recommended yoga readings 2018: svadhyaya

At any one time, I’m concurrently reading a slew of books: half-finished books about yoga, spirituality, meditation, brain-based research, Harry Potter and random novels litter my house. (It’s immensely more reasonable now that I have a Kindle and can check out as many e-books as I want. I can hide an entire library in my backpack!)

This natural inclination toward curiosity, seeking and reading led me to hundreds of inspiring texts when I first started teaching yoga and studying philosophy. Twelve years later, my bookshelves are bursting with insight and wisdom.

In yoga philosophy, the study of great texts is called svadhyaya and it is one of the five niyamas (personal considerations). The other niyamas are: saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (exploration) and isvara-pranidana (devotion). Svadhyaya invites serious yoga students to continue their study of yoga off the mat on your own time— seeking out wisdom from sources other than your direct teacher.

This is practiced by studying texts from your personal faith tradition, from the yoga tradition or any other work that inspires and deepens wisdom. It also means “self-study,” as in, literally studying the self.

Svadhyaya is any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness. It means developing the reflexive skill of refining your perpetual thoughts and habits (vritts) to live more authentically and in line with the yamas and niyamas.

Because I love love love books, I always have a list of recommendations — these books are approachable reads that will inspire your continued study and a happier, healthier life.

You are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh

Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein

Real Love by Sharon Salzberg

Small Victories by Anne Lamott

Finding Your True North Star by Martha Beck

The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman (this one is for sale at Westport Yoga KC — come in and grab one after your next yoga class!)

Also, check out my recommended svadhyaya reading list from 2014 (start with these books if you are interested in learning the roots of yoga.)

Happy reading, can’t wait to find out what you learned!


scrunchies are back in?!?

The thing about yoga is that is 100% meant to be learned on the yoga mat and then 110% meant to be practiced off the yoga mat. I mean, it’s not really something that I “do.” It’s something I practice. Because practice means: ‘to do that which is not yet fully accomplished.’

Yoga is something that, like being kind and courageous, I get to practice every single day of my life. I can get better at it, but I probably won’t accomplish it fully 100% of each minute, each day.

The practicing of yoga-ing, is the practice of yoke-ing. It’s the act of binding my Spirit with the Divine Light that precedes all creation and to the principles of compassion and ethical living. In the Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth used that same word: yoke. He was talking about how ‘his yoke was easy’; meaning that deciding to live out his teachings grounded in compassion was something that any body and every body could get on board with. Any body and every body is and was invited to take time to go inward, in prayer, in meditation, in mindfulness with humility and a yearning to yoke to the Divine.

“To yoga with the Divine” sounds slightly bizarre, but ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit actually means ‘yoke’ or ‘to find union with.’ So, yeah, you can yoga with goats or yoga with Pearl Jam or yoga with Sangria or yoga with whatever is the new-bizarre-yoga-class-combo popular right now (real talk: don’t ask me what is popular… I just found out that scrunchies are back in and Justin Bieber is out. For the record, I don’t like scrunchies. And I LOVE Justin Bieber.) but if it doesn’t change your heart to be more:

  1. Kind and compassionate
  2. Truthful
  3. Generous
  4. Humble and Courageous
  5. Trustworthy and Trusting

then WHAT IS THE POINT in doing yoga??

The ethical principles of yoga are called ‘yamas.’ There are 5 of them and they are the primary foundation of yoga practice and yoga living. The eight important pieces of the yoking-to-Spirit-to-discover-ease-in-mind-and-enlightenment-puzzle-called-life are often called the Eight Limbs (Limbs as in, like, limbs on a tree. Not as in, you grow extra appendages.)

For thousands of years, humans have individually and collectively asked the questions: Who am I at my deepest level of Being? How do I live my truth in this community with other flawed-but-awesome humans?

These are the questions, we, as yogis and seekers of wisdom, ask in our Yoga Practice. These are the questions that the Yoga Tradition wants us to look for on the yoga mat; and then practice our answers off the yoga mat.

Over the next few months, I’ll be leading you through the five yamas and discussing how they can positively affect your life on and off the yoga mat. We’ll discover what these ethical principles mean and how they inform our vision of self-care, of care for our families and care for our communities. Together we will learn how to yoke ourselves in mind, body and Spirit to a way of living that affirms the world is abundant, gracious, loving and sustaining.

Send me your questions about the yamas and I will do my very best to point you in the right direction.

Also, don’t forget to do your own investigating; I suggest The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga by Deepak Chopra.

Happy Yoking,


should yogis watch the news?

should yogis watch the news?

I mean, the morning/daily/nightly news is filled with disturbing, stressful stories.  And as yoga students, we are learning to transform our hearts and our minds to become peaceful, content, calm, and free from unnecessary fear and suffering.  But what we absorb from the local/national/world news is full of fear, anger, sorrow… should we even pay attention to it?  Watch it?  Listen to it?  Read it?  Recently over lunch in Waldo, my friend who is a local newscaster confided in me that her work day is focused on three things: reporting who died, reporting who almost died, and reporting who’s upset about it.  That’s grim.  And slightly unsettling.  And very disheartening.

Spending our time and energy becoming absorbed in major news events can induce stress.  A recent article on proposed that repeatedly watching the same clips of disturbing, violent images in the media can produce symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder.  You can read the full article, “Binging on Bad News Can Fuel Daily Stress”, here.

Yoga teaches us that the fullness of experiencing a life here on Earth includes experiencing the ‘good’ and the ‘bad.’  The God-Spirit is omnipresent, encompassing all things and events.  Right?  Well, not exactly, because then: yoga teaches us NOT to assign the labels ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to anything.  This is the quality of equanimity, which the Bhagavad Gita uses as the principle definition of yoga.

“Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results.  Open to success or failure.  This equanimity is yoga.”  (Mitchell’s translation of B.V. v 5.24)

Meaning, you may not be able to control everything, but you can surely control your reaction to that ‘thing.’ 

Christian theologian Thomas Merton says this: “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood whether we want it to or not” (Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master, 1992).

Meaning: here we are.  On this Earth we are in the midst of vacillating joyous and sorrowful experiences.

photo cred HM.  equanimity is a little like balancing on one foot, on the top of a mountain, in Africa.

photo cred HM. equanimity is a little like balancing on one foot, on the top of a mountain, in Africa.

So, I guess the question is this:  how do we maintain a sense of inner peace (not anger, however righteous it may be) and avoid fearful, anxious existence, even when our communities at large experience suffering or are plagued by violence?  Should we just shut off the TV (yes, I have one now, Bonyen, and I will one day watch your newscast) and never listen to the news again?  Should we become hermits (that sounds really enticing, until I remember that hermits don’t walk to their favorite Vegetarian restaurant with friends on a Monday evening) and block out all ‘bad news?’

Can we find a way to ‘stay present’ in our communities without experiencing despair?

I once heard this analogy:  If an ambulance driver responded to an outrageous car accident and immediately started freaking out, yelling about the catastrophe, weeping uncontrollably about the ‘state of things,’ and attracting an anxious/terrified crowd… who would help the victims inside the cars?  We expect a first responder to arrive at the scene of an accident and maintain serenity, choose action over fear, address the situation with loving-kindness, and offer all the help he can.  You are the first responder.  And I suppose the car accident is the news story.  (Think on that for a few days.)

So, yes, my heart hurts every time I see the front page of the newspaper covering the violent assault on Gaza and the drowning death of a young autistic boy.  It does.  But then I remember that if I didn’t know about these sorrowful events, I wouldn’t know to pray for these victims of war and this family in grief.  In fact, I purposely listen to the 4 minute newscast on my NPR app on my way to my 6:00 am classes so that I can dedicate a piece of my yoga experience to anyone I hear about on the news who needs extra support and good energy.

So I guess it goes two ways when you read the news:  you can choose desperation or you can choose hope.  

photo cred EMA

photo cred EMA

Or maybe, in the spirit of equanimity, somewhere in-between.


What do you think:  Should yogis watch the news?  How do you get your news?  How do you respond?  I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

Tell me!


P.S. Haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita yet?  You totally should.  I have two favorite translations.  The translation I used here is by Stephen Mitchell, published by Three Rivers Press, New York.



Just in case the link to the NPR blog didn’t work, here is the full URL: