1) Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body — Daniel Goleman & Richard Davidson
My first recommendation is very fitting for a suggested reading list on an evidence-informed yoga blog — Altered Traits dissects the scientific research looking into the benefits of meditation. What I appreciated most about this book was the understanding the authors have in the scientific method and their ability to communicate in an accessible way. I typically find books that review science to either (a) have a firm understanding of the science but lack the ability to translate their findings in an interesting and accessible way, or (b) communicate ideas clearly and attractively but lack a solid understanding of the underlying research.
Altered Traits recounts how meditation can create changes in the brain that are both temporary and permanent. They review the scientific research that has been conducted over the past several decades looking into novice and experienced meditators alike.
2) Move Your DNA — Katy Bowman
Move Your DNA — or any of Katy’s vast array of information including her podcast, books, blog, social media etc. — is an essential read for any mover or movement teacher. And since we are all movers, this book is actually essential for everyone (in my opinion of course)! Katy has a unique ability to communicate in a fun and accessible way. Her work as a whole has changed the way I understand movement culture, sedentarism, health, and natural movement. Move Your DNA is a great introductory book to Katy’s overall thesis that forms the foundation of all her work — that is, we have evolved to require “natural movement” as a basic life necessity. Natural movement entails all the movements we have evolved to do — walking, hanging, squatting, and even breastfeeding are all forms of natural movement. She argues that our modern ailments (both physical and psychology) are at least due in part to our departure from natural movement and our unprecedented sedentarism. Throughout her work as a whole, Katy looks at a tremendous amount of topics as they relate to her overall thesis. I highly recommend absorbing as much of Katy’s work as possible and reading Move Your DNA is a great place to start.
3) The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma — Bessel van der Kolk
I first learned of Bessel van der Kolk when my friend recommended I listen to his interview on Krista Tippet’s podcast On Being (which is now one of my favourite podcasts). His interview inspired me to do more research into the mind-body connection, embodiment, and emotions. In fact, his work inspired me to write the 2-part blog series on the mind-body connection: Mind Body 1 & 2. While The Body Keeps the Score mainly discusses the mind-body connection as it relates to trauma, I also found the book to be very relatable to understanding how our past experiences shape the way we think and feel. Dr. Van der Kolk is a leader in integrating a holistic approach to trauma informed mental health care.
I specifically recommend this book for yoga teachers and practitioners because of how it has expanded my appreciation for how movement practice fits in with our mental health and well-being. In discussing how he uses bodywork to help treat his trauma patients, van der Kolk states, “Touch [is] the most elementary tool that we have to calm down [but is absent] from most therapeutic practices. Yet you can’t fully recover if you don’t feel safe in your skin. Therefore I encourage all my patients to engage in some sort of bodywork, be it therapeutic massage, Feldenkrais, or crasniosacral therapy.” In light of how medicine has traditionally marginalized these ideas, I believe van der Kolk’s approach is revolutionary.
4) 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice — Carol Horton
21st Century Yoga is a collection of essays with contributions by the likes of Michael Stone, Matthew Remski, and Melanie Klein. It’s a rare contribution to the modern yoga bookshelf in that it discusses yoga as a cultural phenomenon. The majority of yoga books available are about the philosophy, the postures, and the gurus. 21st Century Yoga explores a range of topics including feminism, body-image, spirituality, and social activism as a means to spark critical thinking in the yoga community. In the introduction, Carol Hortons beautifully summarizes yoga in North America today:
As yoga has entered the cultural mainstream, it has been adapted to reach multiple constituencies. Consequently, yoga is now taught everywhere from high-end spas to maximum-security prisons. It’s practiced to realize everything from weight loss to spiritual transcendence. Yoga is recommended by therapists and manipulated by marketing execs. Celebrities tout its health benefits while fundamentalist preachers denounce it as ‘demonic’. Really, it’s remarkable that one practice could cover so much cultural territory. Certainly it’s unprecedented in the history of yoga.
This opening sets the stage for an array of thought provoking essays that every yogi would benefit from considering.
5) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business — Charles Duhigg
Habitual patterns govern more of our lives than we are probably aware of. We have habitual thoughts, habitual behaviours, and habitual ways of moving. The practice of yoga encourages us to become aware of these habitual patterns and rather than thinking, behaving, and moving out of habitual reactivity, we learn to become more skillful and mindful. Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight or after a single asana class. Learning to identify your habitual patterns takes a lifetime of meditation and self-study (#svadhyaya). But we have to start somewhere, right? Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit is a great place to find your habit bearings. If you want to begin to transform your habits, first you need to understand where they come from and why our brains are so darn good at wiring them! Duhigg unpacks the psychology and neuroscience underlying these patterns in a relatable way. You will finish this book having a much greater appreciation everything habit and how you can begin to breakthrough the grip habits have on your life.