Beforehand - YTT Reading Prerequisites

Illustration:  Luisa Rivera

Illustration: Luisa Rivera

When I submitted my application for teacher training at Samahita, I was asked to give them a little information about myself. This included how long I’ve been practicing Yoga, what I hope to achieve by completing the course, etc. The questions were straightforward and simple, taking me about ten minutes to answer to the best of my ability. Not long after this, I was approved. Upon paying my initial deposit, I received an email outlining my pre-coursework, which I will discuss here. Every YTT program has its own reading and practice requirements, so treat this information as an example only.

Required Reading:

The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali - No particular edition was given, although they did recommend the commentary written by Sri Swami Satchiidananda, which you can find here. I chose to utilize an edition by Edwin F. Bryant, which I found excellent. Not only did it include a thorough explanation of each sutra, but it did so utilizing commentaries from numerous other sources. It also contained a very detailed explanation of Vedic history, culture, and context, which was extremely helpful when attempting to digest some of the more esoteric, metaphysical sections.

The Bhagavad Gita - Again, no specific publication was required, but I chose to utilize the edition by Jack Hawley for its accessible yet still lyrical verse. A common problem with translations is that they fail to retain the beauty and rhythm of the original work’s native tongue. While no adaptation can completely honor The Bhagavad Gita’s original texts, I definitely felt as if Jack Hawley attempted to provide a translation that leaves as much of this seminal work’s poetry intact as possible.

An Introductory Guide to Anatomy and Physiology by Louise Tucker - While reviewing the entire book was personally useful, the sections listed as vital were those that touched on the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. I strongly recommend creating flashcards to develop a familiarity with the material. You will be learning a lot about the body; If you’re not interested in the biomechanics of Yoga, I would take a good, hard look at your expectations for teaching Yoga.

Recommended Reading:

I’m going to be brutally honest with you…I struggled with the following books. As you may have already discovered, I have an issue with “woo woo”. I strongly believe in Yoga’s health benefits, as well as its ability to foster more compassionate, selfless behavior in its devotees. I do, however, believe in science. While reading about the claimed experiences of others is useful, I firmly feel that anecdotal “evidence” should be taken as hearsay until such time that its claims are validated by solid data. Unfortunately, the books listed below failed to meet my expectations in this regard. That said, I do believe that exposure to works such as these is vastly important, if only to encourage one’s healthy skepticism.

Science of Breath by Swami Rama and Rudolph Bellentine - Firstly, let me state for the record that I found this book informative. While peppered with metaphysical mumbo jumbo, the mechanisms of breath-work as well as the outline of our cardiovascular system was, for the most part, medically sound. Everything else, however, was certifiable, metaphysical nonsense. I encourage you to seek out other books on prana that are more firmly planted in the land of scientific, evidence-based information.

Nutrition Handbook: A Daily Regimen for Healthy Living by Dr. Bernard Jensen - It would be irresponsible of me or anyone to review this publication without first stating the following: Dr. Bernard Jensen is not a medical doctor, though this book would have you believe otherwise. A chiropractor and nutritionist, Dr. Jensen made a name for himself as one of naturopathy’s earliest and most vocal advocates. For those of you who haven’t done your research, I strongly encourage you to do some digging into the fields of chiropractic “medicine” as well as naturopathy, both of which are evidenced to be, at best, useless and at worst highly dangerous. The fact that these fields are widely respected says less about their efficacy than it does about the dangerous results that arise when medicine and capitalism intersect. The practices advocated in this book range from the benign “eat more leafy greens” to the utterly irresponsible claim that all medical conditions are a direct byproduct of diet and therefore treatable at home without the supervision of a doctor. Read this book with your feet planted firmly on solid ground.

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda - Out of all the books I read before my training, this was both the most entertaining and simultaneously frustrating of them all. I realize that criticizing this well known and influential publication isn’t going to make me any friends. First released in 1946 to both International acclaim, it is considered by mani Yogis to be a foundational piece of literature. While I agree that reading it is enlightening, I found it to be less an autobiography about a historical figure and more of a terrifying example of cultism and abuse of power. Even if I were to believe the author’s wild claims, the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali clearly states that a yogi’s siddhis (supernatural powers) should never be abused for ego or personal gain (3.51). Despite this, Yogananda’s Guru (Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri) seems to use them at every turn. Becoming invisible, altering fate, delaying his own death to appease a disciple…all of these acts and more are displayed by Sri Yukteswar, seemingly without pause. This book is filled with such “eye witness accounts”, relying on the reader’s gullibility and impressionable mind to lend credibility to its fantastic assertions. I strongly encourage all practitioners of Yoga to read Autobiography of a Yogi, if only to inoculate themselves against the pure fiction one will inevitably encounter while pursuing this discipline.