Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

Why This Classic Still Speaks to Modern Yogis

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
Penguin Random House

Years ago, I was browsing in a used bookstore when something caught my eye. The idea of doing yoga had been bouncing around my head for some time and here was a book on that very topic. Opening it, I found it full of grainy images of a dignified man in small black shorts doing the most amazing things with his body. This was not a coffee-table book with lush, carefully produced photos of beautiful people.

This was something grittier, something real. While I couldn't imagine doing most of the postures pictured, somehow this book felt like it related more to me than other yoga books I'd seen showing ladies in leotards. The book was Light on Yoga and finding it was one of the many things that gave me the final push toward attending my first yoga class a short time later. (I didn't buy the book that day. It must have been a rare edition because it was quite expensive. Luckily, I soon found it in paperback.)

First published in 1966, B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga (Yoga Dipika in Sanskrit) has become a yoga classic and a reference staple for modern hatha yoga. A must-have for any yoga practitioner's library, it remains the gold standard for its comprehensive illustrations and instructions for hundreds of yoga poses. Yes, there are prettier books with large color photographs and newer books with more modern perspectives, but Light on Yoga remains relevant and inspirational, a primary source from one of the masters responsible for popularizing yoga in the west.

An Encyclopedia of Poses

In Part I, an introduction entitled “What Is Yoga?,” Iyengar discusses the history of yoga practice and philosophy, relying heavily on The Bhagavad Gita and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ancient sources that have become the foundation for much of modern yoga's ideology. Yoga’s eight limbs, as put forth by Patajali, are the subject of particularly detailed analysis.


Part II, the section on asanas, is really the heart of the book. It includes over 600 photographs of 200 postures. This is the place to find both the common poses taught in every contemporary yoga class and any obscure pose you may come across. Given the Iyengar method’s emphasis on alignment, the photographs herein have become the definitive reference source for ideal postural practice. The text accompanying each pose includes a section on technique (precise instructions on how to do the pose) and effects (the benefits of the pose and which ailments it may cure, as well as precautions). Many poses are shown with multiple variations as well as the steps you must go through to get to the full position. Instructions for engaging bandhas and kriyas are also included in this section.

Part III covers pranayama instructions for 13 breathing techniques, including ujjayi and nadi sodhana. This is followed by two appendices, one outlining sequences of poses and the other recommending asanas for various diseases and conditions.

A Must for the Yoga Lover's Bookshelf

Even as new types of yoga are seeking to define themselves by taking unique approaches to alignment, Light on Yoga remains relevant.

It shows us ground zero for the advent of contemporary yoga. It also serves as a powerful antidote to the idea that yoga is for the young and beautiful or is about sculpting a perfect rear-end. In 1966, Iyengar was already in his late forties. Yet who has a more admirable yoga body than this middle-aged man? The progenitors of modern yoga were not concerned with looking hot or graceful. Their yoga was curative, to be taken daily like medicine for both physical and mental health. Iyengar himself died in 2014, having practiced yoga for the majority of his 95 years. This model of life-long practice is one of his enduring contributions.

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