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 OmGal.com 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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Return to Love, Marianne Williamson: Speaking of love, this book is a bit like having tea with a sage aunt who knows all the answers to life’s big questions. It’s a very healing and heartfelt read, which contains an incredible passage often misattributed to Nelson Mandela.
- 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.