Summer Yoga Reading: Eight Books to Inspire Your Brain, Practice, and Smile

by Valerie Reiss

What is it about summer and books? Like kale and quinoa, they just go together. Dreamy weather plus slowing down equals perfect conditions for lazy afternoons spent reading on a beach or by a lake, or lounging in a favorite chair while the sun casts leafy shadows across the room. Ahhh.

To accompany you along this dappled road, I've gathered some of my favorite yoga-themed reads (mostly memoirs, one novel) to give your summer reading a little more intellectual and spiritual fiber. These not-hot-off-the-presses books have more substance than your average fluffy beach read, and less heft than, say, the Bhagavad Gita. All of them made me laugh at some point, and they all gave me a satisfying look at myself, yoga, and the divine.

1. Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman

This juicy novel is the story of a writer who's actually been given the assignment to author a book called Enlightenment for Idiots. A deep, witty, heartful yoga adventure in India follows.

Sneak peek: "I looked down at the river lapping at my feet. A blob of feces floated past in a swirl of marigold petals and cigarette butts. Was this holy water? A cesspool? Both? If there was anything I was learning from India, it was this: Nothing is the way it appears on the surface."

2. Yoga Bitch: One Woman's Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment by Suzanne Morrison

Funny, acid, tart, honest—if you squint (and know too much about the yoga scene), you might recognize some faces in this rich memoir.

Sneak peek: "How do you not start to congratulate yourself on being so expertly yogic, especially when you look around and see so many others flailing, cigarette in one hand, mudra in the other, chanting their petty desires and attachments to anyone who’ll listen?"

3. Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, by Benjamin Lorr

This compassionate yet ultimately damning memoir charts one man's journey through yoga trainings and competitions—intense and scathing, yet extremely entertaining.

Sneak peek: "An hour and a half of staring at ourselves in the mirror, of self-critique being masked as self-improvement, of being told we were healing because we were punishing ourselves. It was and is irresistible."

4. Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness by  Brian Leaf

A funny memoir about a young dude's yoga awakening, inspired by Kripalu Yoga. Prepare for some crudeness—and to be amused.

Sneak peek: "I was only angry because I had never advocated for myself. But now that I had bushwhacked a new path and felt free to speak up, I did not feel powerless, trapped, cornered, and resentful. My anger would pass in a flicker of expression."

5. May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind, by Cyndi Lee

If you liked this beloved teacher's great stick-figure yoga manuals, you'll love her memoir about love, body image, self-acceptance, and trust.

Sneak peek: "In my efforts to be helpful to others, I had forgotten that this vow is supposed to be two-pronged. It’s a commitment to helping all sentient beings become free and happy, including oneself. In fact, the teachings say that if you can’t be compassionate to yourself, you can’t be compassionate and caring to others. You can’t be a schmuck to yourself and then be sweet to others. It just doesn’t work like that."

6. Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude , by Neal Pollack

A candid, laugh-out-loud memoir by a writer whose unexpected yoga practice transformed him during a midlife crisis.

Sneak peek: "Lord knows I had plenty of random, useless thoughts and emotions to deposit at the anxiety bank. I didn't mind clearing my mind. But I lacked training, and Amy's words couldn't stop me from twitchily looking around the room like a guy at his first AA meeting. Either I was the only man in Texas who had a free hour at 10 AM on a Wednesday, or guys just didn't do yoga."

7. Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit, by Ana Forrest

This memoir/self-help book is more Bastard Out of Carolina than Gidget Goes Yogic, but if you're up for a gorgeous, darkly comic tale of hard-earned freedom—with fantastic yoga tips—this well-known teacher is your woman.

Sneak peek: "I was bulimic with all sorts of things. I would gorge on information and puke it back up. Dive into something indiscriminately and just cut and run. I would approach everything with the attitude, I can get through this. I can endure this. The bulimics in my workshops do Yoga the same way: Just let me push through this. I can take it. The key to overcoming bulimic behavior—in fact, any addictive behavior—is to stop, breathe, feel, discover the real need, and then feed the true hunger inside."

8. Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses, by Claire Dederer

Also a bit on the heavier side, this memoir takes us through yogic discovery, relationship calamities, and more. Good laughs and smart observations help us see ourselves in her struggles.

Sneak peek: "I thought I would do yoga all my life, and I thought that I would continue to improve at it, that I would penetrate its deepest mysteries and finally be able to perform a transition from scorpion directly into chaturanga. But here’s the truth: The longer I do yoga, the worse I get at it. I can’t tell you what a relief it is."

Valerie Reiss is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more.

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