Recommended reading before starting a yoga teacher training course

Recommended reading for yoga teacher training

Like with any qualification, a yoga teacher training course will have various ‘set texts’ which you are expected to read and understand. Assessments, including essays and case studies, that you will complete during the course, will test your ability to reference yoga literature, in addition to explaining key concepts in a compelling way.

While the bulk of reading will occur once the program has started – with group discussions of different books – it’s a good idea to explore some of the seminal writing concerning the history, philosophy, and science of yoga beforehand. Below is a list of suggested reading for students wishing to develop their knowledge before starting a yoga teacher training course.

  • The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
  • The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran
  • Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
  • The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga by Mark Forstater and Joanna Manuel
  • Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
  • Science of Yoga by Ann Swanson
  • Peace In Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • The Body Keeps the Score by Dr Bessel van der Kolk

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are regarded as the definitive principles of yoga theory and practice. While yoga itself is thousands of years old, the writings of Patañjali, which appeared in circa 400 BCE, were the first to outline these ancient traditions in an organised and digestible format.

There are several modern translations available today. If you’re interested in reading one, ask your course tutor which version they would recommend. As you will likely spend time reading and interpreting The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali during a yoga teacher training course, however, it’s not absolutely necessary to have read a direct translation prior to the start date.

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Bhagavad Gita or ‘Divine song’ is a sacred Hindu text which dates back to circa 200 BCE. A central theme of The Bhagavad Gita is ‘spiritual liberation’ and how one might achieve this through their actions and lifestyle choices. Its exploration of the power of selflessness was a major influence on Mahatma Gandhi.

During the book’s 700 verses, which detail conversations between Prince Arjuna and Krishna, the word yoga is mentioned over 100 times. The Bhagavad Gita’s relevance to yoga teacher training is its exploration of yoga’s different characteristics and how each one can lead to the attainment of happiness.

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

Published in 1966, Light on Yoga is considered the best generalist introduction to yoga theory and practice. As well as offering clear explanations of The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, the text provides practical guidelines (including illustrations) of 200 asanas. Sections on the anatomical aspects of yoga, as well as pranayama (breathing), are also included.

This was the book that first introduced yoga to a broad western consumer audience. And its efforts to associate yoga with good physical and mental health means it remains highly relevant for prospective yoga teachers today. A better option, too, if you find the raw philosophy a little intimidating at first.

The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga by Mark Forstater and Joanna Manuel

If you’re seeking a clear and accessible introduction to yoga philosophy, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga is an ideal place to start. Published in 2013, the book includes easy to understand explanations of the key concepts underpinning yoga theory and practice, as well as abridged translations of The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali and The Bhagavad Gita.

Co-Author, Joanna Manuel, trains yoga teachers herself. And a key motivation for her writing the book was to provide yoga teacher trainees easy access to the key yoga texts in one place, so they can avoid buying several different books. Those serious about becoming yoga teachers, however, should still read full translations of The Bhagavad Gita, etc. at some point in their careers.

Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews

A critical aspect of any yoga teacher training course is learning about anatomy and how different parts the body work. Yoga Anatomy is the ‘go-to book’ for all things concerning the anatomical aspects of yoga. First published in 2007, an updated and expanded second edition was released in 2011.

The authors provide in-depth explanations of what is occurring within the human body during yoga. Using full-colour illustrations, readers can see exactly how muscles and joints respond during different (sitting, standing, kneeling, etc.) poses. Common challenges are outlined, and information is also provided on how alterations can enhance or reduce a pose’s effectiveness.

Science of Yoga by Ann Swanson

Published in 2019, Ann Swanson’s Science of Yoga explores the physiology of 30 key yoga poses. By looking in-depth into each pose, from every angle, readers gain a deeper understanding of how the asanas affect different muscles, bones, and joints. Easy to understand descriptions and intricate full-colour illustrations help bring to the interior of the body to life.

The book also delves into recent scientific research into the benefits of yoga, including how it can help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and prevent age-related brain changes. This insight enables yoga teachers to offer real value to their students while helping them achieve technical excellence in their personal practice.

Peace In Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk and prolific writer of over 100 books on mindfulness and Buddhist teachings. Peace in Every Step (1990) explains how awareness of our body and mind through conscious breathing can help us find peace and happiness.

Using anecdotes from his own colourful and well-travelled life, Thich Nhat Hanh helps readers understand how the most mundane tasks or annoying distractions can be transformed into moments of mindfulness. Students on yoga teacher training courses will find this book useful when studying Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana.

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr Bessel van der Kolk

For those curious about how yoga can help heal trauma, The Body Keeps the Score by Dr Bessel van der Kolk is an enlightening read. Based on research into trauma’s effect on the brain and memory, the book reveals how non-drug related interventions such as theatre, play, meditation, and yoga can help trauma victims recover.

Yoga, in particular, the author argues is more effective than any medication in helping people reconnect their minds with their bodies. Understanding the healing powers of yoga enables yoga teachers to offer another dimension to their classes, providing ways to aid mental and as well as physical injury through yoga.

Additional resources

You may also find the following books on some yoga reading lists. Though, these texts are more suitable to read during or after your yoga teacher training course, rather than before it starts.

  • Roots of Yoga by Sir James Mallinson and Mark Singleton
  • Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Practice by Mark Singleton
  • The Royal Path by Swami Rama
  • The Art Of Joyful Living by Swami Rama
  • Be Here Now by Ram Dass