Ask ten different people why they maintain a yoga practice, and you just might get ten different answers. Given that the generic term “yoga” refers to an interconnected bundle of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines, this makes perfect sense: everyone comes to yoga seeking different things, and there is no universal agreement on what a yoga practice “should” be. Of course, these flexible boundaries also leave room for plenty of heated, contentious debate about who is “doing it wrong,” and if you’re interested in that sort of squabble, you can learn more here and here.
If, however, you’d rather learn a little bit more about what the library has to offer on the subject, read on. There’s something in the stacks for everybody, from the long-time practitioner to the yoga-curious bystander, so even if you’re just trying to understand why anybody would want to twist their bodies into different shapes, you’ll find something in our collection. As ever, we strongly suggest you talk to a doctor first if you have any questions about how something you read might apply to your specific situation.
We carry a pretty extensive collection of active practice books and DVDs, so consider treating yourself to a day at the library to examine the books firsthand. They are fairly popular, though, so a follow-up catalog search, by subject or keyword , can ensure you don’t miss anything. You can always consult one of our pre-made resource lists, or ask a librarian. Some of the more interesting titles I found during my own catalog search include:
The No-Om Zone: A No-Chanting, No-Granola, No-Sanskrit Practical Guide to Yoga, Kimberly Fowler. Some people avoid yoga because they think it’s “too weird” or maybe just a step further outside of their comfort zone than they’re ready to go. Fowler, who felt the same way about yoga at first, has written a book designed to allay those fears. You could call it “Yoga for Skeptics,” but beginners should take note: this book is designed for people who are already in pretty good shape from other types of workouts/sports.
Big Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger Bodies, Meera Patricia Kerr. Beauty and health come in all sizes, and so does yoga practice in this introductory volume. Kerr, who describes herself as “beefy, athletic and loud,” models a variety of adaptive poses and provides a solid introduction to yoga practice in a positive, encouraging way. Includes many photographs of people who look like actual people, having a good time working out.
Yoga for Computer Users: Healthy Necks, Shoulders, Wrists, and Hands in the Postmodern Age, Sandy Blaine. Stuck at a desk all day? Blaine’s book offers a series of poses you can do at your desk without getting funny looks–or at least, no funnier than usual–from your officemates. There’s even a longer practice sequence, designed to be done sometime after you’re off the clock, for people who routinely spend their days at a computer. The primary focus is on making stretching, mindfulness, and calm a part of your normal routine, instead of trying to shoehorn it in on top of everything else. Great for the time-pressed (and, honestly, who isn’t?).
Real Men Do Yoga, John Capouya. Designed to reassure you that you will not lose your man card if you take a class with your sweetie, Capouya’s book focuses on how yoga can be just one part of a well-rounded fitness program, and can even enhance performance by adding flexibility to the mix. Packed with commentary from professional athletes and regular joes alike, this volume focuses on the physical and mental branches of yoga, but leaves space for those who want to learn more to probe into the philosophy as well. Covers a variety of fitness levels.
Yoga Philosophy 101
Interested in the spiritual beliefs behind the physical postures? Start here:
Yoga: The Greater Tradition, David Frawley
Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Patanjali (various translations available)
Pathways to Joy, Swami Vivakanenda
Still not ready to step on a mat yourself? Pick up one of these memoirs to see what others have gained from their practice.
Will Yoga and Meditation Really Change My Life?: Personal Stories from 25 of North America’s Leading Teachers, ed. Stephen Cope
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Poses, Claire Dederer
Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment , Suzanne Morrison
Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude, Neal Pollack
Research for Skeptics
Never going to do it, but still intellectually curious about it? Call these picks, “evidence-based yoga.”
The Science of Yoga, William J. Broad
American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, Philip Goldberg
The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America, Robert Love
The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, Stefanie Syman
Whether your explanations lead you to the process of choosing a teacher/studio, a satisfying private yoga practice, or simply more knowledge than you had before you started investigating, I hope the process brings you joy. I started my own yoga practice with a library book, and am currently sampling the wonderful variety of classes, teachers and studios Pittsburgh has to offer. For those of you currently practicing, can you recommend a book, teacher, studio or type of yoga for your fellow readers to playtest?