Buddhist Books Blog

Readings and writings on Buddhism, yoga, and contemplative science

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar.  Schocken Books 1966/1994, 544 pages.

As they say of Porsches: “There is no substitute.”  Legal notices aside, every yogi on the planet could say the same for this book.  And for once in a blue moon a sensational blurb on a cover–“The Bible of Modern Yoga,” in this case–is truer than true.  If you own only one book on yoga, let this be the one.

It begins with an introduction “from the inside,” so to speak.  As has been made plain by some of my previous reviews, the background of the writer is as important as the extent of the writer’s knowledge.  Iyengar has it all.  He is Hindu born and a lifelong yoga devotee.  He studied with Krishnamacharya, widely acknowledged as the twentieth century’s greatest yoga teacher.  The view of yoga Iyengar offers in his 34 page introduction is a traditional and decidedly idealized view–that is, of yoga as a path to self-mastery and liberation.  He quotes frequently from the Hindu scriptures and freely tosses Sanskrit terminology around.  If you’re one of those who wouldn’t know adho mukha svanasana from a rare tropical disease, this may be off-putting, but if you’re serious about your yoga, you’d better get used to it.

Part II, “Yogasanas, Bandha and Kriya,” constitutes the majority of the book and is the reason why most will buy it.  Iyengar covers several hundred asanas, supplying general advice for practice as well as detailed instructions for each pose.  Every asana is accompanied by clear photos of Iyengar demonstrating the asana under discussion.  The sheer quantity of asanas is unparalleled–if there is another yoga book with this many or more asanas, I’ve yet to find it.  But it’s not just that: Iyengar’s explanations, his advice, and his illuminating notes on what the asanas actually do to the body and mind–advice obviously born from extensive experience and teaching–is also without equal.  All yoga books have some of what Light on Yoga has; none have such a complete package of quantity and quality.

Iyengar also includes a brief but illuminating section on pranayama.  However, those who wish to understand breath control in-depth are advised to consult his other masterpiece, Light on Pranayama.  I’ve not yet explored that one, but it is on my list.

If the book ended there, it would still be an unprecedented contribution to the literature of yoga.  But Iyengar goes the extra mile with two further sections: one, a complete five-year course in asanas and pranayama, graduated from rank beginner to expert level; two, a section discussing exercises for the treatment of specific ailments.  Again, most yoga books worth their salt include courses at the end; one I’ve reviewed already (Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann) is quite excellent in this regard.  But I’ve never seen anything close to what Iyengar does here.  This is why I came to the conclusion that at least for the time being, Light on Yoga is the only yoga book I need.

My Amazon rating: 5 stars



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