Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yoga and The Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope

Yoga and The Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope is a blend of both memoir and philosophy, a wonderful offering from Cope who draws on his experience as a psychologist.  The book begins with a traditional Hindu story before Cope shares the events that lead to his taking a yoga retreat at Kripalu.

For the reader who is seeking to learn more about a particular school of yoga, this book will be a disappointment.  The emphasis is on the effects a deep yoga practice can have on the mind more than on the body; on philosophy more than asana.  There are so many books overflowing with illustrations of how to hold a perfect pose and this book stands apart from the others as an invitation for the reader to take the physical into something more esoteric, to move the asana practice into a spiritual one.

This book is also not so deep that it becomes overwhelming.  Cope contextualizes the truths he is trying to share in a manner that is accessible and understandable.  The language is not elevated to a point of incomprehensibility; the stories he shares of from his own life and the experiences of those he encounters add a layer of relevance to the deeper spiritual and psychological truths. 

This is not a deep book nor is it shallow.  I think that when I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love this is more what I had expected—a book that invited the reader to gain some intellectual awareness and perhaps some insight that could be carried beyond the pages and into the reader’s personal life.  I appreciate Cope’s choice not to avoid the more scandalous issues that occurred during Kripalu’s history; I also appreciate his choosing not to get salacious with the details.  Whatever changes were made at the center are explained without going into unnecessary details.  Not an easy line to toe, certainly. 
Anyone who is practicing yoga, who feels drawn to take their practice in a more spiritual direction, will want to consider reading this book.  It can feel overwhelming to try to understand the many Sanskrit terms that are familiar to those who have studied yoga’s spiritual side for a while and Cope’s book definitely eases the reader into these truths without getting too deep.  If you are ready to plunge into the depths, this book although not very deep may still prove to be a good place to slow down and explore a bit.  I know I enjoyed reading it very much and took down quite a few notes I intend on pondering over the next few weeks.

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