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Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,734 ratings  ·  159 reviews
Millions of Americans know yoga as a superb form of exercise and as a potent source of calm in our stress-filled lives. Far fewer are aware of the full promise of yoga as a 4,000-year-old practical path of liberation—a path that fits the needs of modern Western seekers with startling precision. Now Stephen Cope, a Western-trained psychotherapist who has lived and taught fo ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 5th 2000 by Bantam (first published October 5th 1999)
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Craig Shoemake
It is not often I use the “M word” to describe a book. No, I’m not talking about munchkin books or maleficient books. I’m talking about masterpieces. I am not certain if Stephen Cope’s bestseller is a masterpiece. Maybe it is, maybe not. Either way, it is pretty damn good.

This is one of those books that entertains and educates you in a visceral way right from the start. Large chunks are written in immediate narrative format–as in “he said,” “I said,” etc. It is Stephen Cope’s personal yoga stor
Anne Phyfe
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As a yoga teacher, I figure I am supposed to read yoga books. However I find within three chapters of most books on the subject I am either distracted or bored, or I have already absorbed what I need from the author. That was not the case with this book, which I read daily and finished within two weeks. Yoga and the Quest for the True Self was recommended to me years ago, and I didn't even read it when my yoga studio 8 Limbs held a book group around it. But when a writer friend urged me to give ...more
David Guy
Sep 10, 2010 rated it liked it
I picked this book up on a whim because I have been doing yoga and reading up on it, and I was intrigued by the title. Cope is a therapist who went to Kripalu (a yoga center in Western Massachusetts) and basically never left. He writes very well, and tells a lot of stories. There was something about the book I found vaguely annoying, maybe all the upper middle class angst of many of the people he was talking about. There was also a lot more psychiatric jargon than I was interested in; I'm nore i ...more
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely transformational. Revolutionized the way I see yoga, myself, life, and relationships with people. There is so much to learn and so much more growth needed, but grateful for a read that deepened my spirituality and religious convictions and changed my perspective for the better.

And my notes from the book because it is a library book and I couldn't underline:

“Most of the branches of Vedanta hold one fundamental view in common: all individual souls are one with the ground of being, the
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I didn't quite know what to expect when I picked it up, but yoga has been dear to me all my life, and of course, the quest for the true self is central to yoga philosophy, so I had to read it. It's a well-written, well-researched book, but with none of the pedantic clinginess to theory - which is difficult to avoid when the author's trying to deal with a 4,000 year old philosophy, that has evolved and morphed over all those years.

But Stephen Cope brings a delightful fresh eye
Dianne Lange
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
This classic goes on my to reread, reread, and reread shelf. So many lessons in living, spirituality, psychology. Cope says it best: "Such a simple lesson. Such a dfficult lesson. It doesn't matter what you call it: Yoga. Buddhism. Christianity. Relaxation. Consciousness. As Ajahn Chah says, 'Teach the essence of freedom from grasping and call it what you like.' " ...more
Clif Brittain
Dec 24, 2009 rated it liked it
I wrote a totally brilliant review of this book that will reveal all the secrets of yoga. However, I was on a public terminal and the session timed out, losing the entire review. You lose.
Kris Anderson
Jul 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was the book that first introduced me to Vipassanna meditation which I eventually took part of in the sub-tropical alps of south central Mexico.
I'll call it the beginning to a new me.
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life.
Byron Stripling
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was one of those life changing books for me! I don't do Yoga on a regular basis but still the thoughts and observations the author makes have really touched me personally. Rather than continue trying to describe the book - I'd encourage you to read it and leave you with this quote from the book.
From page 129...
"We can 'put away' the lunatic, raging aunts and the sex -obsessed alcoholic uncles of our psychic life. We can lock them up in the basement of our consciousness. But the more energy
Sian Lile-Pastore
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Y'know what? This book is great, almost five stars. It combines personal stories, psychotherapy, yoga and yoga philosophy and also quotes both Moonstruck and Fame. I'm all in. ...more
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In preparation for my upcoming yoga teacher certification class. Loved the book and can't wait to start in class learning. ...more
Gregory Williams
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Insightful and interesting deep-dive into yoga practice, inner wisdom and its connection with traditional/historical Indian spirituality.

That said, I have a long-standing aversion to yoga, stemming I think, from always feeling lanky and awkward since I was a little kid. When I try to cross my legs (not comfortable) and try to lean forward, nothing much happens and I stay upright while looking in awe at the weird contortionists all around me who seem to be able to lay their foreheads on the mat.
Stephen Cope, a psychotherapist and scholar-in-residence at Kripalu, argued that we are not who we believe ourselves to be – our true self remains hidden behind the identities, values, and goals that we have mistakenly accepted as real. Fear and shame prevent us from being true to ourselves. Rather than listening to our true voice, rather than accepting our rejected parts, we run and hide. This alienated from the self – and from God – results in suffering.


What we are seeking is already at th
A.M.G. ☮Hippie/Fantasia☮
Feb 22, 2021 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those looking to study the spiritual aspects of yoga (specifically Kripalu yoga)
Rating: 3.5 / 5 (rated down for now until a re-read)

I'll admit, part of the reason that I'm finally putting this down now is because I've just discovered Wicca and it is much more compatible with my faith in its open-ended manner rather than the direct and exact views expressed by Cope in his work. Nearly a year ago, when I first picked up this work, it was the beginning of the pandemic and perhaps I felt that I needed some structure and preciseness in my life; now, I feel the need for just the
Alex Boon
May 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Very strange book. Took me a long time to get through it and spent much of that trying to figure out whether I liked it or not. The author certainly has my respect and there were several things in there that have gone in my personal quotes book. If you start out reading it and want to scream "cuuuuult" and run for the hills, stick with it. It does get better and includes a good discussion of the broken and outdated "guru" model. Parts of it are meandering and difficult to get through, I think it ...more
Meriam lahlou
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is not a book you can read in one setting but I did enjoy it. I got a little lost with all the deities' references because I didn't buy some of the beliefs. However, I loved the tales of individual experiences and I could relate to those. It also made me do a lot of deep thinking and introspection. I even had some cool moments of surrender and small revelations during my yoga practices. ...more
Apr 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: spirituality
When I started to read this book I was skeptical. Many people try very hard to either "psychologize" spirituality, or "spiritualize" psychology. It is normal I guess in our "have it all, popular culture." I feared that, in his enthusiasm for a newly minted perspective, Cope was doing just that. Although his framework is decidedly East-coast, psychotherapist, white upper-class, gay male, with all of the historically and socially privileged angst this package carries (who else can afford to take a ...more
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Surprisingly amazing. Read for a yoga book club and not something I'd have sought out myself. This is partly a narrative about the author's ten-year stay at the Kripalu commune; partly a commentary on yoga philosophy; partly the author (an experienced psychotherapist)'s observations on the psychological dimensions of communal living, yoga, and guru-student relationships; and partly directly applicable practical advice.

A rarity among yoga authors, Cope doesn't mindlessly accept wacky ideas that
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book well before I even planned to visit Kripalu. When I purchased it I didn't even realize the author was a teacher at Kripalu. I started this book about 2 weeks after my visit to Kripalu and I have to say that that made the read for me richer and deeper than if I had read it without ever having visited Kripalu. Stephen's descriptions took me back to my time at the Stockbridge Bowl and the Berkshires. I felt like I was breathing the mountain air in once again. Thank you Stephen fo ...more
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book had many things going for it: a well-qualified and knowledgeable author, cool merging of Western psychology and Eastern/yogic philosophy, stories for human interest, a scandal to keep it from being too utopia, and a fantastic appendix that gives an accessible summary of thousands of years of yoga philosophy. I also found it off-putting: Cope often assumed his readers had certain experiences or feelings, and I didn't relate at all. Perhaps his social circles/clientele skew in certain wa ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very insightful and honest renderings of experiences and literature. I stayed at Kripalu a year or so before the Gurudev was exposed, and the place freaked me out with its zombie-ness. So I was very pleased to read the historical context for that time, what happened, what followed, how the community repaired. I think Meditations on the Mat was a better fit for the inspirational effects I was expecting from this book. I do love Cope's writing, so loving and earnest and well-read, so it wasn't tim ...more
Justin Green
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a great i.e. entertaining and interesting read, plus the author's personal journey, background and experience are so invaluable in the way he manages to synthesize eastern and western mindsets, philosophies and practices for a 21st century western audience i.e. dudes like me. Very grateful and thoroughly recommend this book. ...more
Megyen Green
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A must read for any Yogi
Yoga and the Quest for the True Self pleasantly surprised me multiple times throughout my reading. My initial surprise came when I began to read, finding a warm blend of personal reflection, psychology, and yogic philosophy. I’ve read many books on yoga yet rarely have found one with an academic style that still manages to be approachable and meaningful to the casual reader.

Stephen Cope follows a well-traveled route into his deep dive into yoga, finding himself in the midst of personal upheaval
Megan S
I tried. I got 4/5ths of the way. The first part of this book was really distasteful to me. Having been dogmatically religious myself and having now let go of religion, I felt so uncomfortable reading his early experiences with the guru and the spiritual community the author joined. When he talks about the mystical feelings he got just from touching the guru, his description was identical to how myself and members of my church community described feeling the spirit of god, being prayed for, or “ ...more
Mar 15, 2021 rated it liked it
There were parts of it that I found really annoying, which ultimately means that yogic philosophy is not for me, though that can be many different things. Regardless, for most of the part where Cope is charting his path, it was just affirming my love for and revelry in attachment.

(My main interest in yoga is being more bendy, and that is primarily carnally motivated, so there is that.)

The section where he goes over three different practitioners and the ways in which yoga helped them were the on
Ireland Barrick
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I honestly had no idea what to expect before diving into this book, but it turned out to be a beautiful memoir of Stephen Cope's sabbatical-turned-spiritual quest that touched wonderfully on all the core aspects of yoga and the yogic living. I especially loved that Cope was a psychotherapist and often throughout this book, he approaches yoga through a psychological lens.

I found comfort in the stories that he shared of other people and their struggles, and I found wisdom in the perspectives that
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
In so many ways this book shines through as one of the essential readings for those who want to understand deeper the teachings, meanings and philosophy of yoga. I had so many lightbulb moments reading through this book, concepts I understood vaguely before finally made perfect sense to me when presented through Cope's writing style and elegant perspective. One star off though as at times I felt this book was veering towards the "navel gazing" worldview that quite easily happens when trying to m ...more
Nancy McQueen
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: yoga
While I really liked Cope's "The Wisdom of Yoga" This one I could not get through the first couple of chapters.

It had the feeling of "Eat, Pray, Love." Dropping responsibility is fine.

This is more a critique of modern American culture.

I am all for working on yourself, it seems that it is devolving into "I don't like my current situation so I am going to drop everything and try something completely new." It seemed so first-world problems for the first couple of chapters.

I may be able to try it a
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Stephen Cope is the director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living, the largest yoga research institute in the Western world—with a team of scientists affiliated with major medical schools on the East coast, primarily Harvard Medical School. He has been for many years the senior scholar in residence at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, and is the author of fou ...more

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