The Practice Manual
People ask me from time to time to suggest a book to help them learn more about Ashtanga yoga. My answer is always Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual by David Swenson.
I adore this book! I used it to teach myself the Primary Series before I had a real life teacher. In the years since, I’ve read many other Ashtanga yoga books, but none, in my opinion, have had the same loving, expert guidance that David offers. I’m so grateful that it was available for me to learn from and that it provided me with such a solid foundation in the true nature of the practice.
Because of his incredible wisdom and breadth of experience, David never bogs the student down with excessive philosophy and terminology. He provides just the right amount to be faithful to the method without overwhelming a new student. His posture descriptions and corresponding pictures capture both the science and the art of asana practice. He describes modifications that, years later, still inform my own practice and how I teach it to others. He is precise yet accommodating, authoritative yet deeply humble.
But perhaps what I love most about his book is that it instilled in me the simplicity of the practice. I never felt like I was reading about some complex, esoteric ancient Indian spiritual discipline that would forever elude me. Instead, he makes the practice approachable, light, and dare I say, playful. With David as my “teacher”, I believed that the practice of Ashtanga yoga could work for me. It’s like he was there with me, encouraging me to keep working, but not take myself too seriously. It was, and probably still is, the best approach to yoga that I’ve encountered.
If I sound emotionally attached, it’s because I am. You see, when I purchased his book in 2011, I was a brand new mom with very little time or money to practice at a studio with a teacher. I was home all day with a colicky baby and was desperate for more balance in my life. I had practiced some Ashtanga before my pregnancy, and I knew it was something I wanted to learn more about. Practicing with David’s manual gave me a much needed outlet for my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being during a very sensitive time in my life. It was literally a life-changer for me. He gave me the gift of Ashtanga yoga when I needed it the most. I’m forever indebted to his wisdom and kind spirit.
"Each practice is journey. Endeavor to move with awareness and enjoy the experience. Allow it to unfold as the flower opens. There is no benefit to hurrying. Yoga grows with time."
David Swenson, The Practice Manual