Last updated on November 28th, 2023.
Yoga is an ancient practice with its roots in India. The physical postures of contemporary yoga stem from the need to nourish the body and create a strong foundation for sitting in meditation (the Sanskrit meaning of asana). But physical practice is only one of the many aspects of yoga. It is a path toward holistic health and wellness—body, mind, and spirit.
It’s easy to see the many benefits that yoga has on the body and mind, but for many people who are unfamiliar with this practice, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Several yoga traditions exist and within each tradition, a new world of insight and practice. Gaining an understanding of the foundations of yoga by reading several sources is an excellent way to begin this journey. Self-study is a part of the yoga process, and it begins with curiosity and commitment to learning.
The 7 Best Yoga Books for Beginners
Between 5,000 B.C.E. and 300 B.C., the many wisdoms of yoga practitioners were compiled into a text called “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. Although disagreement exists regarding who (or what) Patanjali is, there is no debate about the sutras, or “threads”, that a practitioner weaves in order to achieve a pure heart-mind.
Before modern times, yoga was a practice that was passed down in a one-on-one setting, from teacher to student in the oral tradition. Since, modern practitioners have compiled their insights into texts in order to share the principles of yoga, sharing its benefits with anyone interested in developing their own practice.
Below is a list of the seven best yoga books for beginners:
- Light on Yoga: The Modern Bible of Yoga
- The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom
- The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga
- Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing
- The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice
- Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice
- The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice
Scroll further down for details about each of these great reads, again all of them great guides for helping you enhance your practice.
1. “Light on Yoga: The Modern Bible of Yoga”, by B.K.S. Iyengar
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (B.K.S.) Iyengar is a world-renowned expert on yoga. Born in 1918 in India, Iyengar revolutionized yoga practice by making it accessible to any body type. His use of props and other supportive teaching techniques developed into the Iyengar method, or Iyengar Yoga, which is a form of Hatha Yoga. The focus on his teachings is on alignment and refining the physical practice through consistency and dedication.
“Light on Yoga”, has also been called “The Bible of Modern Yoga”. First published in 1966, this book focuses on the physical aspects of yoga, such as asanas (physical postures) and pranayama (breathwork training). Its content consists of basic information for beginners, and its format is easy to follow and can be used as a manual for all levels.
Iyengar begins the book with an introduction to yoga and its stages, elaborating on the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga as described in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. He then goes on to elaborate on two of the limbs—Asana and Pranayama—and various techniques, tips, and methods within those practices. The best part about these sections is that he creates a list of guiding ideas regarding setting, props, and mind-body maintenance. His guides go further by discussing various body situations, such as pregnancy, post-partum, illness, and other “special provisions” (p. 59) that may scare people away from practicing yoga. In this way, he makes yoga accessible to all body types, regardless of what hurdles they may face.
Complete with 602 photographs to illustrate techniques for asanas and pranayama, “Light on Yoga” is a must-have for all eager yogis. Its appendix is organized by “courses”, which takes the practitioner through weekly practices, consisting of specific asanas, pranayama exercises, and practical tips for enhancing the yoga experience. It also includes the use of yoga to cure a variety of ailments, such as bronchitis, high blood pressure, loss of memory, colitis, and much more. “Light on Yoga” is a complete package for beginners but is also an essential tool for any level practitioner.
2. “The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom” by Melissa K. Lavery
“The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom” is a practical guide for anyone looking to use the wisdom of “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” in a way that is relative and contemporary, especially in the Western world. The focus of this book is on building a strong foundation for relationships, health, and prosperity, which will liberate the practitioner from conflict, dis-ease, and scarcity.
The author, Melissa K. Lavery, uses her unique perspective of the yoga sutras to enhance the holistic experience of living. By focusing on the Yoga Sutras, Lavery organizes this guide into three sections—relationships, health, and abundance—and dedicates five short chapters to each section. Each chapter highlights the relative sutras and how this wisdom can help the practitioner build a solid foundation in that area, laying the groundwork for personal development and providing tools to navigate life’s challenges.
Within a contemporary context, Lavery dives into topics, such as personal relationships, relationships with the Self, relationships within conflicting viewpoints, self-care, cleanliness, sleep, diet, exercise, generosity of resources, and abiding by the principles of non-theft, non-hoarding, non-violence, and truthfulness. “The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom” is an excellent first glimpse into all that yoga encompasses, bringing the roots of its ancient texts into an easy-to-follow manual for peace and power within one’s life.
3. “The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga”, by Christina Brown
This step-by-step manual, written with the beginner in mind, is an excellent source for all that is yoga. Written by experienced teacher and author Christina Brown, “The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga” explains the history of yoga, the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, how to use the body’s muscles (locks or bandhas) to enhance postures, breathing, and other techniques used while practicing.
Brown also describes the best methods for practice regarding intensity, time of day, frequency, and tips for making practice easier or more challenging, depending on individual desire. She shares personal perspectives, tips for preparation, and special accommodations so that each practitioner can make their own decisions.
The second section of this book is dedicated to physical practice, providing pictures and guiding language for the Primary Series, various types of poses (standing, twisting, seated, backbends, and inversions), relaxation techniques, breathwork training (pranayama), seals (mudras), internal energy locks (bandhas), and yoga cleansing practices (kriyas). Sections three and four help the practitioner develop sequences for specific focus and individualization. Although, you can learn mudra online, “The Yoga Bible” is a fantastic source for beginners as the information in it is comprehensive and timeless.
4. “Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing”, by Timothy McCall
Board certified medical doctor and experienced yoga practitioner Timothy McCall illuminates the curative benefits of this ancient practice in “Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing”. From a scientific and medical perspective, McCall lays the groundwork for anybody, especially beginners, to understand how to live a yogic lifestyle to heal and promote wellness.
The introduction of “Yoga as Medicine” is geared toward beginners and those interested in trying yoga. Complete with a how-to section, this book asks those seeking for an alternative therapeutic method to “take a leap of faith” and carefully crafts a science-based guide toward healing a host of dis-ease and ailments. McCall provides readers with an explanation that informs the practitioner on how to include yoga into their healthcare regimen, how to safely practice, and most importantly, how to start and stay motivated.
The third section of this book addresses specific health and body issues, such as arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, menopause, infertility, obesity, fibromyalgia, and many more common issues. McCall also describes the benefit of yoga for treating and managing anxiety, panic, and depression. This book is an essential guide for individuals who may feel that yoga is not for them because of their health concerns. But Dr. McCall flips the narrative by highlighting the necessity to practice yoga because of these concerns. It is an encouraging read for people who want to try yoga but may be apprehensive and unsure of how to start.
5. “The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice”, by Deborah Adele
Practicing yoga consists of more than physical movement (asana) and breathwork (pranayama). If one follows the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, Asana and Pranayama are the third and fourth rung on the ladder. Yama and Niyama are one and two, and together, they consist of ten concepts, or ethical practices, that support the larger context of Yama and Niyama. Together, these ethical practices refine and prepare the mind and body for physical practice and meditation.
In this book, The “Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice,” Deborah Adele provides beginners with a firm foundation for a yoga practice through her descriptions of these ethical practices. The first section describes the roots of yoga and the definitions of Yama (restraints) and Niyama (observances), and their relevance to life and a yoga practice. Describing them as “jewels”, rather than rules, Adele supports the beginner by highlighting the wisdom of these tenets.
From an encouraging and human perspective, Adele explains each nugget of wisdom and how it applies to human life, and ultimately a yoga practice. From non-violence and truthfulness, to cleanliness and contentment, “The Yamas & Niyamas” is an excellent beginners’ guide to understanding all that encompasses a yoga practice and lifestyle.
6. “Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice”, by Mark Singleton
Besides B.K.S. Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga”, much of the books in this list provide a Western and contemporary context for yoga beginners and practitioners. “Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice” is a comprehensive text that leads the learner through the history of yoga from the context of its origin in India. Not only does it use this perspective as a guide, but Mark Singleton also provides the learner context from an early European perspective, as the two cultures interacted with each other.
Although the roots of yoga are ancient, the movements that we know of and use today became popularized in the early part of the 20th Century. From its Hindu origins, yoga became a physical phenomenon and changed the Indian culture in many ways.
From an historical context, Singleton describes the events and needs of humans as cultures merged, but also as cultures held tight to their traditions. It is within this context that the culture of yoga emerged and is more closely aligned to what we may see today. Although written from this historical and geographical perspective, “Yoga Body” is an excellent source for anyone looking to learn more about the origins of yoga and how it became the popular form of fitness and movement we see today.
7. “The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice”. by T.K.V Desikachar
“The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice” truly does navigate to the heart of the matter. Not only is this text one of the more comprehensive texts about yoga, but it describes yoga as a part of something larger than itself—simply one of six fundamental systems in Indian thought. T.K.V. Desikachar takes the learner through a journey of yoga and Indian culture through interviews, photographs, and in-depth explanations that include his family and his own personal practice.
In Part I, Desikachar expands upon his personal history, knowledge, and experience by explaining the fundamentals of yoga asana practice, breathing techniques, poses and counterposes, and how yoga sequences and sessions are created. This section comes complete with illustrations and photographs, as well as an explanation about what happens internally during yoga asana.
Part II of the book dives into how to navigate the world within the context of yoga. Here, Desikachar explains how the world is constantly changing and how our minds are subject to external stimuli. It is through a personal practice, living by the ethical principles of Yama and Niyama, and participating in meditation and other key yogic activities, that one can bring the joy of yoga into their lives.
Which is the best yoga book?
All of the books in this list create a complete library for beginners’ looking to learn more about yoga. Each provides a unique perspective about various applications of yoga. It is important for individuals who are interested in expanding their knowledge of yoga to determine what interests them most, and then choose which books may best suit their needs. Every beginner is going to have different needs and interests.
An all time favorite and popular choice here has been “Light on Yoga” and while it tops our list above, if an individual is looking for the most comprehensive and easy-to-follow book for beginners on this list, then “The Yoga Bible: The Definitive Guide to Yoga”, by Christina Brown, may be the best place to start. It is recommended that individuals seek out the spiral bound version in order to use the pictures and guides as a manual for practicing yoga asana.
Can you learn yoga from a book?
Learning yoga from a book may seem counterintuitive, especially to beginners. But gaining knowledge about yoga from written text and illustrations is a useful method when first learning about this practice. Yoga encompasses an entire system of being. It is impossible to learn about the many guiding principles, techniques, and nuances of yoga in a strictly physical setting. By having a couple of yoga books as tools, a person beginning to learn about yoga can better understand the science and purpose of this timeless tradition.
The second limb of the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga is Niyama, which is Sanskrit for “observances”. One of the niyamas is svadhyaya, which translates to “spiritual study”. One of the important distinctions is that svadhyaya also refers to self-study and using yoga as a way to study one’s Self.
Committing to learning more about yoga, through the use of written text and personal reflection, is already a yogic practice in itself. It is a journey worth traveling, and it can start with opening up a book. If your practice has grown to a place you’re ready to start sharing what you’ve learned with others a natural next step is to become an instructor. If studying yoga from the comfort of your home suits your style we recommend checking out our article on the best online yoga teacher training.