What you’ll need for the course:
I recommend you build yourself a notebook just for this course. Each module includes journal pages, handouts, and glossary terms. And you’ll be taking notes and recording personal reflections. You might want to have a 3-ring binder to keep it all together in one place! Module one includes a cover page if you want to get a view binder (you know, the ones with a plastic cover that you can slip a piece of paper in…)
If you’re anything like me, you love books!!
There are 3 books I would like you to have for this course:
1) The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar.
Desikachar (who died in 2016) was my main teacher’s teacher. He was the son and life long student of T. Krishnamacharya (who died in 1989 at the age of 101). Krishnamacharya was a master yogi who learned the teachings of yoga in the caves of the Himalayas and is considered guru in several currently practiced lineages of yoga. This book teaches personal practice from the perspective of viniyoga (the lineage I study and practice).
2) Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi.
Farhi is a long time yoga practitioner and teacher from New Zealand. She has studied under many great teachers and doesn’t claim a particular lineage. Several years ago I was lucky to study with her over the course of a 5-day intensive. And I have been deeply effected by her wonderful writing (she has several books). My copy of this book, which lives up to its title, is falling apart from years of use.
3) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
This ancient text is the core of our course. We will be studying the first two chapters deeply. Please obtain (at least one) translation (I list all my favorites below). Plan to bring your sutra book with you to each session.
The Bhagavad Gita.
This beloved Indian scripture is an important yogic text (it means the Song of the Lord) and I recommend that you have a copy. We won’t spend as much time with this text as we do the sutras and I can make copies of the pertinent chapters for those of you without your own translation. But if you’re a spiritual seeker, this book should be in your library!
There are many, many Upanishads (which is a word that roughly means “sitting down near”) and we’ll only be reading 1-3 of them. I’m happy to make copies. But if you get your own copy, you won’t regret it. These are beautiful, ancient, spiritual gems.
We’re reading ancient books!
And it’s important to remember that ancient books were written in ancient languages, which means we’re reading translations. The translation you choose will effect your understanding of the text. Translators are human beings and they undoubtable bring their own selves into their translation work and the commentaries they offer. So you’ll want to choose your translation with intention. I read several different translations. Here’s a bit about the versions in my library to help you choose a good option for yourself.
For the Yoga Sutras I recommend:
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer
I love this book for two reasons. One, the translation is beautiful. When I read the sutras in class, this is the book I read from. And two, while it has a useful, jam packed introduction, there is no commentary. You’re just reading the sutras, which allows you (or at least it allows me!) to get out of the head and into the heart. This is a small, lovely little book with blue text. As I said, I love this one! (But if you choose it, you might also want one with commentary.)
The Essence of Yoga by Bernard Bouanchaud
This is the newest edition in my collection and so far I love it! Bouanchaud was a student of Desikachar (who wrote the forward for the book). What I appreciate most about this book is that every sutra has personal reflection questions. This book is very user friendly and definitely designed for practitioners who want to bring yoga teachings into their everyday life.
The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras by Nischala Devi
This isn’t a translation, but an interpretation. Devi (one of my teacher’s teachers) has created a version of the sutras from her own heart after years of deep study. In a world often dominated by male voices, her perspective is welcome!
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali by Chip Hartranft
This commentary organizes the sutras in sections rather than sutra by sutra. He is writing for practitioners and I find his translation to be useful for our modern ears. He is a Buddhist practitioner, which of course, influences his understanding of yoga. So if you’re interested in Buddhism, this would be a good one for you! He explains complicated concepts well and I always find something useful in this commentary.
The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra
I recently had the opportunity to study with Ravi and I was so impressed by him. He’s funny and smart and humble. While he’s not a Christian, he has been deeply influenced by Christianity and I love the way he weaves gospel teachings with yogic teachings. He also organizes his commentary by sections. Ravi was a professor of physics and comparative religion. He studied with Desikichar, Krishnamacharya, and Krishnamurti. He considers his main teacher to be Madame de Salzmann (a student and teacher of Gurdjieff Work). Ravi is above all a seeker and his commentary is written in support of fellow seekers.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda
This commentary was written by a swami (a hindu monk), but his audience was everyday practitioners. Swami Satchidananda, one of the great masters of our era, died in 2002. One of my first teachers was his student. I’ve been to his ashram in Virginia, which is an amazing place. It’s home to the Lotus Shrine (a shrine to all the worlds religions) which has energy like I’ve never experienced. This is probably one of the most popular translations and is written to be user friendly. It has never been my favorite, but I hope that doesn’t stop you from investigating it.
The Secret of the Yoga Sutra & The Practice of the Yoga Sutra both written by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.
These books (covering the first two chapters of the yoga sutras) are written by a living master yogi. Pandit Rajmani is the spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute and is the living link in the unbroken Himalayan Tradition of yoga. They’re written for modern day practitioners. They’re in-depth and traditional, but they’re practical for modern life and quite approachable. I had the pleasure of hearing Pandaji speak when he came to Seattle a few years ago. These are great books.
How to know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
This translation was given to me and I haven’t had time to explore it very deeply. The commentary was written from a Christian perspective, so it might be a good choice if that’s your tradition (flipping through it I see references to St. Paul). One thing I’ve noticed is the translation is clearly rendered in very modern language (modern, but male) and is easily understood.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary by Edwin F. Bryant.
This was one of the first translations I read seriously. My understanding of the sutras have been deeply influenced by this book. But it’s not for everyone. It’s geared toward the academics among us… Bryant is a professor and this is a thick book. If you want a historical understanding of the sutras, including knowledge about the ancient commentators, this is your book! It’s not purely academic though. Bryant is also a practitioner (I believe he’s a follower of Krishna) and there’s much to be gained from his study.
Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali by Swami Hariharananda Aranya
I call this “the yellow book.” It’s written by a swami (a Hindu monk) and is geared toward those dedicated to ascetic practice. This book provides the deeply traditional understanding of the ancient teachings. I value it greatly and read it often. But it’s not necessarily the best option for beginners. And we (as “house holders”) are not really the audience of this book.
For the Bhagavad Gita (optional) I recommend:
The Bhagavad Gita: A Guide to Navigating the Battle of Life by Ravi Ravindra
This is so much more than a translation. This is a commentary that you could study and learn from for a long time. If you want to dive into the Gita more than we will in this course, I recommend this book!
The Bhagavad Gita introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran
Easwaran has a gift for simplifying complicated concepts and rendering ancient texts into authentic, yet easily understood language.
Penguin Classics Bhagavad Gita translated by Juan Mascaro and an introduction by Simon Brodbeck
This translation was lauded by Desikachar. I find that it keeps the majesty of the text.
For the Upanishads (optional) I recommend:
The Upanishads introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran
I repeat what I said above, Easwaran has created beautiful, accessible translations for our modern, western ears. When I read from the Gita or the Upanishads in classes, he’s usually the translator I choose!
Mentor Religious Classic: The Upanishads translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick manchester.
I don’t know if you’ll be able to find this book very easily. But if you can, grab it! I found mine at a used bookstore. This sweet little book captures the ancient wisdom and grandeur of the Upanishads.
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