Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

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Millions of Americans know yoga as a superb form of exercise and as a potent source of calm in the midst of our stress-filled lives. Far fewer are aware of the full promise of yoga as "the way of the fully alive human being"—a 4,000-year-old practical path of liberation that fits the needs of modern Western seekers with startling precision.

Now one of America's leading scholars of yoga psychology—who is also a Western-trained ...
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Millions of Americans know yoga as a superb form of exercise and as a potent source of calm in the midst of our stress-filled lives. Far fewer are aware of the full promise of yoga as "the way of the fully alive human being"—a 4,000-year-old practical path of liberation that fits the needs of modern Western seekers with startling precision.

Now one of America's leading scholars of yoga psychology—who is also a Western-trained psychotherapist—offers this marvelously lively and personal account of an ancient tradition that promises "the soul awake in this lifetime." Drawing on the vivid stories of practitioners at the largest yoga center in America, where he has lived and taught for more than ten years, Stephen Cope describes the philosophy, psychology, and practice of yoga—a practical science of development that urges us not to transcend or dissolve the self, but rather to encounter it more deeply.

In this irreverent modern-day Pilgrim's Progress, Cope introduces us to an unforgettable cast of contemporary seekers—on the road to enlightenment carrying all the baggage of the human condition: confusion, loss, disappointment, addiction, and the eternal conflicts around sex and relationship. As he describes the subtle shifts of energy and consciousness that happen at each stage of the path, we discover that in yoga, "liberation" does not require us to leave life in the world for some transcendent spiritual plane. Life itself is the path.

Above all, Cope shows how yoga can heal the suffering of self-estrangement that pervades our society, leading us to a new sense of purpose and to a deeper, more satisfying life in the world.

"...a Western-trained psychotherapist draws on the experiences of yoga practitioners at America's largest yoga center...through these stories and his own explanations, he offers reasons for Yoga's use in modern life."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Yoga, according to first-time author and longtime yoga teacher Cope, can cure the sense of separation that dogs many people in our culture: "a separation from the life of the body; a separation from the hidden depths of life, its mystery and interiority." Here, Cope, a psychotherapist who left a practice in Boston to live, study and ultimately teach at the Kripalu Yoga ashram in Lenox, Mass., navigates yoga for Western seekers. Drawing on his own experiences and the stories of many friends and yoga students, Cope holds up ancient yogic concepts of the self against evolving theories of modern psychotherapy. Rather than attempting a reductive comparison, Cope suggests that various ideas experienced during yoga practice can enhance the goals of Western psychotherapy. Readers familiar with Jack Korn- field's A Path with Heart or Mark Epstein's Thoughts Without a Thinker may find Cope's approach noncommittal. He tells stories of liberation and release without ever quite conceding that yoga and psychotherapy are two profoundly different worldviews. Although ineluctably drawn to yoga practice and the ashram, Cope's point of view is resolutely Western and psychotherapeutic. Still, Cope's psychotherapeutic orientation and genial win-win approach lights up a notoriously arcane subject for Western readers. Oct. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Loosely utilizing the parable of the Indian king Viveka's spiritual journey to frame his own, Cope describes his ten years of yoga practice, first as a resident and now as a senior teacher at the Kripalu Institute in the Berkshires. Inspired by a devastating breakup, Cope, a psychotherapist by training, first went to Kripalu to investigate an undefined but powerful spiritual yearning. He found a home for himself in the vibrant, complex community dedicated to yoga and personal growth. In this, his first book, he provides a Western perspective by drawing parallels between yogic philosophy and psychology and emphasizing yoga's benefits as both a therapeutic tool and a spiritual path. Cope hints that yoga is being reinvented by its widespread practice in the United States, but, unfortunately, he only begins to probe such changes when, for example, he describes the liberating reorganization of Kripalu following a scandal in 1994. Though Cope's emphasis on Kripalu's style of yoga and his New Age tone will turn some readers off, few other accessible books provide as good an overview of the spirituality of yoga. As a result, this will be in demand wherever yoga is popular.--Rebecca Miller, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"What a delight to find a book on spiritual practice that's as compelling to read as a good novel. This honest, intelligent, and beautifully written book is required reading for anyone interested in spiritual practice today."
— Lilias Folan, host of the PBS series Lilias!

"A tour de force...a book grounded in yoga psychology that will be meaningful and useful to spiritual practitioners in many traditions."
—Sylvia Boorstein, author of It's Easier Than You Think and That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist

"A down-to-earth, wise, spiritually mature and compassionate teaching that integrates the best of yoga and our own Western humanity. Destined to be a classic."
—Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553103137
  • Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/5/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 358
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Cope is a psychotherapist who writes and teaches about the relationship between contemporary psychology and the Eastern contemplative traditions. He holds degrees from Amherst College and Boston College. He is currently Scholar-in-Residence at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, the largest residential yoga center in the world. This is his first book.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Waking Up is Hard to Do

You see, I want a lot. Perhaps I want everything the darkness that comes with every infinite fall and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing and are raised to the rank of prince by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces that do work and feel thirst. You love most of all those who need you as they need a crowbar or a hoe. You have not grown old, and it is not too late to dive into your increasing depths where life calmly gives out its own secret.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, Das Stundenbuch

I leaned against a doorframe and quietly surveyed the party swirling around me. Laughing revelers spilled through the doors of Mark's big living room onto the bluestone terrace and down the sweep of lawn. It was just dusk, and a warm May breeze brought the scent of lilac. Mark throws parties like his theatrical productions, I thought: lavish and well attended. I wondered anxiously if Sean would show up with his new lover.

I took a deep breath and sighed, turning back into the big kitchen at the rear of the house. The antique harvest table in the center of the room was abundant with the kind of food we eat when we're supposed to be having fun—casseroles stuffed with ricotta; desserts made with whipped cream; salads sprinkled with pine nuts and feta cheese. The odor of warming lasagna, my contribution to the party menu, wafted from the oven. It was a relief to be alone for a moment. My eye caught the pile of dirty dishes near the sink, and I filled the dishpan with soapy water and began to wash a pot. The warm water felt goodon my hands.

"Want some help with that?" came a voice from the door. I hadn't heard her come in. Paula stood in the doorway looking particularly elegant in a slim black sheath, her brown hair cropped in a perky new style I hadn't seen before.

"Did you get tired of the party, too?" she asked as she picked up a stray dishtowel.

"Just not in much of a party mood." I attacked the burned edge of a cake pan with my Brillo pad. "But Mark swore he couldn't have a party unless I made my vegetable lasagna. He only loves me for my casseroles."

Paula's smile lit up her fine features. She was beautiful in the way only a forty-five-year-old woman can be, and I was glad for her quiet company. Paula picked up the pot I'd just washed and began drying. I pulled the lasagna out of the oven and set it down on a hot plate on the sideboard. We worked together in silence for a moment, then she asked me if I was OK. I felt relief admitting I was not, that I was depressed.

"You sure do a good job of covering it up," she said, referring to the little riff I'd done at the piano that broke everybody up. She told me how well she thought I was handling the situation.

"It's still hard being at parties by myself . . . without Sean. I'm not used to it yet."

Paula put her hand on my shoulder. As usual, her instinct was just right.

"How're things with you and ol' Geoff?" I asked, pulling back from the moment of closeness.

Paula was silent for a moment. "Have I told you that I've been on Prozac for the last year?" I was surprised. Paula and I studied with the same yoga teacher in Cambridge, and we saw each other once or twice a week in class. I'd always thought of Geoff and Paula as the together "power couple." Geoff was a well-known lawyer, currently experiencing his fifteen minutes of fame in a notorious political case in Washington, D.C. Paula was a successful marketing executive for a large mutual fund in Boston.

"Let's talk," I said, scooping out two small plates of lasagna. She poured two glasses of wine, and we cleared a place at the table.

In the last two months, Paula and I had grown closer. Her seventeen-year-old gay nephew, Matt, of whom she was particularly fond, had made a suicide attempt, and I'd sat up most of one night with Paula and her sister in a hospital waiting room. We'd had coffee or a phone chat weekly since then, talking mostly about Matt.

"Prozac? How come you never told me?"

She said she'd been embarrassed, covering it over, minimizing, doing what I'd just done with her. She reached out a hand and touched my arm. "You're a really good friend, Steve. I don't want to have to put on a face with you."

"I don't either. But you know, I'm the ultimate Lone Ranger. All those years of heavy-duty WASP training—"never complain and never explain.' But you first. I want to know how you're doing."

Slowly, Paula began to reveal another side of herself. Under the surface of her successful corporate career, she felt a sense of desperation. Her job had always been a pressure cooker, she said, but now she seemed less able to tolerate it. For the past year, she'd regularly had panic attacks on Sunday nights as she contemplated going back to work after the weekend. Work nights, she would often go to bed early, hoping for a refreshing night's sleep, only to sit bolt upright at two am with her mind racing: deadlines, pressure to perform, competition with a rival rising star who was, as Paula put it, "younger and hungrier than I am."

"You know, I truly don't remember why I'm doing this work," she lamented. "I don't really care about it anymore. If I'm going to pour out my energy the way I do in that job, I want to be doing something that matters." I was aware that it was Sunday night and Paula was facing a new work week.

"I don't know if my work life feels empty because I'm depressed, or if I'm depressed because it feels empty." Paula went on to describe how she'd begun to feel melancholy and confused a year earlier, when both children had been out of the house for the first time. Katy, nineteen, was now in college in California, and Marc, twenty-four, was in New York, struggling with a nascent career in music.

"But it's not just that I miss them. It's like I'm lonely for myself. I feel like I'm missing life. And I'm sad about that."

It was a relief to be talking to somebody else whose life was falling apart. "I've been feeling like that for the last eight months, since Sean left. It's like, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, and I can't seem to put the pieces back together again."

"Tell me about that," she said.

"He was in the middle of some kind of midlife lunacy, I guess." I told her the worst part—that he was having an affair with a guy in his twenties, whom everyone said looked exactly as I had at that age. "He actually took him to our goddamned summer place when I wasn't there. It just walloped me, experiencing betrayal like that after fifteen years together." I had been living in a state of shock, uncomprehending. How could he leave all that we had?

"It's unbelievable. You just watch as the whole infrastructure of your life collapses—friends, extended family, rituals, holidays, the cat and dog, neighbors. I mean, Sean is my niece's godfather. I adore his family. And we had so many friends who looked up to us as a stable gay couple." I wasn't feeling self-pity so much as bewilderment, like standing on a dock in a storm, watching helplessly as the boat that contains your most precious possessions comes off its mooring and drifts slowly out to sea.

I wondered secretly if I would be ruined beyond repair by this loss. I felt sure that I would never have the treasure of a relationship lasting long into old age the way my parents and grandparents had had. And I'd always assumed I would have this. I took another sip of wine and looked into the middle distance. What had I done wrong? Was there a great big L for loser plastered on my back that nobody had told me about?

"Here's the thing that's really got me, Paula. Forgiving betrayal like this seems to require some huge grownupness, a maturity I don't seem to have. It's the hardest thing I've had to face in my life."

"Forgiveness, yes," she murmured, dragging a fork across her empty plate. I wondered, then, whom she had yet to forgive. After a moment, I smiled. "Help!" Paula pantomimed a big, hysterical scream. We both laughed, and I reached for one of Mark's nasty death-by-chocolate brownies, gulping it down as though it was the only thing that could give me comfort.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 11, 2010

    Enjoyable for the yoga enthusiast or someone on a journey to find happiness.

    This book tells the story of one man's quest for happiness. He uses yoga as his guide to figure out who he is and what is required to fulfill him. He joins this experience with his profession of psychotherapy to write this book and describe his findings. It is a good blend of personal experience, psychology, and the practice of yoga to help the reader find something more than just a workout.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2006

    Making spirituality personal and accessible

    I have been practicing and teaching yoga for six years. I found this book to be very compelling and enlightening. Because it is written in an autobiographical style, it is easy to read. There is a sense of suspense throughout the book, leading to the climactic moment at Kripalu (if you don't know the history already, I won't spoil the surprise). I am also a psychotherapist, so I found Cope's ability to integrate modern psychology with ancient philosophy fascinating. A great read for anyone who wants to practice yoga in every aspect of life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2003

    This book ties many ideas together!

    This is an excellent exploration of the spiritual side of yoga. It ties together many ideas I have encountered in other books such as Celestine Prophecy, Four Agreements, The World's Religions. Anyone interested in Eastern philosophy and spiritual growth will find this book intriguing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2002


    This is by far the best yoga book I have read. There is a dearth of autobiographical yoga books out there and I wished this book was twice as long as it is. A few years ago, I was visiting Kripalu, and found myself in an advanced class that Stephen was teaching. As a newcomer to yoga, I was clearly over my head, but he did not make me feel out of place and helped me to keep up in an unobtrusive way. I found the same kind spirit in his book. He is quite knowledgeble, and at times the book tackles complex themes, but it can be read by anyone interested in a personal yoga story or exploring the the spiritual aspects of yoga in the West.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2001

    Cope Deals

    Most people survive; few are alive. Most people cope; few people deal. In my own life, yoga and therapy represent my salvation. They keep me rooted and connected to the universe. They enable me to recognize my ego. With this recognition, I am able to quiet it and not act it out. This book speaks so many truths with so much clarity. It resonates profoundly with the Self, the truth. The book discusses the full realm of yoga. Indeed, it is a lifestyle...not just an hour and a half of sun salutations and asanas once a day. Cope offers accessible and valuable information in a funny, frighteningly truthful format. I highly recommend this book to anyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2000

    Bought Yoga got PsychoBabble

    I thought the book would be about yoga, but i got new age psychobabble. I found it a boring read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 1999

    A Fascinating Modern Day Autobiography of a Yogi

    Stephen Cope has managed to write a book that is both fascinating to read as well as highly informative regarding yoga and spirituality in the nineties. His narrative story line, which follows his own life, is highly personal, and this reader found it hard to put the book down. The book is open and accessible to everyone, and it offered me numerous insights into my own life and spiritual journey. Highly Recommended.

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