All I Want for Christmas (or birthdays)

This is my guide to yoga books and equipment to buy, to help your yoga practice.

It is written with my own students in mind, but hopefully any student of yoga will find it helpful. There are so many yoga books, video channels and expensive kit to choose from, it can be hard to tell which ones will be really helpful, so here is my guide, to help you get started.

To start with

To help you practice yoga at home, you need a basic yoga kit.
This should include a non-slip yoga mat, 2 bricks and a belt.
You should also have a blanket and if possible, 4 foam blocks (or 2+ more blankets, for shoulder stand).

You do not need expensive kit and you can improvise with household objects until you are sure you are going to use it often. But if you are buying a yoga mat, make sure that it will lie flat on the floor (not a foam camping mat, which is springy and also slippy). Look for one with a non-slip surface. Most mats take a bit of time to wear in and get grippy and some can go in the washing machine, which can help take the shine and slip off the surface.

For a developing practice

Once you have the basic kit and you use it regularly to practice at home (or attend online classes), you will want to add a bolster and then a yoga chair to your collection. Plus a second belt.

Bolsters come in different shapes and firmness. Many of us prefer to use the oldest, flattest bolsters at the studio, which is probably why the ‘oval’ ended bolster was introduced – it’s pre-flattened! It’s a matter of personal taste which one you go for, so try them out in class and see which one you like best. My own choice is the flatter, oval one. And I am not a fan of the heavy buckwheat ones.

There are 2 choices to make when buying a yoga chair (we use and recommend the ones from Yogamatters); Regular or tall height and with or without front bar.
Get a taller chair if you are tall (again, try them in your class if you are unsure). The main reason people choose a chair with no front bar (between the front legs) is if they have stiff shoulders and find it hard to get their arms under the bar in chair Sarvangasana. Unless this is a long term issue and unlikely ever to change, I would always advise getting one with the front bar. The front bar becomes very useful when you turn the chair over for backbends etc. and for learning Kapotasana and other more challenging or restorative asanas.

You might also upgrade your blankets for Indian cotton blankets. They are firmer than fleece blankets, less slippy and identical to the ones used in RIMYI, so easy to replicate the classic ‘folds’.

A good read

I love a yoga book and found them very helpful in the early days of practicing at home. When I was first learning yoga, there was no internet (way to feel old!) so I had to use books. I still use them now as they have excellent quality information. Iyengar practitioners all over the world refer to Mr. Iyengar’s classic book, Light on Yoga constantly, for his clear instructions and photos. No amount of Googling is going to replace that. But now I find I spend much more of my time reading about yoga Philosophy than asana books, so I’ve included some of those below too as they are excellent guides to living and practicing.

Asana practice books

Yoga: the Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S.Iyengar, pub. DK. A great place to start – lovely clear photos of each asana, excellent instructions, sequences to practice and for every common ailment, with mini photos, so you don’t need to keep looking back to the description of each asana. Lies flat when open (very important if you want to practice using it).

Yoga in Action: Preliminary Course
Yoga in Action: Intermediate Course I, 
by Geeta S. Iyengar. This is the basic syllabus of any Iyengar yoga school and is based on what they teach at our parent institute, Ramāmani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. Simple, spiral bound (lies flat when open) and great instructions. If you attend an Iyengar class, this will all be familiar to you.

The Woman’s Yoga Book, by Bobby Clennell. Not just for women, this book has lovely illustrations (by Bobby Clennell herself) and a great layout. Again, the sequences are illustrated, which makes it easy to use. Particularly useful if you menstruate!

Light on Yoga, by BKS Iyengar. The ‘bible’ of yoga, this book is essential for the serious yogi. “The classic guide to yoga from the world’s foremost authority” it says on the front and few would disagree. First published in 1966 and still the main reference book for Asana all over the world. Many yoga questions are answered by a sentence beginning “It says in Light on Yoga….”

Arogya Yoga, by BKS Iyengar. This book is only recently available in English and it’s a real treasure. It is a collection of articles written by Mr. Iyengar for an Indian newspaper supplement, so it is very accessible and practical. It includes instructions for 45 asanas plus chapters on Śavāsana, Prānāyāma and Dhyāna.

Yoga philosophy books

Light on Life, by BKS Iyengar. Published in 2005, this book is full of practical wisdom for living. Open it on any page at random and you will find something useful. But read it from cover to cover to absorb a lifetime’s learning from someone who really understood what it is to be human. Very readable – my copy is getting worn and is much underlined. A great introduction to applying yoga philosophy in practice.

The Tree of Yoga, BKS Iyengar. Outlines the philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga – the 8 limbs. While Light on Life reflects a whole lifetime of learning, this book was published in 1988, and serves as an introduction to applying yoga wisdom to daily life. It is also very readable and one I return to often.

Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, BKS Iyengar. This is an accessible text on the Yoga Sutras. Good to dip into but you may find one sutra leads to another! Any serious student of yoga will eventually be drawn to reading Patanjali and this is a great way to start.

Chittavijnana of Yogasanas, Prashant Iyengar. This might be a bit of a jump but I’ve been reading from it in some of my classes recently and some of my students have asked about it, so I’m including it. It is written by Mr. Iyengar’s son, Prashant, who directs the RIMYI in Pune and I think it is one of his more accessible books. It is a very practical application of the philosophy in yoga practice but I would advise to read a small section at a time and then meditatate on it in your practice.

That should be enough to keep you going for several years! As you dip deeper into your study of Yoga, you will find that it will take several lifetimes to explore but that is why it is such an interesting subject.