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6 Best Books on Pranayama & Yoga Breathing Techniques


Last updated: April 29, 2024

  • Eager to incorporate breath control into your yoga practice?

  • Good pranayama books can be a valuable learning resource

  • Below, we list the six best books on pranayama you can buy online

  • Also, check out our guide to the Best Books on Mindfulness

Yoga students practicing pranayama breathing

A Quick Look at the Top 6 Pranayama Books

Pranayama, also known as breath control, is a core component of every yoga lineage, including Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and Ashtanga Vinyasa. Put simply, pranayama encompasses a set of yoga-based breathing techniques, typically introduced after a yogi has attained proficiency in asana (poses). The primary objective of practicing pranayama is to develop control over flow of energy within the body, cultivating the ability to use it for various spiritual outcomes. Moreover, research shows pranayama is an equally effective tool for reducing stress and preventing or managing various health conditions.

With so many good pranayama books on the market, it can be challenging to find the perfect one for you. Besides, there are discrepancies in what people define as the "best," as some readers desire clear, actionable instructions while others prefer more comprehensive texts covering the theory and philosophy of yoga breathing. Whatever your practice style and preference, we've curated six classic books that can serve as valuable resources to incorporate pranayama into your yoga practice.

Selection Criteria

Our key considerations for selecting the best pranayama books are:

  • Structured Content: We prioritized pranayama books with well-organized content and step-by-step instructions, accompanied by visuals and practice plans.

  • Accessibility: Approachable language and clarity were key considerations to ensure each book is accessible to yoga students of all levels and backgrounds.

  • Authenticity: The books provide accurate instructions based on classic yoga texts. 

  • Reputation: Our list contains books written by prominent yogis and gurus.

  • Popularity: The pranayama books on this list are backed positive reviews from yoga students and used as teaching resources by yoga instructors.

That being said, here are the best books to learn pranayama that you can buy today.


6 Best Pranayama Books For Yoga Aspirants


1. Best overall: Light on Pranayama

"Hands-down the most comprehensive book to learn pranayama at your own pace."

Book cover front of "Light on Pranayama" by B.K.S. Iyengar

In his 50+ years of service to the yoga community, B. K. S. Iyengar played a crucial role in popularizing yoga worldwide. He was awarded the three highest civilian honors in India and listed as Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2004.

Iyengar has taught millions of people through his videos, books, and centers all over the globe. His books like "Light on Yoga" and "The Path to Holistic Health" are revered modern classics and have consistently ranked as bestsellers across continents.

Book Review

In our view, 'Light on Pranayama' is the ultimate pranayama compendium for yoga students of all levels. It covers everything you'd want to know about yoga breathing, and if at all, one could fault it for having an overwhelming amount of information. Fortunately, the information is presented in a highly systematic and organized manner, making it easy to understand and implement.

The first section of this pranayama book covers the theory, thoroughly explaining fundamental concepts of prana (life-energy force), nadis (energy pathways), chakras (energy centers), and the effects of pranayama breathing on our body. The second section covers supplementary topics, such as the best postures for pranayama, the art of inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention, building a foundation for your practice, and how to use mudras (hand gestures) and bandhas (body locks).

After explaning all the foundational aspects of yoga breathing, the book provides detailed and easy-to-follow instructions to practice fifteen pranayama techniques. Each technique is presented in stages, ranging from easier versions for beginners to more advanced variations. Iyengar has gone through a laborious and meticulous process to catalog each breathing technique, providing diagrams, tables, images, and a list of protocols whenever required. The pranayama book also includes a lengthy glossary and a 200-week plan designed to achieve mastery over this ancient practice.

Takeaway: 'Light on Pranayama' is an A-to-Z pranayama guide that covers all the classic theory, philosophy, and techniques. Iyengar's time-tested classic is easily one of the best books to master pranayama and a worthy addition to every yogi's bookshelf.


2. Best for beginners: Prana and Pranayama

"This pranayama book is an easy-to-follow and eloquent articulation of the practice."

Book cover front of "Prana and Pranayama" by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati is one of the most prominent figures in modern yoga and the successor of Satyananda Saraswati who established the Bihar School of Yoga. Like Iyengar, he too has written several bestselling books on spirituality and was awarded India's highest civilian award for propagating yoga worldwide.

Book Review

In "Prana and Pranayama," Swamiji shares his immense knowledge of yoga theory, philosophy, and the yogic art of breathing. The book is divided into three sections, covering several breathing techniques derived from classic texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, and Yoga Sutras.

The first section, spanning roughly 65 pages, deals with the theory and philosophy of prana, the life-energy force. It also explains the concepts of nadis, chakras, koshas, and pranic fields within the human body. The second section talks about the physiology of breathing and provides a yogic perspective on the significance of the breath. The final section contains instructions for all major pranayama techniques, noting their energetic implications, benefits, and contraindications. The book also contains intermediate and advanced variations, plus practical guidance on how to use asanas, mudras, and bandhas to deepen your practice.

Takeaway: "Prana and Pranayama" is a good book to understand pranayama and practice it in daily life. Although it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, perhaps on account of its packaging, this pranayama book is a seminal text on the subject matter.


3. Best classic: The Science of Pranayama

"A handbook of basics pranayama theory and techniques in a very concise format."

Book cover front of "Science of Pranayama" by Swami SivanandaScience-of-pranyama-book-cover-front

Swami Sivananda gave up his medical practice and embraced spirituality to establish the first Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India. He contributed a vast and continuous stream of spiritual literature that found favor with yoga enthusiasts everywhere.

His spiritual literature has played a pivotal role in attracting visitors from across the world to his ashrams. In fact, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, who went on to establish the Bihar School of Yoga, was one of Swami Sivananda's disciples.

Book Review

The Science of Pranayama, his take on the subject, is presented in a compact book that focuses on the methods rather than the theory and philosophy of prana. It has a terse tone and to-the-point approach that will suit those who are already familiar with the basics of pranayama.

The first chapter deals with the basic concepts of prana and explanations of Ida, Pingala, and, Sushumna. It briefly delves into the ideas of nadis, Kundalini (creative energy), and chakras before moving on to instructions for pranayama techniques with the aid of black and white photographs.

The second chapter deals with peripheral and supplementary practices to make the most out of pranayama. It addresses the five essential elements of a fruitful practice, namely place, time, diet, posture, and cleansing. As you progress, the book acquaints you with methods of rhythmical breathing, the ideal postures for pranayama, and Hatha Yoga concepts like Ghata Avastha.

While some may fault this book for the use of Sanskrit terms, the quantity is relatively scant. It is something you need to get accustomed to if you are a committed yoga practitioner. Moreover, the book contains a glossary, allowing readers to internalize Sanskrit words and their English translations.

Takeaway: "The Science of Pranayama" is rooted in yogic sciences, not modern science. While this book works best as a hands-on guide to pranayama, you should consider other options if you are already familiar with the basics of yoga breathing.


4. Best contemporary: The Breath of Yoga

"A well-researched pranayama book for intermediate or committed yoga students."

Book cover front of "Pranayama: The Breath of Yoga" by Gregor Maehle

In his younger days, Gregor Maehle spent many years in India learning Sanskrit and yoga from some of the most revered figures in the country. He went on to become an international teacher and authored eight books, including Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy and Samadhi – The Great Freedom.

Maehle specializes in Ashtanga Vinyasa, with a keen interest in the anatomical alignment of yoga poses. He's also famed for his ability to present spiritual ideas in engaging and accessible ways, without compromising the integrity of the subject matter.

Book Review

Often touted as one of the best books on pranayama written by a Westerner, Gregor Maehle's "Breath of Yoga" strikes a commendable balance between historical details, yogic philosophy, and practical guidance.

The book's first half explains the meaning, function, and role of prana in yoga, while also discussing how breathing affects our brain hemispheres and nervous system. The book's main section provides detailed explanations (with illustrations) of pranayamas such as Alternate Nostril Breathing, Bellows Breath, and Selective Nostril Breathing, along with complementary practices such as chanting (mantra), counting (matra), and yoga kriyas to practice before or after pranayama.

There are brief but valuable passages on the apt diet, best postures, and applications of breath retention (kumbhaka) in your practice. More notably, this is the only book on our list that discusses the link between prana and Kundalini Shakti, making it a top choice for yogis interested in most energy-based yogic traditions (Tantra, for instance). The book concludes with suggestions on how to work through all the techniques and integrate pranayama within the context of your yoga practice.

Takeaway: While we still prefer Iyengar's book, Maehle does an excellent job of explaining how pranayama serves as the bridge between postural yoga and meditation. While some may appreciate his thoroughness, others may find his repeated referencing of scriptures to be a distraction. Either way, this pranayama book is worth adding to your reading shelf at some point.



5. Best for energy work: Prana Vidya


“A book every committed yogi practitioner and instructor should add to their bookshelf.”

Based on the teachings of Swami Satyananda and Niranjanananda, this Bihar School of Yoga publication can be a valuable addition to your yoga reading list. Unlike other pranayama books on this list, it explores more esoteric applications of prana and pranayama, explaining how the breath and life-energy force can be harnessed for spiritual growth, healing, and enlightenment.


Book Review


Briefly put, “Prana and Prana Vidya” contains two sections. The first section covers the theory, history, and origins of prana energy while the second talks about pranic healing. The book provides step-by-step instructions for yogic techniques to awaken, circulate, and store prana. The latter half is chock-full of pranic techniques for self-healing and healing others. Finally, the book concludes with a few diagrams, a glossary, and an index to progress systematically in your practice.


That said, it’s worth noting that this pranayama book is not for beginners or casual practitioners. It explores ancient and arcane practices, such as prana pratishtha (consecration), prana nidra (semi-conscious sleep), chakra sadhana (awareness of energy centers), and techniques to expand or contract prana energy. The book also explains yogic concepts like the Pancha kosha theory (five layers of the body), the seven chakra system, and Kundalini Shakti (divine feminine energy).


Takeaway: Overall, Prana Vidya is an excellent pranayama book to deepen your knowledge about the subtle and advanced aspects of this spiritual tradition. However, yoga beginners should note this is the second part of a series, so it's best to buy this book along with "Prana and Pranayama."


"For yogis who prefer the familiar format of streaming episodes over reading books."

In this era of video content and online streaming, Yoga International's 'Fundamentals of Pranayama Series' was the ideal candidate to add to our list of the best resources to learn pranayama. That said, there is one caveat - you need an Amazon Prime membership to access it. Luckily, Amazon Audible's free trial gives you a month to check out the videos before making a financial commitment.

Our Review

This pranayama video series features 11 episodes, and you can stream individual episodes, the entire season, or get free access with Yoga International content bundle. In these video lessons, yoga instructor Jim Bennitt teaches viewers how to modify their breath to control the mind and deepen their yoga practice. The lessons start simple, with initial sessions covering the ratio of breathing, asanas to prepare for pranayama, and an AMA-style episode answering commonly asked questions.

The series covers six of the most frequently used pranayama in Hatha yoga, namely Skull-shining Breath (Kapalbhati), Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) Cooling & Hissing Breath (Sheetali and Sitkari), and Bee Breathing (Bhramari Pranayama). The instructions are easy to follow and the course is well-structured, making it the best choice for an at-home pranayam practice.

Takeaway: While we find the smell of news books enchanting, many yogis may prefer streaming episodes rather than flipping the pages of a paperback. Overall, this pranayama breathwork series is an excellent choice for beginners or casual learners. However, it covers very little theory, philosophy, and advanced variations of the techniques, making it less ideal for serious yoga practitioners.


Before You Go

If you are looking for more resources to learn and practice pranayama, our article on the best pranayama apps and best yoga apps might help. We also lovingly curated 13 books on spirituality and mindfulness for your 2024 reading list - many of which contain relaxing breathwork techniques.

Here are some additional links to articles that may interest yoga students and instructors:


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