Every yogi should read. Here at Yogamatters, we firmly believe that.
We’re fully aware that in the busy modern world in which we live, many of us struggle to find the time to read anything more than tweets, Facebook updates, work emails or the instructions on our packet of instant porridge. However, we’re also conscious of the fact that if we don’t make a habit of reading regularly, we could well be missing out on the clear benefits of reading.
We could give you a whole load of general reasons why every one of us should read more, so yes, why don’t we start there?
Reading is good for your brain, increasing blood flow and improving connectivity in the brain. It increases your ability to focus and deepens your concentration. Reading introduces you to new ideas, different worldviews and other beliefs. It broadens cultural knowledge and knowledge of history. Reading inspires and feeds your imagination. Losing yourself in a good book is an excellent way to relax. Reading reduces stress. According to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people over 50, people who read books live longer.
As you can tell, we’re big fans of reading! The members of the Yogamatters team all enjoy reading a wide range of books on all sorts of fascinating subjects! However, this article is entitled ‘Seven Great Reasons Why Every Yogi Should Read’, because we also believe in the importance of yoga-related books. That’s why the Yogamatters Bookstore houses a fantastic collection of titles on yoga schools and yoga practice both on and off the mat; yoga philosophy, meditation and mindfulness; yoga resources for yoga teachers and students; recipe books for healthy living and yoga fiction for a great holiday read.
We’re not asking you to take our word for it. We contacted some experienced yoga teachers who love to read to find out why they believe every yogi should read.
Reading is important for everyone! Whether for relaxing free from screens or expanding your mind’s horizon, nothing beats a good read! Chris Jackson from Yogatherapies
So here are seven great reasons why every yogi should read.
1. Reading is a positive experience for the yogi’s mind
As yoga teacher and blogger Emma Newlyn explains, ‘Reading allows the mind to be fully engaged, and is probably the only time some of us ever stop! Whilst reading, I feel we enhance our ability to imagine, think creatively, and develop a deeper understanding of what we’re reading about.’
Training the mind to focus in this world, where information and knowledge are transient, instant and spoonfed to us in bitesize chunks, is a discipline worth cultivating. When we step onto the yoga mat, we focus on our breathing, we focus our gaze, we focus on mind body connection. Reading about the philosophy and practice of the yoga tradition engenders mental focus every time we pick up a yoga text.
Richie Norton from The Strength Temple speaks from his own personal experience about how reading yoga texts has focused his mind – ‘I was never a big reader at school. I’d struggle to sit still and was more focused on sport and anything else that prevented me from doing things sat down. Even now, I struggle to sit still long enough to read a few pages. Later in life, we realised this was more that just me loving an active life: I have ADHD and a form of dyslexia. When I discovered my love of yoga, not only did I find more focus on the reading practices, this was also the key to finding a deeper connection in my practice and teachings’.
2. Reading keeps the yogi on the right path
Many yogis commit to one school or style of yoga and can become loyal to the teaching of one particular teacher or guru. This can be a good thing, allowing the yogi to really devote himself or herself to a chosen path. However, Joey Miles from Ashtanga Yoga Leeds believes that a breadth of knowledge about diverse yoga schools and traditions can be helpful in maintaining a healthy sense of perspective –
It’s important to read about yoga because as you cross reference different sources it provides checks and balances that keeps one on the right path. More importantly by not only following one school or teacher, you can see where the real heart of the subject lies and hopefully not get lost in the jargon.
Experienced yoga teacher Anna Ashby asserts that reading offers the yogi ‘exposure to points of view other than your own.’
3. Reading takes the yogi further and deeper
Every student of yoga is exactly that: a student. Learning more about yoga takes place both on and off the mat. Yoga is more than asana; it’s about the whole of life – words, actions and thoughts. Reading is an essential part of taking yoga beyond simply a physical practice.
Reading takes us to places, thoughts and understanding that we could never make by ourselves, and allows us to savour, ponder and return again and again. Sarah Ramsden from Sports Yoga
International yoga teacher Kino MacGregor loves to read and study and often finds herself immersed in many books, asserting ‘it is the study of the Yoga Sūtras that has truly deepened my own personal relationship with the yoga tradition’. Advocate for body positive yoga, Donna Noble, values reading as ‘a great way to deepen our yoga practice and evolve it.’ And while Richie Norton recognises that it can be a very confusing and overwhelming journey to begin to study for yoga knowledge and progression, as there are so many methods and yoga practices out there, alongside the fascinating history, he believes that ‘reading books helped me connect to a deeper practice physically and mentally, changed my whole understanding of my ‘own practice’ and continues to help me teach on a more relatable level’.
4. Reading opens the yogi up to new ways of thinking
Yoga is a transformational practice, transforming the yogi on the inside as well as the outside. Each one of us has been brought up to think and react and respond in a certain way, that we may find at times is far from helpful and healthy. Every yogi should read because the study of yoga texts facilitates the renewing of the mind.
The study of sacred texts is a vital part of the yoga student’s journey. Patañjali presents svadhyaya, spiritual self-inquiry and study of sacred texts, as on of the key components of kriya yoga, the yoga of purification. By reading the texts the yoga student opens both the heart and mind to the teachings of the ancient masters. It is an essential part of understanding yoga philosophy and integrating the core teachings with your life. Kino MacGregor
Emma Newlyn is inspired by books that discuss more obscure and ancient yoga practices, and those that dive into the world of ritual and mystical medicine, because ‘these books feel like a glimpse into another dimension, and always encourage me to think differently about how I teach yoga or approach a specific meditation or physical practice’.
For Chris Jackson, reading has played a huge role in his yoga journey, ‘from connecting me to its history, to experiencing the wisdom of a breadth of teachers it would never have been possible to experience any other way. To this day there are books that I read and re-read, each time garnering new inspiration and deeper understanding.’
5. Reading gives the yogi a language to express the inexpressible
How many times as a yoga teacher or student do you find yourself lost for words? Many of the deep truths of the yogic life are so hard to put into words. That’s the work of the writer. Writers gain experience in expressing the inexpressible in ways which we all can understand and be inspired by. As we read, we find a way to communicate our own inner thoughts and experience.
I believe this is because language is so very important within yoga practice and teaching. When the people who write in ways that most inspire, they find ways to express the ideas and philosophy with mindful language; non-judgemental, creative, curiosity and with the deep understanding that comes from practice. Also, this is such a vast subject and come down the line through thousands of years of the written word. Being able to read passages from the ancients texts in the context of modern yoga helps to make sense of the lineage within this very different time. Charlotte Watts
6. Reading connects yogis with other experienced practitioners
Yoga can feel isolating at times, as Joey Miles explains, and staying connected with others around the world is vital –
We all have a very private inner universe that we explore in yoga and meditation practice. Reading other experienced practitioners articulate and share their experience can be inspiring and comforting because to be honest yoga can be a very lonely practice; through their skilful writing you realise many of us are having similar experiences.
Sarah Ramsden describes this connection as ‘meeting incredible, radical, inspiring, practice-changing teachers through their words that I would never have the chance to meet in real life!’ There’s a wealth of experience and wisdom out there waiting to be discovered as you open the pages of a work by a renowned yoga teacher or expert on meditation.
With a keen interest in yoga as therapy and where this crosses into her work as a nutritional therapist, Charlotte Watt’s reading tends to be in areas that open up the discussion: a mix of yoga, Taoism, Zen, Buddhism, quantum, trauma, neuroscience, contemporary anatomy (fascia, biotensegrity etc), philosophy, environmentalist, Jungian archetypes and systems thinkers such as Rupert Sheldrake and Fritjof Capra. As she explains, ‘it all feeds back into yoga philosophy and where we find ourselves in the modern world today.’
7. Reading inspires the yogi, both on and off the mat
This final reason why every yogi should read is key for every student of yoga, regardless of age, experience and ability. Inspiration fuels motivation. The path of the yogi is not always the easiest to follow. It requires determination and energy. Reading can provide the inspiration to keep on keeping on and the answer to the question ‘Why am I doing this again?’
Reading has inspired my personal yoga journey by helping me to gain a greater knowledge of mind, body connection. Allowing me to experience life from a inside out perspective. – and live yoga off the mat. Donna Noble
For Anna Ashby, it’s perfectly simple – ‘Books inspire me and fuel my ever ongoing enquiry into ‘What is Yoga?”
How inspiring are these insights? Now do you see why we believe that every yogi should read? None of these yoga teachers, however respected, however experienced, would claim to know it all. In fact, the more they learn, the more each one of them realises how much there is left to learn! And so it is for us. Reading and studying yoga texts will bring each one of us on in our yoga journey.
So if every yogi should read, then what should we be reading? Well, we turned to our experts, some of the avid readers among you, to find out their recommended top yoga reads.
Anna Ashby recommends The Yoga of Discipline by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda and Yoga Body by Mark Singleton.
Carolyn Cowan recommends Yoni Shakti by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli: Huge research into the roots of yoga and how it affects us as women. It is a real tome, a must-have for all women. I don’t agree with all that she says and I love this, that I have my own experiences and opinions. But I have gifted this book to many women.
Chris Jackson recommends Touching Enlightenment by Reginald Ray: The most inspirational book I have read. I read it first in the early stages of my practice when I was trying to reconcile what it was that I had been searching for within the practices I had found. Reading that book felt like coming home. To this day, the practices and the philosophy within those pages act as a cornerstone to my practice.
Kino MacGregor recommends A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield and Edwin Bryant’s Yoga Sūtra.
Joey Miles recommends The Hero’s Contemplation by Christian Pisano: my biggest inspiration these past few years.
Emma Newlyn recommends Sure Ways To Self Realisation by Swami Satyananda Saraswati: This is one of the books that has had a big influence on my development as a yoga student and teacher. Some of the practices are pretty mind-blowing and things I wouldn’t ever expect to come across in a modern day yoga class. The book is a great reminder of how expansive and magical the practice of yoga can be.
Donna Noble recommends The Bhagavad Gita.
Richie Norton recommends Yoga – Fascia, Form and Functional Movement by Joanne Avison: This book helped me connect the dots from my body building and human performance training with a more detailed look into what’s actually happening when we move. When we know how to make a better connection with our body and mind, the more powerful and progressive the practices become.
Sarah Ramsden recommends Awakening the Spine by Vanda Scaravelli: I read it decades ago and it was the first moment that I realised that the teaching and practice of yoga need to be informed by our human design! Light-bulb moment.
Charlotte Watts recommends Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit by Donna Farhi: When I was starting out, this book was a constant support to make sense of what I was learning and experiencing in classes and later within my teacher training. I have studied with Donna since and her work has been highly influential in my practice, teaching and writing. I need to add in anything by Judith Lasater too and also Tias Little’s book Yoga of the Subtle Body, which is more recent but an invaluable resource that brings in the poetry of yoga philosophy to the physical matter of the body; he is a wonderful teacher. Oh and Joanne Avison’s Yoga, Fascia and Anatomy…. Oh and John Stirk’s Original Body…
Every yogi should read. What book will you pick up today?