If you’re like me, you’re starting to get presents ready for Christmas. Even though I personally don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, I love how it brings people together and gives me an opportunity to think about what people I care about might like as a present.
I love giving and getting books as presents because, chosen wisely, they can open a new world, spark new ideas, and maybe, just maybe, teach you something new. If you have a yogi or yogini in your life who loves to read, here are some books I’d suggest for them.
Books for the history buff yogi/yogini
David Gordon White’s Sinister Yogis led me to read his two previous books on the history and pre-history of medieval practices of yoga, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India and Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts.
What I like and relate to in his research is that he focuses on practitioners of yoga. He doesn’t analyze texts about yoga or that have influenced yoga teachers. Rather, he looks at how yoga was practiced and understood by the people who practiced yoga and the people who came into contact with yogis. Yes, the yogis he writes about are mostly men. But the story he weaves about sinister yogis who steal people’s bodies is utterly compelling, even though this is an academic book complete with enough endnotes to make its own little book.
Most compelling for me as a yoga teacher is his analysis of the different meanings of the word yoga in different textual contexts and time periods. Yes, yoga as a word and concept has existed for billions of years–but it has not always meant the physical poses we practice in contemporary yoga classes. Otherwise, how could yogis have been sinister?
Skipping from medieval India to the twentieth-century, Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice argues for the influence of Western bodybuilding and gymnastics on the development of the physical postural yoga classes we have today. Since Singleton’s research focuses on Krishnamacharya, whose students later founded Ashtanga yoga and Iyengar yoga styles, he doesn’t address all the different yoga styles currently practiced today. But for anyone interested in the roots of contemporary yoga, read this to find out more. Globalization has been happening for a long while longer than we thought.
And for those who read German, Mathias Tietke’s Yoga im Nationalsozialismus: Konzepte, Kontraste, Konsequenzen addresses the history of yoga in the 1930s in Germany. I haven’t read it yet, but from the reviews and my personal conversations with him, the book seems a vital cautionary tale. Even for those who don’t have a connection to Germany, his book addresses how the ideas of karma and discipline may be abused. These two ideas may not have anything to do with yoga but is a part of the context from which it can be taught.
For the philosophically minded
Let me just let Sakyong Mipham speak through his own words from Ruling Your World: Ancient Strategies For Modern Life:
Contemplating worldly gain and loss reveals that we spend part of our life trying to get it together, and the other part watching it fall apart. As soon as we have time-“I have a whole hour free”-we are losing it. As soon as we make a friend, we’re losing him. As soon as we have fame, it becomes tinged with notoriety. As soon as we have wealth, we’re losing it. Looking for something new to gain helps us forget to look but a few seconds back at the last thing that we lost. Fabricating this chain of desire is how we keep ourselves in samsara [the cycle of desire and suffering]. We are using instability to try to make stability. We’re investing in hope and fear, banking on denial of a simple truth: all the pleasure the world can offer eventually turns to pain. Everything we gain is subject to loss. Why do we put all that effort into gain when, in the end, we are going to lose it?
Or something practical, for those of you who are action-oriented:
When we want to pin the blame on somebody – even ourselves – the most creative thing we can do is wish that person happiness instead.
All the things you know that are true in your heart but have yet to really sit down and experience for yourself are in this book.
For the Yogi or Yogini who wants to eat healthier
Getting someone a book with the word ‘diet’ in the title might be asking for trouble, but Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark, and Live Like You Mean It! is different. It’s about feeling good and living well & sustainably rather than losing weight. She tells her awesome story of how she kicked cancer through lifestyle and eating changes. And she’s a lot of fun! Who else do you know would describe her cancer as a ‘shit pickle’? So if you know anyone who wants to make changes in what they eat, this book is a fun way to learn from someone who’s healed herself through diet changes.
For the DIY gift-giver
If you want to give a present that you make yourself, print out one of the free e-books on my Resources page. To save trees, print two pages to one sheet of paper as well as on the front and back sides of the sheet. Customize the cover with a drawing or design.
Any books on your wishlist this year that you think other yogis might like? Tell me in the comments below!
PS: And to be fully upfront, I do get a percentage of the sale from Amazon should you buy any of the books through my links.