Poetry to inspire your yoga practice: my favourite anthologies

If you’ve ever been to one of my yin yoga classes, you’ll know that I love to read poetry as part of the class – each week I pick a poem that fits with the theme of the class and read during the last pose (or sometimes, if it’s a short one, both at the start and at the end).

I didn’t actually get into poetry until a couple of years ago, when I read a few very contemporary poets, who really challenged what I thought poetry was (eg Amanda Lovelace’s “The witch doesn’t burn in this one“, Rupi Kaur’s “The sun and her flowers” and fantastic work by Ilya Kaminsky in “Deaf republic” ). None of these are necessarily appropriate for the yoga room (despite being closer to what I write myself)! But there is some amazing work out there that is really in line with yoga philosophy and I personally think works really well in a class setting.

So, without further delay, here are three poetry anthologies that can help inspire your yoga and meditation practice, with themes that are very much in line with yoga philosophy. I’ve focused on my favourite anthologies here, but there are obviously amazing yoga-inspiring poets not covered here like Rumi and Mary Oliver.

The poetry of impermanence, mindfulness and joy

This is basically my bible – the book that I use the most in my classes. It is divided into three sections that take us through a journey through accepting impermanence, adopting mindful living and living with joy.

Each section has a wealth of poems within it, from a diverse range of poets spanning different eras and parts of the world. There is a big Eastern influence here, as expected, but there are also European and American poets too. Highlights include Ron Padgett’s “Now you see it“, Wislawa Szymborska’s “Miracle Fair“, Anna Swir’s “Priceless Gifts“, untitled piece by Han Shan and multiple gems from Matsuo Basho.

Once you realize this floating life is the
perfect mirage of change,
it’s breathtaking – this wild joy at
wandering boundless and free.

Han Shan

The poetry pharmacy

The Poetry Pharmacy started out with the recognition that poetry has incredible healing powers. It is actually a real place where, yes you guessed it, your ‘pharmacist’ dispenses a poem to match your particular ailment.

The book essentially performs the same function. It is divided up into different challenges, from anxiety and depression, to feelings of unreality, inertia and insecurity, each with a poem ‘prescription’. This structure also makes it incredibly easy to navigate and find a poem that resonates based on your state of mind or, in the yoga class context, the class theme or philosophical message.

Highlights include Hafez’s “My brilliant image” and Jane Hirshfield’s “Burlap sack“.

A field of cotton –
as if the moon
had flowered

Matsuo Basho

Tell me the truth about life

Curated by Cerys Matthews, this is essentially a crowdsourced anthology of poems that explore the truth about life through different lenses. The topics are wide and varied, from modern worries, impermanence (a lot of that!) and finding joy.

I actually bought this for my mum, so I don’t own it, but I did read it before gifting it (doesn’t everyone do that?) and saved the poems that really spoke to me. It includes the incredibly moving “Summer or its end” by Yehuda Amichai (which inspired one of my own pieces of writing as it speaks to my own impermanence obsession!) and the very contemporary (and timely) “What is now will soon be past” by Yrsa Daley-Ward.

And already on the calendar there are dates
you will no longer exist in,
already a wind bringing clouds
that won’t rain on us

Yehuda Amichai

What are some of your favourite poets who write about yoga-related themes?

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