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January Newsletter: Jo-Jo's Top 12 Yoga Books for 2021

Greetings friends!

The new year has arrived, and--at least in my personal experience-- a sense of renewal, and a little relief. Its not a stable feeling yet, but I want to be hopeful that 2021 will slowly expand into a space I can BREATH.

Back when I was in Journalism school, many of my professors would repeat the old saying "If you want to write well-written stories you have to read well-written books," and I believe this is definitely a true statement. One of my personal goals is to publish a book about yoga, specifically the energetic relationship of the doshas, the chakras & the endocrine system. I'd like to breath more life into that endeavor this year, so here I am, making it a public.

* if you've been following me for a while you may recall my 5-part blog series "Energetic Intersections" you can read it here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV & Part V

That being said, I do a lot of reading plus I have a quiet passion for research; one day I desire to share my passions for reading & research in a well-written book about yoga & ayurveda. Until then, for all you reader & researchers out there that want to take a deeper dive into various topics in yoga, meditation, ayurveda & spiritual activism, these are my book picks for you.

While I recommend 12 books for the 2021 calendar year, goodness gracious take your time reading them! All of these books encourage slow contemplation, but a number of them were page-turners--an unexpected surprise when I find myself on the edge of every page in a yoga manual. However, the point of the texts are to encourage sincere self-reflection & conscious community discourse, so if you find yourself devouring chapters it's okay but remember to slow down. Many of these books have reflection prompts; try journaling, meditating on or discussing with community the new discoveries they provoke to conscious awareness. Also, this list is in no particular order, besides alphabetic descending.

Ayurveda Cooking for Beginners

by Laura Plumb

I had the grace to learn from Laura Plumb during my ayurvedic training program, and she is a wealth of wisdom. What I love about this cookbook is its accessible & easy-to-understand recipes that are categorized not only by dish type, but by season and dosha.

Eating a wholesome Ayurvedic diet can seem perplexing, but with a cookbook like this, you can easily incorporate the life-affirming guidance of ayurveda into your weekly meal planning.

Ayurveda: Nature's Medicine

By Drs. David Frawley & Subhash Ranade

I often get the question "what's a good book to learn about the basics of Ayurveda?" This is my answer every time. This book provides a strong starting-point for understanding the foundations of Ayurveda such as the 5 elements, the 3 doshas, "prakriti" & "vikriti." In addition, Frawley & Ranade offer basic ayurvedic home remedies to balance your doshas such as herbal treatments, marma therapy and eating for your dosha.

Bhagavad Gita As It Is

translation & commentary by

AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

The Bhagavad Gita is an Ancient Indian epic parable set to the precipice of war. The tail unfolds the very human moral dilemmas of banished prince Arjuna as he discusses with Sri Krishna in disguise as his charioteer before heading into battle.

Within this classical text Sri Krishna expounds upon the practice of yoga as skillful action. Krishna councils Arjuna how to cultivate & maintain compassion, strength & discernment even when the odds appear insurmountable.

Embrace Yoga's Roots

by Susanna Barkataki

Our Western yoga community is a direct reflection of our greater society; "love & light" is not immune to systems of institutionalized oppression, colonialism & white supremacy.

Barkataki invites readers to take a deep & compassionate look into the ways we are affected by and/ or perpetuate the negative influence of cultural appropriation & erasure in Western yoga. This book takes you a step further by shining light on how to take action through the wisdom of the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

translation & commentary

This classical text is a detailed Tantric yoga manual written in the 14th century CE by the ancient rishi Svatmarama. The book is divided into 4 sections--Asana, Pranayama, Mudra & Samadhi; each explains various yogic practices ranging from how to set up your yoga "hermitage" to the six bodily purifications to attaining the highest liberation.

This is one of those types of yoga manuals that reveal deeper layers of wisdom & understanding with each period of dedicated study.

In An Unspoken Voice

by Dr. Peter A. Levine

This was a book gifted to me while I was in recovery from being hit by a car while riding my bicycle. I was a fairly new yoga teacher and being introduced to this research manual exploring the felt experience of trauma while healing from a traumatic experience was equally challenging, eye-opening & grounding.

While this book isn't specifically on yoga & trauma, it empowers readers with a groundwork of understanding how to recognize your own traumatic experiences with awareness & sensitivity.

The Heart of Yoga

by TKV Desikachar

The wisdom & knowledge in this text is presented in an understandable & accessible way that it's a common title you'll see on the required reading list of many YTT programs.

Desikachar presents the ancient knowledge of the Yoga Sutras in a format that is easy to read and includes useful diagrams, photos & illustrations. Whether you are a yoga student or teacher, this is a book you'll hold onto as the years pass.

How to Sit

by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is the best little pocket meditation guide! The book itself is no bigger than a large post-it notepad. Each page is thick with insightful reflections provided in just a few sentences. While you can read this book in a linear fashion of cover-to-cover, I also enjoy just opening up to a page and taking in the little nugget of wisdom Thich Nhat Hanh offers the reader.

Narada Bhakti Sutras

translation & commentary

by Swami Tyagisananda

Bhakti is the Yoga of Divine Love & Devotion to the Divine. In this classical text, the rishi Narada provides 84 aphorisms detailing the practice of devotion & love for the Divine, and how to invite Bhakti into your life. This particular translation includes commentary from Swami Tyagisananda of the Sri Ramakrishna ashram.

Inviting Bhakti into your practice is a beautiful opening & unfolding of devotion to the Divine, to God or to something bigger than yourself.

Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma

by Dr. Gail Parker

Even though this book focuses on Restorative Yoga as a tool for personal & community healing, it's an overall powerful read to develop a language & understanding as to what is racialized trauma, how it shows up in the mind-body, and how to cultivate caring communities & practices to aid in dismantling it.

This title is a must for yoga practitioners of all races. One of the few yoga books written by a black woman, Dr. Parker is able to offer a space of safety & bravery within the pages of her text.

Skill in Action

by Michelle C Johnson

Just as Sri Krishna expounds in the Bhagavad Gita, yoga is a skillful action that guides us through what appears to be insurmountable challenge. Johnson offers a workbook-style text to understand the inherently radical nature of yoga as a practice to create peace not only in our individual lives, but in our communities.

This book is for yoga practitioners of all races. It provides tool to create our own yogic action plan to dismantle the influences of institutionalized racism and white supremacy through the wisdom of the the 8-limb path.

The Upanishads translation by Eknath Easwaran

The word Upanishad means "to sit at the feet of the teacher," and reading the poetic, enchanting translations of the 13 major Upanishads Easwaran offers truly places readers in that curious seat of inner reflection.

The Upanishads are an ancient Vedic tradition pre-dating written history, being transcribed some time between 1500-500 BCE. Another translation for Upanishad is to "reveal underlying truths"; this text offers thousands of years of human experience and expands yogic understanding beyond the physical realm.

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