Mat to Manuscript: My Top 5 Ashtanga Asana ReadsOct 05, 2023
Many students often ask me for recommendations on Ashtanga books, and it's essential to start with a candid truth: Ashtanga isn't something you can master through reading alone. It's an experiential practice, a journey that unfolds on your mat.
The most profound understanding of Ashtanga comes from immersing yourself in the practice, feeling each breath, and surrendering to the flow. I must confess, though, that even I have a bookshelf dedicated to Ashtanga literature – some volumes dog-eared from years of use, others serving as quick references, and a few that have remained unopened.
In this blog post, I'll share my top five favorite Ashtanga Asana books. While they won't replace the invaluable experience of being on your mat, these resources can complement your practice and provide valuable insights on your yoga journey. So, let's explore the wisdom these books have to offer, keeping in mind that they are companions, not substitutes, to your personal exploration of Ashtanga Yoga. But please, don't actually use these books during your practice! Nothing will take you out of your flow and pratyahara faster than opening a book and looking up the next pose.
The newest book on this list, and my inspiration for making a list in the first place, is David Garrigues' "Ashtanga Yoga Vinyasa.” This book stands out as a definitive guide to the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga, coming closest to providing a true blueprint. What sets this book apart from the rest is its unparalleled demonstration of every single asana and vinyasa within the complete Primary Series. It's the singular resource that places equal importance on both the asana and the vinyasa.
By following this book, practitioners can embark on a complete journey through the Primary Series. The book thoughtfully showcases each position within the Primary Series, illustrated by a diverse range of students with varying body types and abilities. It offers clear and concise instructions for every posture and position, even going the extra mile to elucidate the uncounted vinyasas, providing invaluable clarity for students.
Within these pages, you'll find skillfully articulated bullet-point instructions that guide you through transitions and poses, accompanied by unique and potent cues on crucial Hatha yoga principles. The book also encompasses pranayama, mudra, bandha, drishti, philosophy, Indian folklore, the five elements, and a wealth of other essential facets of the practice.
Kino MacGregor's "The Power of Ashtanga Yoga” is an exceptional resource for beginners. It’s easy to follow, so I always suggest it to students new to Ashtanga. The book begins by exploring the theoretical underpinnings and the rich tradition of Ashtanga Yoga. Kino adeptly addresses pivotal facets such as the significance of finding a suitable teacher and the profound spiritual dimension of yoga practice. What truly sets this book apart is its step-by-step approach to the Primary Series. Unlike its counterparts, Kino's book offers comprehensive instruction on how to do the postures. The Power of Ashtanga Yoga balances accessibility and authenticity, making it an easily comprehensible yet profoundly genuine guide for newcomers to the practice. Furthermore, it extends its reach beyond mere asana instructions, delving into the realms of philosophy, breath control, and meditation inherent to Ashtanga yoga. This book gives an excellent beginner-friendly introduction to Ashtanga yoga.
Lino Miele's "Ashtanga Yoga: The Yoga of Breath" may be challenging to track down, but it's unquestionably worth the effort. I received my copy as a gift from a student who traveled to Italy to study with Lino, and it's been an invaluable resource ever since.
This book serves as a comprehensive reference for yoga practitioners of all levels, demonstrating every asana in the Primary, Second, Advanced A, and Advanced B series, along with the vinyasa count. The Advanced Series in particular, can be difficult to find information on, and this book is one of my go-tos. The book features an insightful interview with Lino, a seasoned practitioner with decades of experience, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Moreover, the book showcases captivating photographs from the past, featuring luminaries like Pattabhi Jois, Sharath Jois, the old shala, and other iconic Ashtanga moments.
While it may not be the best choice for beginners due to its limited instructional content, it's an indispensable resource for experienced practitioners looking to enhance their understanding and enrich their journey in Ashtanga yoga.
Matthew Sweeney's 'Ashtanga Yoga As It Is' is your ultimate companion if you're an experienced Ashtanga yoga practitioner. Packed with over 2000 detailed photos, it's your one-stop guide to the Primary, Intermediate, Advanced A, and Advanced B sequences. I personally use it as a quick reference for asana orders.
In the latest third edition, Sweeney covers essential topics like pranayama, warming up, and core postures, and offers both traditional and fresh approaches to the practice. He also answers common questions like when to split your practice and provides a comprehensive backbend sequence. This book is a must-have for those deeply immersed in their Ashtanga journey.
David Swenson’s “Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual” is the original Ashtanga resource. This was the first Ashtanga book I bought twenty years ago and probably the most recognized. It serves as a comprehensive guide to Ashtanga yoga, focusing on both the Primary and Second Series. This manual features over 600 asana photos, all demonstrated by David. It shows every posture in both Primary and Second and offers variations to accommodate different levels. The book also offers three short-form practices. To be honest, I rarely look at this book anymore, but I did like it when I was starting out and know many students who love it, so I want to include it.
I can't miss mentioning Sharth's book, "Astanga Yoga Anusthasana," but I have no idea how you can get your hands on a copy. Mine is a decade old and falling apart. What's remarkable about it is that if you start reading it from the beginning and read it aloud all the way to the end, you'll effectively have led a counted Primary Series class.
In closing, remember that these Ashtanga Asana books are valuable aids on your yoga journey, offering insights, guidance, and inspiration. However, they can never replace the profound wisdom that comes from experiencing Ashtanga firsthand on your mat. You learn by doing and the true teacher is the practice. So, use these books as companions, but remember that the real journey unfolds when you step onto your mat and immerse yourself in the practice.
Meet me in Sayulita, Mexico for an Ashtanga Yoga Getaway. March 9 - 15. Save $200 when you register by October 15.
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