The best books on the philosophy behind yoga

Courtney Seiberling Author Of YOGA's YAMAS and NIYAMAS: 10 Principles for Peace & Purpose
By Courtney Seiberling

Who am I?

The physical practice of yoga transformed my relationship to my body, but the philosophy of yoga changed my life. When I began to study the Sutras, my mind became calmer; I had a greater capacity to listen and be patient in my relationships, and my quality of life improved. As I studied philosophy more, my perspective shifted from lack and blame to abundance and self-awareness. Knowing there is more to yoga than just the physical practice, I find it important to honor the tradition the way it was intended: as a whole system for the mind, body, and spirit to reduce the suffering of all beings.

I wrote...

YOGA's YAMAS and NIYAMAS: 10 Principles for Peace & Purpose

By Courtney Seiberling,

Book cover of YOGA's YAMAS and NIYAMAS: 10 Principles for Peace & Purpose

What is my book about?

The Yamas and Niyamas are yoga's ethical principles about how to treat others and how to take care of ourselves. In the West, yoga is known as a form of exercise, but the Yoga Sutras explain it as a system to manage the mind using the Yamas and Niyamas, breathwork, postures, and various stages of meditation. My book explains each Yama and Niyama in a relatable way and then offers a physical practice, consideration, mantra, journal prompt, and personal account of how I applied each one to real life.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

By Sri Swami Satchidananda,

Book cover of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Why did I love this book?

We cannot understand what yoga is without studying The Yoga Sutras. The Sutras are the first documented text of yoga that describes how the mind works and how it gets in our way of seeing clearly. The Sutras tell us how to alter our thought patterns so we connect to the moment, see what’s really happening, and suffer less. They are the manual for the study and practice of yoga — ancient but still useful, concentrated, and meditative. They are a resource I come back to again and again and feel like an advice column from somewhere celestial. I’m partial to this translation because it was used in my teacher training, and after reading others, I find it the most down-to-earth while still honoring the tradition.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This valuable book provides a complete manual for the study and practice of Raja Yoga, the path of concentration and meditation. This new edition of these timeless teachings is a treasure to be read and referred to again and again by seekers treading the spiritual path. The classic Sutras (thought-threads), at least 4,000 years old, cover the yogic teachings on ethics, meditation, and physical postures, and provide directions for dealing with situations in daily life. The Sutras are presented here in the purest form, with the original Sanskrit and with translation, transliteration, and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda, one of…

Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā

By Swami Dayananda Saraswati,

Book cover of Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā

Why did I love this book?

The Bhagavad Gītā is the main teaching of The Mahābhārata, an early epic of Indian thought. It’s about a warrior going into battle and not wanting to fight. His charioteer Krishna becomes his spiritual advisor, and the conversation shifts from the physical battlefield to the battle each of us fights within to figure out how to live a worthwhile life. Krishna answers the fundamental questions of existence and explains why we resist, what it means to be spiritual, and how to use karma (right action) and dharma (duty) as our armaments. The text is about acting and not retreating, about doing what is in front of us to do with awareness and heart.

Many other philosophy texts can be contemplative, quiet, and heady, but The Bhagavad Gītā is exciting, dynamic, and resourceful. This translation is the one my philosophy teacher recommends, and it is true to the Sanskrit and not an individual’s beliefs. The verses are little prayers of knowledge.

By Swami Dayananda Saraswati,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The reading of the Bhagavad Gītā verses with meaning should be looked upon as a part of one's daily prayer. One can easily cover one chapter in a sitting, daily. This inspiring routine will make this book your unfailing companion."Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Book cover of The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living

Why did I love this book?

Stephen Cope is a master at using real-life examples to show how yoga can be embodied. The Wisdom of Yoga follows five friends facing struggles with work and relationships and how they use yoga philosophy to change their perspectives and approaches. Cope is magnificent at explaining Eastern thought to Westerners. His book is easy to read and allows us to look at our own lives as we witness the journeys of others.  

By Stephen Cope,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wisdom of Yoga as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For modern spiritual seekers and yoga students alike, here is an irreverent yet profound guide to the most sophisticated teachings of the yoga wisdom tradition–now brought to contemporary life by a celebrated author, psychotherapist, and leading American yoga instructor.

While many Westerners still think of yoga as an invigorating series of postures and breathing exercises, these physical practices are only part of a vast and ancient spiritual science. For more than three millennia, yoga sages systematically explored the essential questions of our human existence: What are the root causes of suffering, and how can we achieve freedom and happiness? What…

Book cover of Embrace Yoga's Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice

Why did I love this book?

Susanna Barkataki is a teacher, inclusivity promoter, and yoga culture advocate with an active social media presence who compassionately and playfully nudges the West to honor the original tradition of yoga. Her book takes many of her teachings and presents them in one place. Her wisdom is essential for anyone who wants to understand what yoga is beyond the physical practice. For Westerners, her book is a generous offering and necessary to ensure we are being reverent with the practice of yoga and not appropriating it.

By Susanna Barkataki,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Embrace Yoga's Roots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do you want to be on the cutting edge of the future of yoga?

If you desire an authentic yoga practice embracing ancient yogic philosophy and traditions but don’t know how to embody that knowledge with integrity in today’s modern yoga culture, Embrace Yoga’s Roots is your guide to honor and not appropriate yoga.

"When we mistake yoga for a workout routine, reduce it to physical fitness or even do some of the deeper aspects of yoga without an eye to the whole system of liberation it offers, we rob ourselves and each other of the potential of this practice,"…

Book cover of Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World

Why did I love this book?

Michelle Cassandra Johnson knows yoga is both a personal practice to ease suffering and one that calls on us to lessen the suffering of others. She connects the philosophy to social justice so well, it’s as though she sat alongside the original scholars of the Sutras. Her book is packed with quiet wisdom, prompts, meditations, reflection, and so much heart. It’s both a workbook and a philosophy text, a resource, and an awakening. If you can study the book with her, do. She has many online offerings. Her presence is comforting, affirming, bold, and her book reflects these qualities.

By Michelle Cassandra Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Skill in Action as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Transform your yoga practice into a force for creating social change with this concise, eloquent guide to social justice tools and skills.

Skill in Action asks you to explore the deeply transformational practice of yoga as a way to become an agent of social change and work toward a just world. Through yoga practices and philosophy, this book explores liberation for ourselves and others, while asking us to engage in our own agency--whether that manifests as activism, volunteer work, or changing our relationships with others and ourselves. To provide…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in yoga, philosophy, and social justice?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about yoga, philosophy, and social justice.

Yoga Explore 107 books about yoga
Philosophy Explore 1,395 books about philosophy
Social Justice Explore 66 books about social justice