Back to School, Yogis!

My pal and marathon training partner Cara (right) and I love to read.  Here we are with some of our favorite books.  Post your most inspirational reads below!

Few months of the year hold the same anticipation and excitement as September, largely because of its association with going back to school.  Right now, pencils are being sharpened, new clothes selected, notebooks organized, and class schedules reviewed.  College roommates are getting acquainted, study partners scouted, and attendance policies surveyed.

Even those of us who aren’t hitting the books often wish we were.  As an admitted nerd and one-time English teacher, I can’t help feeling a tad envious when Boston crawls with co-eds, again.  I get wistful at the sight of a bookstore window freshly arranged to display curriculum classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”  And don’t think for a moment that I’m not jumping on the knee sock fashion trend this fall.  Who says you have to enroll somewhere to dress schoolyard chic?

Likewise, who says you have to enroll somewhere to be a student?  We’re all students in some capacity, right?  Some of us are students of yoga.  Others study favorite sports or hobbies or strangers in coffee shops.  Many of us, at any given time are learning a new chapter of life, such as a relationship, business venture, marriage, or parenting.  As we age, too, studies show that minds that continue to learn new skills later in life stay more agile, longer.  For yogis, svadhyaya (study) is a key principle of the practice, cited as one of the niyamas within the 8-limbed yoga path of the Yoga Sutras.

All of this school year nostalgia got me thinking about my favorite books for spiritual education– literary companions that have bailed me out, lifted me up, or awakened me to some new insight or duh-how-could-I-forget-that! wisdom.  Here are a few of them organized to correspond with a school curriculum.  In other words, depending on which subjects you liked best in school, you might enjoy the corresponding book that pertains to yoga, wellness, or spirituality.  Happy reading!

The Syllabus: Fall 2010 Semester*


  • Yoga Anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff: If you enjoy sitting your gluteus maximus down and analyzing the architecture of the body in colorful illustrations of muscles and bones, you’ll love this yoga-oriented anatomy book.  It’s a helpful text for teachers.


  • Creative Visualization, Shakti Gawain: Truthfully, this book is an excellent resource for anyone willing to tap into their imagination to “create what you want in your life;” however, creative types might find it particularly inspiring.  I did.


  • New and Selected Poems: Volume One, Mary Oliver: With the exception of “The Buddha’s Last Instruction,” this book isn’t outwardly about spirituality, but it is, nonetheless, a marvel for the soul, especially one that loves nature.

The following books are among the most referenced and revisited in my yoga library.

  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, various translations
  • Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, B.K.S. Iyengar
  • Living Your Yoga, Judith Lasater

Home Ec.:

  • Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore: This “guide for cultivating depth and sacredness in everyday life” encouraged me to think more carefully about how I arrange my home, work, and relationships to evoke happiness rather than happenstance.

Phys. Ed.

  • Mastering Your Metabolism, Jillian Michaels: Confession?  I just dig Jillian and her no-nonsense, tough-love, tackle-life-with-abandon approach, so she made the list.  The book is good, too, and will seriously cause you to reconsider the chemicals and habits that hinder your overall wellness, not just your weight.


  • Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav: Zukav is said to have a “scientist’s eye and philosopher’s heart.”  If you can relate to either, you’ll enjoy this book.  It’s one of my most heavily underlined and highlighted (a true sign I want to remember its contents).

Political Science:

  • Bhagavad Gita, various translations: This ancient text about a warrior prince headed into battle provides a literary scavenger hunt.  Each time one reads it, there are new insights to uncover.  It inspired the likes of some of my favorite American writers of the transcendentalist era, including Henry David Thoreau.  New Age quips and contemporary sound bytes seem to pale in comparison to this essential resource from the first century.  How’s this for a timeless tidbit: “Your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man’s done well.”  Gets me every time . . .


  • Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra: These laws set people free rather than imprison them.  Reading this book might enhance your life for a maximum sentence.


  • The Eloquence of Living, Vimala Thakar: If you’re pre-med, you don’t have time to read.  Ergo, I prescribe a little 109-page dose of peace.  You can pick up and put down this tiny treasure at your own pace, and each vignette stands alone, as a poem.  No elaborate plots or heady dissertations–just a sweet, small book filled with “freshness, fearlessness, and compassion.”


  • The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck: I’m pretty sure this book shepherded me through a sh*t break-up years ago, and judging from its status as a bestseller for more than two decades, I guess I’m not alone.  You’ll love it.  Promise.



  • When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron: I cannot say enough about this book by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron for its ability to provide people with peace during difficult times.  You will treasure it.

*All books available on

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  • debbie

    Talking Back by Andrea Mitchell is fascinating. Its interesting to see how much a successful broadcaster feels she has failed.

  • meg

    what I great post! thanks for sharing such a wide variety of book/resoure recs — I love the "back to school" syllabus theme :)

  • Emily

    I would add, "How Yoga Works" for an understanding of the Yoga Sutras and "Anatomy of the Spirit" by Caroline Myss for chakra work. Both fantastic reads!

  • jeffdurham

    howdy om gal – as an ex-prof too, the back to school time of year evokes a bit of nostalgia for me as well. many of us on the yoga path are looking for that balance between practice and knowledge. it is popular to quote pattabhi jois' comment that yoga is 95% practice and 5% theory – but theory shapes practice and practice shapes theory. the two are an eternal mobius strip, and to give short-shrift to either one can be problematic. thanks for the reminder!

  • Nicole

    I have a few of these, but I wrote the others down and hope to have time to read a couple! Thank you for the great summary!

  • Om Gal

    Great suggestions, all. Keep 'em coming! Emily- how could I forget Caroline Myss? I listened to Anatomy of the Spirit via CD en route to Kripalu last year. Since I don't own the actual book, I overlooked it. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Sarah

    Hey there Om Gal! I'm the HS English teacher who made that video you posted a few months back (about my lessons from teacher training). Just wanted to say that I *love* your blog and you're a continual inspiration to me as I navigate the waters or teaching school by day and yoga by night. Thanks for sharing your journey on this blog.

  • Om Gal

    Hi Sarah! I recall the video that I tweeted not long ago. I loved it! Feel free to share it via the Facebook page ( by posting a comment. I wish you much success in the classroom, on the mat, and beyond. So happy your students have a teacher like you. Peace, R

  • Anonymous

    They are more interesting than there counterparts I find.

  • Mary McManus

    Odysseys of healing and the power of yoga :Matthew Sanford’s Waking and Ana Forrest Fierce Medicine. Thanks for a great list.