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Three essential yoga texts (and two really handy ones)

Three essential yoga texts (and two really handy ones)

By Kath Walters

1. Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar

BKS Iyengar’s first book, Light on Yoga, was published in 1966, but it was on being reprinted in 1977 that it caused a big sensation. 

By then, the West has begun its fascination with yoga (due to a large degree to Guruji’s visits to Europe) and had caught up with Guruji’s wisdom and insights.

Light on Yoga has been translated into 17 languages and sold three million copies. It is without doubt one of the most inspiring and profound books on yoga ever written. I regularly return to its pages. 

Frank Jesse followed the book’s 300-week program to develop and deepen his practice. 

Iyengar went on the write another 14 books, including one on pranayama, and various aspects of yoga philosophy. 

2. Yoga Makaranda by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya 

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888–1989), who was a practitioner and highly-influential teacher of Hatha yoga, is of great interest to students of Iyengar for two reasons: 

  • ♣ He is widely acknowledged as the father of modern yoga. As well as teaching yoga for much of his 99 years, among his student are three of the most influential and innovative yoga teachers of the past century, namely:
    • o BKS Iyengar (his brother-in-law)
    • o Pattabhi Jois, founder of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and 
    • o TKV Desikachar, his son, who created Viniyoga, a highly individualised approach to yoga that tailors the practice to each student’s specific physical condition, emotional state, age, cultural background and interests.
    • ♣ Krishnamacharya is credited with reviving Hatha yoga, and inventing the practice of Vinyasa, which links the flowing sequence of postures known as Salute to the Sun with a breathing sequence.

Krishnamacharya was taught yoga by his father, and was later to study for seven and a half years with a yogi master, Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari, in a remote cave in the Himalayas. Tradition holds that at the end of his studies, Krishnamacharya asked what his payment would be. The master responded: "Take a wife, raise children and be a teacher of yoga."

At age 38, Krishnamacharya eventually found a benefactor in the maharaja of Mysore. He wrote The Yoga Makaranda in 1934 at the maharaja’s behest. Krishnamacharya’s wife reportedly revealed that the manuscript took three nights.

Through his lifetime and especially during his years with the yoga master Brahmachari, Krishnamacharya became a deep scholar of yoga, including studying the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. In the introduction to the Yoga Makaranda, he lists 27 yoga texts – apart from his own personal study and experience – as references. Many of these no longer exist.

He was reputed to know the whole of the The Yoga Korunta, an ancient text on yoga written in Sanskrit, which is now in the National Archives of India.

A deeply informative text on hatha yoga, the book also chronicles how hard Krishnamacharya worked to disseminate the teachings of yoga despite facing many difficulties. 

Here is the authoritative text on the nadis, chakras, prana, mudras, and bandhas, all the kriyas, or cleansing techniques. The eight limbs of yoga are listed, summarised and discussed, and 42 asanas are described, accompanied by photographs.

3. The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali by B.K.S Iyengar

Approximately two thousand years old, The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali is a classical yoga text. In this definitive translation and commentary, B.K.S Iyengar draws on his lifelong dedicated practice of asana and pranayama to give the reader a practical insight to the yoga sutras.

The sutras are the philosophical underpinnings of the practice of yoga, divided into four chapters, containing 196 principles (sutras) in all and provide deep insights into the purpose of yoga practice. 

It is simply remarkable to read the text and connect with the insights of Patañjali’s extraordinary mind and scholarship from so long ago.

The Yoga Sutras are said to be built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy, an orthodox and atheistic Hindu system of dualism, and are generally seen as the practice while Samkhya is the theory. 

The four books into which the sutras are divided are:

  • • Samadhi Pada -- a blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the “One”. 
  • • Sadhana Pada – practice or discipline.
  • • Vibhuti Pada -- the Sanskrit word for "power" or "manifestation". 
  • • Kaivalya Pada – meaning emancipation or liberation from the transcendental ego.

4. How to use Yoga by Mira Mehta

A classic for those who are beginning a home practice, the clear instructions and 450 precise photos in Mira Mehta’s book will give you a thorough grounding in the fundamental postures of Iyengar yoga.

The book has a lovely brief history of yoga and tribute to Iyengar, a summary of the overall principles and cautions and then details 41 postures. An excellent 10-week course reveals how to integrate the postures into your daily practice. 

There is also a valuable section on asana for common problems and conditions. It’s also really great value, with a recommended retail price around $20, but often available for less.

5. A Chair for Yoga by Eyal Shifroni

Senior Iyengar yoga teacher, Eyal Shifroni, began practicing yoga in 1978 and began teaching in 1985. A former computer science teacher, Shifroni directs the Iyengar Yoga Center of Zichron-Ya’akov in Israel and conducts yoga workshops in Israel and around the world. 

Eyal published the book: A Chair for Yoga – A complete guide to Iyengar Yoga practice with a chair at the request of many of his students, who loved his creative use of this Iyengar yoga prop.

This book is designed to help yogis improve their practice, relax into poses they find difficult, extend the range and duration of the poses safely and, for the advanced, work on challenging poses.

With 350 photos and 150 postures, the book covers sitting, standing, twisting, forward and backward extensions, inversions, abdominal asana and restorative poses.

He has written many (Hebrew) articles about the practice and the philosophy of Yoga, and translated two of B.K.S. Iyengar’s books to Hebrew (The Tree of Yoga & Light on Pranayama). 

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