The best books on the truth of yoga

Who am I?

I've been studying yoga in various forms since my first trip to India in the 1990s. I began as a curious tourist, attending the world's biggest human gathering (the Kumbh Mela). After working as a foreign correspondent—initially for Reuters then The New York Times—I returned to university, earning a master's degree in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation. I've since taught courses at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, on yoga teacher trainings, and via my website. The Truth of Yoga is the book I wish I'd found when I started exploring.


I wrote...

The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga's History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices

By Daniel Simpson,

Book cover of The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga's History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices

What is my book about?

Yoga is globally popular, but also often misunderstood. For example, the word “yoga” does not always mean union. In fact, in perhaps the discipline’s most famous text—the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali—its aim is described as separation: isolating consciousness from everything else. And yoga is not five thousand years old, as is commonly claimed; the earliest evidence of systematic practice dates back about twenty-five hundred years. The Truth of Yoga is a clear, concise, and accessible guide to how yoga evolved. Combining scholarly knowledge with quotations from texts, it highlights ways to keep traditions alive in the twenty-first century.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: Translation, and Commentary

Daniel Simpson Why did I love this book?

The most insightful guide to the best-known text about yoga philosophy. Among other things, it explains why yoga isn't all about "eight limbs", since the main technique is one-pointed focus and physical contortions are later inventions. Patañjali’s pithy one-liners are hard to interpret without more context. Instead of filling in the gaps to fit modern assumptions, Bryant draws on traditional commentaries to clarify meanings. 

By Edwin F. Bryant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written almost two millennia ago, Patanjali's work focuses on how to attain the direct experience and realization of the purusa: the innermost individual self, or soul. As the classical treatise on the Hindu understanding of mind and consciousness and on the technique of meditation, it has exerted immense influence over the religious practices of Hinduism in India and, more recently, in the West. Edwin F. Bryant's translation is clear, direct, and exact. Each sutra is presented as Sanskrit text, transliteration, and precise English translation, and is followed by Bryant's authoritative commentary, which is grounded in the classical understanding of yoga…


Book cover of The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation and Study Guide

Daniel Simpson Why did I love this book?

Perhaps the most relevant traditional text to a modern practitioner, presenting yoga as a way to act wisely in everyday life. Its teachings are accessibly conveyed by an accurate translation, interspersed with commentary that breaks up the text into manageable sections. Although its title means “God’s song,” it describes the divine in a variety of ways, from the fruits of meditation to loving kindness. Sutton’s clear explanations allow for a range of interpretations. 

By Nicholas Sutton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This short course sets out a detailed study of the text, philosophy, and contemporary significance of the teachings found within the Bhagavad Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita, which was spoken perhaps five thousand years ago and whose written form has been extant for over two thousand years, has continued to inspire new generations of seekers in the East and West for centuries.  Gandhi in the East and Thoreau, Emerson, Einstein, and others in the West found within its pages deep wisdom, comfort, and contemporary applications to their lives and times.  

The Gita ranks with the Bible, Dhammapada, Dao De Jing, Qu’ran,…


Book cover of Roots of Yoga

Daniel Simpson Why did I love this book?

A compendium of extracts from yogic texts, exploring how practices vary in different traditions, and how they developed over 2,000 years. Encyclopaedically written, with detailed notes, its well-structured format makes it easy to dip into. Each chapter covers one part of practice, from definitions of yoga to specific techniques, with introductory essays providing an overview. An essential reference guide.

By James Mallinson (translator), Mark Singleton (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'An indispensable companion for all interested in yoga, both scholars and practitioners' Professor Alexis G. J. S. Sanderson

Despite yoga's huge global popularity, relatively little of its roots is known among practitioners. This compendium includes a wide range of texts from different schools of yoga, languages and eras: among others, key passages from the early Upanisads and the Mahabharata, and from the Tantric, Buddhist and Jaina traditions, with many pieces in scholarly translation for the first time. Covering yoga's varying definitions, its most important practices, such as posture, breath control, sensory withdrawal and meditation, as well as models of the…


Book cover of Maya: A Novel

Daniel Simpson Why did I love this book?

Sometimes fiction speaks truer than facts. This adventure set in India in the 1970s brings to life what it means to balance yogic ideas with a Western mindset. It's a mixture of hippie idealism, academic disillusionment, and searches for meaning as things fall apart. Beautifully written and wise, it evokes the common ground between yoga and Buddhism—particularly on causes of suffering and how to transcend it. 

By C.W. Huntington Jr.,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A stunning debut novel on sex, loss, and redemption.

It is 1975 and India is in turmoil. American Stanley Harrington arrives to study Sanskrit philosophy and escape his failing marriage. When he finds himself witness to a violent accident, he begins to question his grip on reality.

Maya introduces us to an entertaining cast of hippies, expats, and Indians of all walks of life. From a hermit hiding in the Himalayan jungle since the days of the British Raj, to an accountant at the Bank of India with a passion for Sanskrit poetry, to the last in a line of…


Book cover of The Ochre Robe

Daniel Simpson Why did I love this book?

Reflections on a quest to find truth as a wandering mystic. Agehananda (whose name means "homeless bliss") was born in Austria and posted to India in World War II. He later joined an order of yogis and travelled the country asking awkward questions. This got him into trouble, and he wound up renouncing monastic life to become an academic in upstate New York. This book recounts a spiritual journey that’s also sharply intellectual. A mind-expanding read.

By Agehananda Bharati,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ross-Erikson Publishers Inc.,U.S., Santa Barbara, CA, 1980. Paperback


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By Jeffrey Dunn,

Book cover of Radio Free Olympia

Jeffrey Dunn Author Of Radio Free Olympia

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Who am I?

I’ve always been a child of the woods. I preferred to leave my home and wade a creek or explore a hillside. Nothing compared to the sight of a black snake or the feel of a mud puppy. School was a torture until an English teacher introduced me to Richard Brautigan and then read my first serious story to the class. Since then, this dyslexic nature lover has become a dream fisher and history miner with a Ph.D. in English Literature and Cultural Studies. Retired from forty-one years of teaching, I now write and publish cultural fiction.

Jeffrey's book list on where imagination and nature run free

What is my book about?

Embark on a riveting journey into Washington State’s untamed Olympic Peninsula, where the threads of folklore legends and historical icons are woven into a complex ecological tapestry.

Follow the enigmatic Petr as he fearlessly employs his pirate radio transmitter to broadcast the forgotten and untamed voices that echo through the wilderness. Venture deeper and encounter Baie, the founder of Wildsisters, a cranberry-infused roadhouse that offers solace to lost and wayward women. When a newborn is kidnapped, Baie and her community must unite to recover what has been stolen. Yet, their quest for justice extends beyond the realm of human characters—it must also be served for the fragile flora, the diverse fauna, and the very essence of the natural world.

Radio Free Olympia

By Jeffrey Dunn,

What is this book about?

Unleash the Power of the Wilderness in Radio Free Olympia


Discover the captivating allure of Washington's untamed Olympic Peninsula in Radio Free Olympia, an extraordinary literary masterpiece that immerses readers in a mesmerizing realm of visionaries, folklore legends, and historical icons. With an enchanting blend of magical realism and cultural fiction, the brilliant wordsmith Jeffrey Dunn artfully intertwines multiple narratives, crafting an intricate ecological tapestry that resonates deeply within the soul.


Embark on a riveting journey alongside the enigmatic Petr, a foundling whose path leads him deep into the heart of the majestic mountain rainforest. Armed with nothing but a…


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Interested in yoga, India, and the Bhagavad Gita?

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