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It’s late January here in Oregon. The flat grey inversion layer hasn’t lifted in days and the hygge (the Danish word for cozy) factor is off the charts. I’m cozied up in my favorite yoga work-from-home posture: seated and propped up on the couch with two big pillows behind my back, soles of my feet touching, and my knees wide in a supported baddha konasana. A super-soft heated throw blanket is keeping me warm and grounded.

Days like this discourage me from being outdoors and instead beckon me to curl up with a good book.

This morning in yoga class someone had a question, so I hauled my go-to yoga book off the shelf. I leafed through the pages for the posture I was looking for and showed the student photos for a specific pose. After class, everyone asked me to share a link to the book. I promised I would, but after our Zoom class, my mind leaped into possibility overdrive: “Oh there’s also that other posture book, and there’s that one on yoga philosophy, plus my favorite book on breathing…” Is anyone else incapable of just sending a simple link without listing a litany of links to other books? You too? I’m glad I’m not alone.

As requested by my yogis on this dark, cold, sun-less winter day, here are the best five books for Ashtanga (eight limbs) yoga home practice that focus on yoga asana and philosophy to educate and motivate you to practice.

Five Ashtanga Yoga Asana Books

These five Ashtanga yoga asana (postures) books are good reads for before, during, or after yoga asana practice. Most of us experience yoga through the body, so I hope experiencing yoga through reading and visual imagery will be inspiring and insightful.

All of these books feature photos of the “full version” of an ideally aligned posture and alternative postures. They all touch on yoga philosophy, but the main focus is on yoga asana (postures).

I did my best to include Indian and Western authors and a mix of female and male authors for a wide array of cultural and gendered perspectives.

1. Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual by David Swenson

 

This is book is considered by many to be the “Ashtanga Bible”. Beyond the detailed content within its durable cover and pages, its best feature is that it’s spiral bound – meaning you can lay it flat during practice. It covers primary and intermediate series postures, has easy-to-view “cheat sheets” of the sequence, and suggestions for 15, 30, and 45-minute short-form sequences. This is the aforementioned book I flashed on the Zoom camera today in class (see story above). I especially like the pages on “applying the physics of flight” which have helped me a lot on jump through transitions. My copy is well-worn and a well-traveled reference book.

  • Favorite Quote: “Many practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga have found the Primary Series to be an invaluable tool to assist them in their healing process, whether it be mental or physical.”
  • Features: spiral binding, yoga asana, and philosophy
  • Series: Primary & Intermediate
  • Buy it: Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual (paperback)

2. Yoga Mala by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Mala means “garland” in Sanskrit, a metaphor for which the author links the passage of the traditional yoga lineage through the generations and the importance of breathing and movement in practice. Pattabhi Jois is credited for bringing Ashtanga yoga to the western world and its subsequent explosive growth worldwide. He and B.K.S. Iyengar learned yoga from T. Krishnamacharya who’s considered by many as the father of modern yoga. Photos of a young Pattabhi Jois are included and each posture of the primary series is demonstrated in photos by the current Ashtanga lineage holder in Mysore, India, Sharath Jois.

  • Favorite Quote: “By the strength gained through this practice, we can come to know the method for bringing the mind and sense organs under control. Thus we can achieve yoga.”
  • Features: small, easy-to-read, simple yoga philosophy and asana
  • Series: Primary
  • Buy it: Yoga Mala (paperback & Kindle)

 

3. The Power of Ashtanga Yoga (I & II) by Kino MacGregor

 

     

Kino is an American institution and has dominated social media platforms teaching Ashtanga for more than a decade. She was the youngest woman to be authorized to teach by Pattabhi Jois and has countless videos on YouTube, Instagram, and now TikTok. She teaches step-by-step postural and philosophical studies and offers up joyful sun-drenched handstands on beaches (a girl after my own heart!) I love that this book reads like a conversation with your teacher and has wide margins to take notes.

4. The Art of Vinyasa: Awakening the Body and Mind through the Practice of Ashtanga Yoga by Richard Freeman & Mary Taylor

 

Richard and Mary are my teachers’ teachers and also my teachers. I was fortunate to study online with them in 2020 in a teacher primer workshop. These two studied extensively with the Pattabhi Jois family and teach yoga from compassionate alignment- and tradition-based perspectives. This book teaches less about asana mechanics but talks about how to link asana together with the ujjayi pranayama breath to create a moving meditation. The wisdom woven in these pages is profound and includes helpful descriptions of the Sanskrit counting for each posture.

  • Favorite Quote: “Remember it’s the patterns of prana and the thoughts that ride upon them that are of interest. The mindful, meditative, step-by-counterstep process of intelligent vinyasa is the actual practice.”
  • Features: in-depth discussion of philosophy and how it relates to yoga practice as a moving meditation supported by clear descriptions and photos of alignment
  • Series: Primary
  • Buy it: The Art of Vinyasa: Awakening Body and Mind through the Practice of Ashtanga Yoga (paperback & Kindle)

 

5. Get Your Yoga On by Kino MacGregor 

Ashtanga has a reputation for being strict, scary, and only for the young, strong, and bendy which I’ve found to be true in some yoga communities. Accessibility is a core value of my teaching and I love this book because it offers alternative ways to practice Ashtanga yoga asanas with props, furniture, or smaller ranges of motion. This book is essential for anyone who wants to modify Ashtanga yoga postures to practice with limited mobility, injuries, surgery recovery, building strength, and more. Great topical inspiration for students and teachers.

  • Favorite Quote: “There is no point in stressing over things you can’t control. The more you obsess about things that are outside of the realm of your power, the more anxious and out-of-control you feel.”
  • Features: short descriptions, modifications, and alternative asanas to support bodies of all ages, stages, and abilities
  • Series: Primary & Intermediate
  • Buy it: Get Your Yoga On: 30 Days to Build a Practice That Fits Your Body and Your Life (paperback & Kindle)

 

Have you read any of these or other Ashtanga yoga asana books? If yes, leave a comment and share your thoughts! And if you’re looking for a community to practice Ashtanga yoga, check out my online yoga membership site.

Stay warm and remember: reading a yoga book counts as yoga practice (in my book, ha!)

XO,

Rachel

Rachel Drummond is a student and teacher of Ashtanga Yoga, handstand enthusiast, and writer. She enjoys practicing and teaching yoga all over the world and writing about how to bring yoga to life off the mat through contemplative physical practices.

Don't leave empty-handed!

Don't leave empty-handed!

 

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