I have admittedly not been writing much the last few weeks. What I have been doing instead, among other things, is reading a lot. Once in a while it's necessary to step back from the effort of output and simply receive for a while. Teachers need to be students. Artists need to be patrons. Performers need to sit in the audience. That seems obvious, yet certain of us tend to forget how imperative it is to replenish our wellspring. I know I sometimes focus too narrowly on what I'm doing -- as in creating, producing, exhibiting -- and feel a kind of inadequacy in the moments when that naturally ebbs. When you are engaged in active production of any kind there will inevitably be moments of deceleration or even stagnation. Rather than contentedly pausing to reflect or witness or restore, I often catch myself being self-critical.
That is a common experience for yogis, especially following a period of great progress. Maybe this has happened to you: you find a teacher that really resonates with you, or a practice-style that motivates and energizes you, or for some other reason you have a physical or mental breakthrough. Suddenly every practice is better than the one before, and your stiff places are softening while your weak places are stabilizing. And pose after pose feels like your new best friend. It's almost as if the asana are alive inside of you, and every day you can't wait to roll out your mat so that you can shape and reshape yourself.
Then you hit some sort of yoga wall, a plateau. It isn't that practice has stopped feeling good; you'd still rather practice than not. But it's somehow a little bit harder to get on the mat, and a little bit harder to move your body. And the challenge of learning some new pose or technique sounds more effortful than it does rousing. It happens to everybody.
There are innumerable ways to address and combat apathy. My point here isn't really to advise you on how to do so, but simply to validate it as a normal experience. I feel it on the mat and off. And for me, the best remedy is to give myself permission to stop putting forth and to just take in. One can only expend so much before revitalization becomes necessary.
Since that is where I have found myself lately -- in need of replenishment -- I thought I would share with you some of the yoga-related books I have enjoyed. Whenever I'm feeling disconnected or unmotivated, I go to the library or bookstore. And whatever I pick up almost always has the word "YOGA" in the title. This is by no means an exhaustive list; great yoga literature abounds, even fiction! If you're looking for something covering a particular topic, I just might be able to point you in the right direction regardless of the subject matter, but I personally gravitate toward history, philosophy, and anatomy. If you have a favorite which I don't mention, share it with me. And something we could all benefit from remembering from time to time is that inspiration will strike again; it always does!
First of all, I think every serious yoga teacher and student should own at least two copies of both the "Bhagavad Gita" and "Patanjali's Yoga Sutra." There are dozens of translations of both. Some have commentary, and some don't. Some very much attempt to preserve original intentions, and contexts and some present more modern interpretations. There are even some written for specific audiences -- Americans, women, youth, etc. These are my two favorite translations of each:
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This is a great work of fiction which weaves together Indian history and mythology to tell the story of the Bhagavad Gita from the perspective of Arjuna's wife. I think it's enjoyable whether or not you are familiar with the traditional telling of the story, but it is especially intriguing if you know the characters and events well. (on Amazon)
How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roache
This book uses a fictional story to present the basics of yoga philosophy, namely Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. The story is captivating, and it turns the ambiguousness of the Sutra's aphorisms into practical and relatable prose. (on Amazon)
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald
Marriage and career force the author to return to India after a failed visit in her youth. This memoir tells of her initial aversions and skepticisms, the experiences she has and relationships she forms, and her eventual appreciation of a place and culture as capable of providing happiness and fulfillment as any she could find elsewhere. It's about self-awareness, tolerance, resilience, and humility. And it's funny. (on Amazon)
Gurus of Modern Yoga by Mark Singleton
The word "guru" has become a modern term referring to anyone with even the slightest amount of knowledge or experience in some particular subject matter. Traditionally, however it represents something much more refined and powerful. These essays are a history lesson in what makes a guru, how their teachings develop, and how they're disseminated. Several teachers who have played an essential role in the development of modern yoga are included here: Swami Vivekenanda, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, John Friend, and more. This is a great book for those interested in yoga history and lineages. (on Amazon)
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Every serious yoga teacher and student should read this book at least once. (on Amazon)
Yoga and the Hindu Tradition by Jean Varenne
A short but important work on the tenets of Classical Yoga. It is philosophical and theological in nature, but clear and understandable. It serves well as an introduction to yoga philosophy for those either new to yoga or new to reading philosophy. (on Amazon)
Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom by B.K.S. Iyengar
This is Iyengar's big book of everything yoga except the asana. He expounds of philosophy, spirituality, culture and lifestyle, emotions and psychologies, and more. He makes it clearer than ever that yoga is available to anyone who wants it. (on Amazon)
Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel
Sanjay Patel is an amazing artist and author. He takes the theologies and mythologies of his childhood, and turns them into both remarkable pieces of art and modern literary interpretations. The Ramayana is a dense and intense traditional Indian story, and he makes it come alive in a fresh, page-turning way. This, along with his other equally enjoyable works, will definitely turn you on to classic Indian literature. (on Amazon)
The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope
I love Stephen Cope! I have read each of his books multiple times, and this one is my favorite. This book is about discovering your life's work and passion, and then embodying it. Fears, obstacles, peer-pressures, and responsibilities often prevent us from achieving that which is most important, most dire to our sense of individuality and self-satisfaction. Through others' success stories -- some famous and some not -- we are shown how to get out of our own way, and be exactly who we are meant to be. And when you are done with this one, be sure to read "The Quest for the True Self" and "The Wisdom of Yoga" as well. (on Amazon)
There are so many more, but I'll stop there. I may have even mentioned some of these already in previous posts. I know on at least one occasion I provided a list of books specifically related to the Iyengar method of practice (see post: "Supported and Unsupported").
Everybody needs an occasional reboot, a jolt of insight or inspiration. And yoga doesn't just happen on the sticky mat. The whole world, its experiences and phenomena, are your practice. It's just far too rich of a topic to restrain to asana. Happy reading.