For total posers

Unfurl your mat and meditate on this summer's best yoga books.

Yoga Beneath the Surface: An American Student and His Indian Teacher Discuss Yoga Philosophy and Practice

By Srivatsa Ramaswami and David Hurwitz. Marlowe and Company, $16 paperback.
Don’t have a personal guru? How about a portable one? In Yoga Beneath the Surface, Indian master Srivatsa Ramaswami elaborates on the finer points of yoga philosophy with California yogi David Hurwitz. A student of the renowned Sri T. Krishnamacharya (1888--1989), Ramaswami illuminates issues as varied as the nature of the self, the hidden benefits of poses and whether to jump back to chaturanga on an inhale, exhale or no breath at all. The conversational format is skimmable—making it handy for yogis commuting between classes—but the full experience may require the use of other reference books, notably Ramaswami’s The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga. And if you aren’t already comfortable with Sanskrit and the yoga sutras, this book will take some effort.

The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living

By Stephen Cope. Bantam Dell, $25.
All too often, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, that tome of yogic wisdom, gathers dust on earnest yogis’ bookshelves simply because it is so very esoteric. Enter senior Kripalu yoga teacher Stephen Cope, who provides much-needed Western context in The Wisdom of Yoga. Cope, also a psychotherapist, follows six people—from a hard-nosed litigator to a Berkshires gardener—in their psychological dramas. As each case study develops, Cope deftly explains how the sutras’ major terms and concepts—such as stilling the mind, building awareness and facing the false self—apply. Cope is well versed in Eastern and Western ideas and has a light touch with heavy concepts; you almost forget that this is theory. The book includes a handy English translation of the yoga sutras at the back.

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence

By Matthew Sanford. Rodale, $24.
Matthew Sanford vividly illustrates the power of mind-body connection in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. At age 13, this Minnesota native became a paraplegic when a freak car accident sent his family off an icy highway, killing his father and sister. Although Sanford went on to lead a life that included college, marriage and a family, it was yoga that ultimately helped him recover. Working with an Iyengar-trained teacher, Sanford learned to experience his unresponsive body in powerful energetic connections. He’ll never walk, but that hasn’t stopped him from teaching yoga to students both walking and disabled. If you’ve ever questioned the healing power of yoga, this fast read is for you.

The Yin Yoga Kit: The Practice of Quiet Power

By Biff Mithoefer. Healing Arts Press; book, flash cards and audio CD, $25.
Yoga is healing, yet practitioners sometimes tear knee ligaments, pull hamstrings and strain rotator cuffs while pushing themselves to perform. According to Biff Mithoefer, Omega Institute instructor and author of The Yin Yoga Kit, the culprit is too much yang, or aggressive striving. He recommends more yin, or softness and receptivity. Yin Yogis allow connective tissue and joints—especially in the lower back and pelvis—to gently stretch by holding poses for five minutes or more. The peaceful practice follows the flow of chakras, energy centers and meridians to deeply balance the body. And since Mithoefer’s kit includes a book, a programmable CD and flash cards, you can organize that peaceful practice at home.