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Summer Reading for Teachers

Find out which yoga books senior teachers recommend for bolstering your knowledge base and growing your teaching skills.

By Meghan Searles Gardner

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For teachers, summertime often means a bit more downtime than usual. Class attendance is a little lighter as students take vacations, the yoga conference circuit quiets down a bit, longer daylight hours provide the sense that there's more time in every day.

At the same time, hot, humid weather can make us feel like reducing our own practice to a few minutes of Viparita Kirani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose), followed by a tall glass of iced herbal tea. Although it can be a challenge to maintain a commitment to practice asana on muggy days and nights, this mellower season is a perfect time to bolster your practice of svadhaya, or self-study, through reading.

Cyndi Lee, director of Om Yoga in New York City and an avid reader, sees reading everything—from novels to newspapers—as a key part of effective teaching. "When you do yoga, you're not practicing to be the best yogi, but your best person," she observes. "I think it's good to read a lot of everything, because when you're a yoga teacher, you use a lot of language. And a lot of yoga teachers use the same words a lot of the time. By reading—including poetry and fiction—you can expand your vocabulary and bring more to your teaching."

So we've asked Lee and other leading teachers of teachers what to read at the beach, in the studio, or wherever you find yourself this summer. Our experts' picks cover a variety of topics, from teaching methodology to anatomy and physiology, philosophy and mythology—a list to help you deepen your own understanding of the many facets of yoga, so that you can share your new wisdom and insights with your own students.

Teaching Methodology

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2007). This book, which Iyengar teacher Patricia Walden recommends is not a "yoga" book per se. ButThe Courage to Teach is nevertheless "a beautiful book on the sacredness of teaching and the student-teacher relationship." The volume is part of her syllabus for teacher training.

Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for the Modern Yogi, by Zo Newell (Himalayan Institute Press, 2007). Kim Valeri, the owner/director of YOGASpirit Studios in Hamilton, Massachusetts, suggests this book because it explains the "mythological imagery of the [Hindu] deities within poses." For example, author Newell explains how Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) expresses Shiva with the moon in his hair, and why understanding that impacts the pose energetically. Through a stronger understanding of the mythology and spirituality of a pose, says Valeri, teachers can convey greater insight and mastery to their students.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness, by Chogyam Trungpa (Shambhala, 2003). This book is a favorite of David Magone, a teacher in Boston and creator of PranaVayu Yoga. Magone notes that "Trungpa's commentary on the root text 'The Seven Points of Mind Training' is a must-read for anyone interested in learning practical methods to cultivate lovingkindness and compassion for others."

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, M.D. (James H. Silberman Books, 2007). The book, also not exactly a "yoga" book, focuses on samskaras, the experiences, thoughts, and actions that form energetic "scars" on each of us. Walden notes that yoga practitioners have understood these concepts for years, but a mainstream text like this (it's a New York Times' bestseller) can help teachers frame that knowledge in a different way.

The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron (Shambhala, 2001). Director of Om Births Bec Conant calls this book a "beautifully simple explanation of the foundations of Buddhist mindfulness meditation" that can be "either a quick read full of pithy moments of wisdom, or can be read more slowly with deeper contemplation." She adds that the book provides insights for students to take beyond postures and off the mat.

The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee (Random House, 2007 Yoga Journal contributing editor Jason Crandell calls The Body Has a Mind of Its Own "a layperson's guide to understanding the chemical and neural processes that allow us to feel (and identify) our physical, embodied existence." He continues, "Without directly addressing yoga asana, it presents clear and insightful food for thought about asana, balance, proprioception, awareness, energy fields, and cognition."

The Mindful Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007) Crandell adds that The Mindful Brain is an exploration of author Siegel's analysis of the connections between contemporary neurobiology, psychiatry, and mindfulness practice. The book is sure to provide teachers with insight and points of contemplation as to how the practice of mindfulness affects the brain and, ultimately, leads to greater awareness and wellness.

Yogic Philosophy

Shakti Mantras: Tapping into the Great Goddess Energy Within, by Thomas Ashley-Farrand (Ballantine Books, 2003) Valeri says this is a great resource for teachers to deepen their understanding of Tantra, a much-cited but oft-misunderstood segment of yogic practice. The volume explains shakti, the feminine power, and how, once activated, shakti can be a force for transformation and self-discovery.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Edwin F. Bryant (North Point Press, available July 21, 2009) Walden's recommendation for deepening your understanding of the classic yoga text. In her words, "This book will end up being one of the most important books on the sutras." (Walden also has been a reader of the manuscript and says that Bryant, a professor at Rutgers University, decided to write the book because so many of his academic students had an interest in the sutras.)

Well-Being

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, M.D. (Bantam, 2002). Lee says that Northrup offers "both a scientific and a soulful way of approaching health issues so that what happens in your body is never different from what happens in your heart." Lee adds that Northup's approach is about integrating emotional, mental, energetic, and physical aspects of health to create healing, which provides teachers with insights to understand female students' bodies at all the different stages of women's lives.

Ayurveda for Women: A Guide to Vitality and Health, by Dr. Robert E. Svoboda (Healing Arts Press, 2000) is Valeri's pick as an introduction to Ayurveda, especially for those who haven't studied it in depth. She notes that this is an "easy read" and very practical, offering food-based and other remedies for physical and energetic ailments. Valeri adds that a greater understanding of Ayurveda through this book can help teachers "model the inner practices of yoga—asana alone cannot always give you what you need."

Anatomy and Physiology

Ideokinesis: A Creative Approach to Human Movement and Body Alignment, by Andr&eeacute; Bernard, Wolfgang Steinmüller, and Ursula Stricker (North Atlantic Books, 2006). David Magone praises this book provides an interesting introduction into the ways in which imagery can affect human body positioning and movement performance.

Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, by Timothy McCall, M.D. (Bantam, 2007). Walden's final addition to the list, she calls this simply "a must-read" for all yoga teachers. Full disclosure: Yoga as Medicine is a Yoga Journal book.

Meghan Searles Gardner is a freelance writer and yoga teacher in Boston. You can email her at meghansearles@yahoo.com.
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Reader Comments

ardha chandra

I have been teaching for years and return often to Erich Schiffmann's Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, especially the first ten chapters, which offer guidance into the feeling-tone of the poses and how to dance the inner dance with breath, lines of energy.

Judy Konieczny

Thank you for summer reading suggestions. This a helpful guide to readings. The volume out there is so extensive it's nice to have an experienced practitioner offer her advice and comments. A well written and useful article. I would welcome more reviews from this author.

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