Reading is one of my absolute favorite activities, and I was fortunate to read a number of excellent books this year. Here I share the ten that stood out the most. Although a few of them were published in 2015, most of them are older books that I read in 2015.
Books on Yoga
The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind by Richard Freeman
This book by highly respected Ashtanga yoga teacher Richard Freeman is a beautiful, deep exploration of yoga philosophy. For anyone who feels frustrated at how yoga is sometimes treated like gymnastics or just another fitness routine, this book will be a breath of fresh air. With extraordinary insight, knowledge, and clarity, Freeman discusses topics such as the Upanishads, Samkhya philosophy, the Yoga Sutra of Panjali, the eight-limbed path of yoga, and more. His treatment of these subjects brings them to life and connects them to practice, making this a valuable gem for any serious yoga practitioner.
This book is a fantastic encyclopedia of self-care techniques using the Roll Model Therapy Balls (aka Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls). A virtual bible of self-care, this book will help you improve your posture and breathing dynamics, increase your body self-knowledge (embodiment) and proprioception, relieve pain, improve mobility, and calm your nervous system. With gorgeous color picture layouts, a multitude of routines for every area of the body is included, and for inspiration, case studies presenting effective use of these techniques for a myriad of conditions are included as well.
Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship by Donna Farhi
This book is recommended reading for teachers of iRest® yoga nidra, and I found it to be an excellent resource. Donna Farhi presents an insightful, thought-provoking, and mature analysis of ethical matters as they relate to teaching yoga. Especially useful are several examples of sensitive scenarios that may arise, including some I had not previously considered, and how one might handle them skillfully and professionally. Farhi is a skilled, clear writer, and readingama this book felt like having her as a personal mentor.
Books on Buddhism
This book is about practicing the ten Buddhist perfections (paramis): generosity, ethical integrity, renunciation, wisdom, wise effort, patience, truthfulness, resolve, loving-kindness, and equanimity. About the perfections but not about perfectionism, I found this to be an inspiring and well-written book about working at living your values with an attitude of mindfulness and self-acceptance. Buddhist teacher and author Sharon Salzberg has said that practicing meditation without attention to the ethical precepts is like vigorously paddling without untying your canoe from the shore, noting that this can be a common problem among Western practitioners. This book is a wonderful resource for more consciously bringing universal ethical principles into your practice and life.
For more about this book and the ten perfections, see my post “Bring Your Practice to Life with the Paramis.”
Nothing Holy About It: The Zen of Being Just Who You Are by Tim Burkett
This is a wonderful book about Zen by Tim Burkett, abbot of the Minnesota Zen Center and a former student of Shunryu Suzuki (author of the classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind). This fascinating book contains teachings, stories, poems, koans, and personal memories, and includes gems such as these:
“Just seeing our thoughts and stories without believing them or suppressing them, just feeling our sensations and emotions without reacting to them, is possibly the most arduous thing for a human being to do.”
“As long as we are breathing, there are infinite possibilities. A good starting point is with a question: What if I completely let go of the fear body and were released from the gloomy future it predicted? And then another question: In the absence of fear, what would I want my life to be about? And then another: In the absence of fear, what would motivate me toward that life?”
Don’t Take Your Life Personally by Ajahn Sumedo
This book is a collection of dharma talks given by Ajahn Sumedho, a monk in the Theravadan Thai forest tradition, at a yearly summer gathering held by the Buddhist Publishing Group at the University of Leicester. The talks are extremely entertaining and insightful, with a focus on awareness and mindfulness. He uses stories and clear language to make complex ideas understandable, and he always brings the topic back to experiencing the practice for yourself and trusting your own experience. As an American (born in Seattle) who studied with and was ordained by Ajahn Chah at a Thai forest monastery, and then for many years acted as abbot of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England, Ajahn Sumedho has a richly fascinating background and perspective. It was interesting to note the congruence between the teachings of iRest® meditation and Ajahn Sumedho’s teachings on awareness, just being, and the integration of awareness into every day life.
Books on Veganism
The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony by Will Tuttle, PhD
This book was required reading for Main Street Vegan Academy (MSVA), and I was blown away by the depth and thoughtfulness presented. Despite the title, this book does not go into much detail about the specifics of vegan eating; rather, it eloquently lays out philosophical, ethical, and historical issues surrounding a vegan diet. Dr. Tuttle is both convincing and compassionate, and his compassion extends to all humans as well as to the animals. This is a thought-provoking and hope-inducing piece of work.
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy, PhD
Another required read for MSVA, this book discusses the topic of carnism—the denial involved in allowing us to eat and wear some animals while loving and caring for others—both its origins, and how to overcome it. While there is a lot of compassion in Dr. Joy’s approach, she also excels in logic and clarity, which makes her book one I am likely to recommend to people I know who have a more scientific, less spiritual outlook (not that you can’t have both, of course!). This book is concise yet thorough, and I recommend it highly.
For more commentary on the above two books, see “When Did You Decide to Become a Meat-Eater?”
A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
This is a wonderful novel by writer and Zen priest, Ruth Ozeki. The novel has two narrators: a sixteen-year-old Japanese American girl named Nao who lives in Tokyo, and a Japanese American writer living on an island off British Columbia who finds Nao's diary washed up on shore sometime after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. In the diary, Nao describes her difficulties with relocating from California to Tokyo and being bullied, as well as living with her father who is depressed and suicidal. Nao also describes meeting her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, who she goes to stay with and from whom she learns zazen (meditation). The second narrator, Ruth, who feels isolated in her secluded, rural environment and who lost her mother recently, becomes deeply invested in the story and fate of Nao. With topics ranging from Buddhism to quantum physics and with interesting geographic and cultural elements, this beautifully written novel was thoroughly engrossing and stayed with me long after I finished it.
The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie
Written from the perspective of the Dalai Lama’s Himalayan cat, who is privy to enlightening conversations between his owner and his owner’s many esteemed visitors, this book is a delightful and uplifting read. As a cat owner and lover who has a deep interest in Buddhism, I was bound to love this book! The second book in the series, The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring, was equally enjoyable, and I am looking forward to reading the third.
What books made an impression on you this year?