Most people graduating Yoga Teacher Training come out of it with a sizeable library of yoga books they were required to read (at least in part). And most of the time, that library is made up of some combination of The Yoga Sutras, Light on Yoga, Yoga Anatomy, The Bhagavad Gita, and The Heart of Yoga. Don’t get me wrong; these books all offer their own unique charms, but as you know if you read my article, The Yoga Sutras: Timeless Wisdom or Outdated Dogma?, I do not believe they do enough to educate our teachers on the complex history and philosophy of yoga.
So, I banded together with the two amazing experts who helped me in the aforementioned article, Julian Walker and Colin Hall, to create a booklist beyond the Yoga Sutras. If you are looking to educate yourself on the history and philosophy of yoga, here are some of the top texts we recommend.
1. Yoga Body by Mark Singleton
“Mark Singleton is my hero, and I am completely obsessed with everything he writes. It’s well-researched, invites critical thinking, offers a detailed examination of yoga topics… it’s my cup of tea. Yoga Body specifically looks at the history of yoga and how it became what it is today, but everything he writes is pure gold.” -Sarah
2. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography by David Gordon White
“Full disclosure… I am in love with DGW. He is an academic rockstar, and I have read and re-read everything he has published. This book traces the history of the Sutras and the role they have played in yoga cultures. It’s brilliant.” -Colin
3. A History of Modern Yoga by Elizabeth DeMichelis
“This book includes a brilliant break-down of Iyengar’s translation and commentary [of the Yoga Sutras]. It will help students see how the Sutras are molded by commentators to fit into their respective world views.” -Colin
4. Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson
“An incredible synthesis of Buddhist philosophy and meditation techniques (the Buddha had a huge influence on Patanjali and was himself a yogi) with modern neuroscience and psychology. For me, a really practical, grounded, science-informed, and psychologically-savvy guide to inner work, and an excellent companion to asana practice.” -Julian
5. A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield
“A masterful synthesis of Buddhism and Western Psychology that again offers a compassionate and emotionally intelligent guide to the deep layers of real inner work.” -Julian
6. Positioning Yoga by Sarah Strauss
“An interesting one because it digs more into the Sivananda lineage than Krishnamacharya. Similar to Jain’s, the Yoga Sutras do not play a huge role, but the book can help modern yogis to see how distinct their aims and practices are from what was described by Patanjali.” -Colin
7. Selling Yoga by Andrea Jain
“Another one that needs to be required reading for yoga teachers. The author doesn’t talk about the Sutras very much, but she gets into how “ancient” things are reified and used to cultivate authority.” -Colin
8. In An Unspoken Voice or (the easier) Waking The Tiger by Peter Levine
“Both give a modern approach to somatic psychology or an evolutionary understanding of how psychology resides in the body via nervous system states and energy. It’s really good for modern yogis, and especially for anyone seeking to understand and work effectively with the reality of trauma in themselves (first!) or their students.” -Julian
9. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy by Sarvapelli Radhakrishnan and Charles Moore
“This is not light reading. But it provides source material from Samkhya philosophy, which is the theoretical counterpart to the Yoga school. Trying to understand the Yoga Sutras without knowing about Samkhya would be like trying to understand socialism without knowing about Marxism (spoiler alert: you can’t.)” -Colin
10. Tantra Illuminated by Christopher D. Wallis
“This is a great read for those looking to understand Tantra and its relationship to modern yoga. This book explores the history of Tantra, how it got the (inaccurate) reputation of a sex cult, and how the history of Tantra is intertwined with the history of yoga and physical asana.” -Sarah
11. The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche
“An excellent and inspiring translation of a Tantric text that stands in stark contrast (as it should) to the puritanical dualism of Patanjali—which may be more in line with asana because it comes originally from a Tantric source!” -Julian
Favorite Translations of the Yoga Sutras
In addition to the above suggestions, Colin was kind enough to offer a few of his favorite translations of the Yoga Sutras and what each version has to offer. For those looking to go full academic on us, these translations offer diverse and unique ways of interacting with the text:
Edwin Bryant’s is comprehensive and provides a number of different perspectives.
Shyam Ranganathan’s is just excellent, straight-forward academic work. Highly recommended.
Bangali Baba’s translation and commentary emphasize the mystical, esoteric aspects of the Sutras.
BKS Iyengar’s will help you understand how modern yogis view the Sutras.