The best books on the truth of yoga

Daniel Simpson Author Of The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga's History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices
By Daniel Simpson

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.

The books I picked & why

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The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: Translation, and Commentary

By Edwin F. Bryant,

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

Why 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. 

The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: Translation, and Commentary

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…

The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation and Study Guide

By Nicholas Sutton,

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

Why 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. 

The Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation and Study Guide

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.


Roots of Yoga

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

Book cover of Roots of Yoga

Why 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.

Roots of Yoga

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…


Maya: A Novel

By C.W. Huntington Jr.,

Book cover of Maya: A Novel

Why 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. 

Maya: A Novel

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.


The Ochre Robe

By Agehananda Bharati,

Book cover of The Ochre Robe

Why 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.

The Ochre Robe

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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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