Yoga Classics: Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar. Penguin Random House

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Years ago I was browsing in a used bookstore when something caught my eye. The idea of doing yoga had been hovering around my head and here was a book on that very topic. Opening it, I found it full of black and white images of a dignified man in small black shorts doing the most amazing things with his body. This was not a coffee table book with lush, carefully produced photos of beautiful people.

This was something grittier, something real. While I couldn't imagine doing most of the postures pictured, somehow this book felt like it related more to me than other yoga books I'd seen showing ladies in leotards. This book was Light on Yoga and it was one of the many things that inspired me to go to my first yoga class a short time later. (I didn't buy the book that day. It must have been a rare edition for it was quite expensive. Luckily I soon found it in paperback.)

First published in 1966, B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga (Yoga Dipika in Sanskrit) has become a yoga classic and a reference stable for modern hatha yoga. A must-have for any yoga practitioner's library, it remains the gold standard for its illustration and instruction of hundreds of yoga poses. Yes, there are prettier books with large color photos and newer books with more modern perspectives, but Light on Yoga remains relevant and inspirational, a primary source from one of the masters responsible for popularizing yoga in the west.

An Encyclopedia of Poses

Part I is an introduction entitled “What is Yoga?”.  Here, Iyengar discusses the history of yoga practice and philosophy, explaining each of yoga’s eight limbs.

Part II is the heart of the book, the section on asanas, which includes over 600 photographs of 200 postures. This is the place to find both the most commonly taught poses and any obscure pose you may come across.

Given the Iyengar method’s emphasis on alignment, the photographs herein have become the definitive source for correct alignment. The text accompanying each pose includes a section on technique (precise instructions on how to do the pose) and effects (the benefits of the pose and which ailments it may cure, as well as precautions). Many poses are shown with multiple variations as well as the steps you must go through to get to the full position. Instructions for engaging bandhas and kriyas are allso included in this section.

Part III covers pranayama instructions for 13 breathing techniques, including ujjayi and nadi sodhana. This is followed by two appendices, one outlining sequences of poses and the other recommending asanas for various diseases and conditions.

A Must for the Yoga Enthusiast

Even in this time when yoga styles are seeking to define themselves by taking unique approaches to alignment, Light on Yoga remains relevant. It shows us ground zero for the advent of contemporary yoga.

It also serves as a powerful antidote to the idea that yoga is for the young and beautiful or is about sculpting a perfect rear end. In 1966, Iyengar was already in his late forties. Yet who has a more admirable yoga body than this middle aged man?

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