered include headaches, menstrual problems, backaches, and stiff hips and shoulders.
I use ideas from this book not just in my beginning level classes and in my Gentle Yoga classes, but also for quieter work in my other classes.
The Tree of Yoga
Yoga is an ancient philosophy, art, and practice that encompasses much, much more than the physical practice that is most commonly seen now. The Tree of Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar is a wonderful little book that is a good introduction to the overall philosophy of yoga.
The Tree of Yoga refers to the eight different parts of yoga (roots, trunk, branches, leaves, etc). The limb of asana (physical poses, postures) is just one out of the eight parts.
The Eight Parts of Yoga
- Yamas – Ethical guidelines for living in our society
- Niyamas – Moral guidelines for ourselves
- Asana – Physical practice
- Pranayama – Breathwork
- Pratyahara – Turning our awareness inward
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation, contemplation
- Samadhi – State of interconnectedness, at one with the divine
Sometimes these are called the Eight Limbs or Branches of Yoga. I’ve also seen them referred to as the Eight Petals of Yoga. While the yamas and niyamas are the underpinnings, or the foundation of the rest of yoga, all eight limbs are fully intertwined with each other.
Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health
This book is similar to Yoga: The Iyengar Way, and How to Use Yoga, in that it has beautiful photos of poses with detailed instruction, including prop usage, benefits of the pose, and cautions. In addition, many of the poses are shown from different angles, so you can see what the pose looks like from the front, side, and back. There are expanded sections on asanas for ailments, including stress, arthritis, back pain, eating disorders, and much more. Additional sections include course work for your own practice, relaxation poses, philosophy, eating healthily, and how to live in our modern-day times. There are sidebars with advice from B.K.S. Iyengar.
This is beautiful, large book and it costs more than the others, but it will make an excellent addition to your yoga library. It also makes a thoughtful and useful gift to anyone who practices yoga.
Yoga: A Beneficial, Life-Long Practice
All of the books listed here are good general Iyengar Yoga books that will be useful for any serious beginning or continuing yoga practitioner. Of course there are many other Iyengar Yoga books, including many that cover specific topics (pregnancy, arthritis, women’s issues, aging issues).
Refer to The 10 Best Iyengar Yoga Books for a few more excellent choices.
For Best Results, Take a Class Also!
These books are meant to supplement your regular yoga classes. While some people do well just by working out of books, most people will progress more quickly and effectively if they also take yoga classes taught by well-trained teachers who can safely and systematically guide them in their practice. Iyengar Yoga teachers are required to have years of practice and are rigorously trained before becoming certified to teach. To see if there are Certified Iyengar Yoga teachers in your area, check Find a Teacher on the IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga Association of the United States) website.