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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 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 for more than ten years at the largest yoga center in America, offers this marvelously lively and irreverent "pilgrim's progress" for today's world. He demystifies the philosophy, psychology, and practice of yoga, and shows how it applies to our most human dilemmas: from loss, disappointment, and addiction, to the eternal conflicts around sex and relationship. And he shows us that in yoga, "liberation" does not require us to leave our everyday lives 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.

358 pages, Paperback

First published October 5, 1999

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About the author

Stephen Cope

35 books126 followers
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 four best-selling books.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 189 reviews
Profile Image for Craig Shoemake.
55 reviews83 followers
April 29, 2012
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 story–a sort of “pilgrim’s progress,” if you will–as well as the yoga story of his many friends and acquaintances before and during his long and continuing stay at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

We meet a man, a practicing Boston psychotherapist, who for a variety of reasons was feeling unsettled and dissatisfied with his life and then, somewhat to his dismay, found himself joining a religious community to do…what? Much of the book is an answer to that and related questions: What did he want? Why? What was he trying to do at Kripalu? What was–is–the meaning of yoga? What is enlightenment? Is such a thing possible? Are there enlightened people in this world? And what happens when all the things we try to keep hidden are revealed for the world to see?

Stephen Cope furrows through all these questions and more. His sincerity, his intensity, his intelligence, make the book a gripping read. Its pages educate the reader even as Cope the protagonist is educated by his experiences in the ashram. Yoga philosophy is pondered over, its depths turned up, and its many connections to Western psychotherapy reflected upon, all in gratifyingly sober, lucid prose. This is no idealistic hippy’s tale, nor a wide-eyed New Age search for Reality. In point of fact, it is one man’s search for himself, even as he helps us understand that the discipline, the science, the art of yoga, is there to help us lay ourselves bare to ourselves.

“You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” This book is a testament to these words, but it goes beyond them for the “truth” as yoga reveals to Stephen Cope is an ever living, organic thing, the stuff of our lives, which we either enjoy and let go of or cling to and warp, eventually to destroy.

You will find yourself in this book. In one of the many personal portraits Cope draws, you will find your own symptoms and neuroses, your fears, dreams and failings. And when you do, you will know that yoga has something to offer you. There is so much teaching here, and it is given in such generous, gentle and wise ways. Most of all, I think the primacy of ourselves as bodily beings, as thinking, feeling, dreaming animals of earth, is borne out. The body really is our temple, and yoga is our puja, an act of adoration, discipline and feast. Cope nails it in what might be the defining statement of the book: “Because yoga asanas are not so much about exercise as they are about learning and unlearning, it is not the movement itself, but the quality of attention we bring to the movement that makes postures qualify as yoga” (230). If this is so–and I know it is–then any act, any breath, any thought done with full and alive attention, is yoga.

Bobby Fischer once said “Chess is life.” I would say “Yoga is life,” and Stephen Cope’s book has made this truth abundantly clear.

Profile Image for David Guy.
Author 7 books30 followers
July 6, 2019
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 interested in spiritual practice than in therapy. That having been said, the book has stayed with me, and the basic concept of a false vs. true self seems quite true to me. One can't do justice to it in a few words, but basically the false self is one that we create out of concepts; the true self is the one that is living our daily physical life, and that we too often avoid by going off into our heads. He also mentioned something that R.D. Laing said at a conference of Buddhists and therapists that keeps coming back to me: Human beings are afraid of three things. Their own minds, other people, and death.
Profile Image for Anne Phyfe Palmer.
Author 4 books9 followers
December 20, 2015
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 it a chance, I finally relented, to my great advantage. Cope, a psychotherapist who has lived at Kripalu for several decades, uses a memoir framework to deliver some of the most personally valuable teachings about yoga I have received. I recommend this book to yoga practitioners of all levels. Be here now. Read it. Now.
Profile Image for Saiisha.
77 reviews47 followers
October 11, 2016
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 to yoga by bringing the reader along on his journey as a student of yoga. It's a satisfying journey to be part of, from the moment he decides to step into Kripalu Yoga Center, to how he integrates the different teachings into an understanding of his own in the end. I was surprised that he included the stories about the falling apart of Kripalu amidst the scandals of its leader, and then how the community came together to rebuild it again. I also appreciated the appendix about the metaphysics of yoga.

It was a valuable read. I took lots of notes. And I'll probably revisit it from time to time.

If you're interested in spirituality, philosophy, yoga, etc., join my Old Souls Book Club (https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...) for other recommendations and thought-provoking conversations!
Profile Image for Dianne Lange.
151 reviews4 followers
June 2, 2012
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.' "
Profile Image for Sunshine.
96 reviews9 followers
June 1, 2015
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 Absolute. Because all beings are one with the great river of life, we are all, in effect, just a single soul. We are, in the classical dictum, ‘One without a second’” (page 42.)

“what we are seeking is already at the core of our nature. ‘We are that’ which we seek. We are already inherently perfect; we have already arrived; and we have the potential in each moment to wake up to our true nature. In the words of one extraordinary teacher whom we’ll meet later on in the book, ‘everything is already OK’” (page 42).

“When we begin to see clearly who we really are, according to this view, we feel a natural friendliness toward all beings. Beneath the surface of our separation, we feel the hidden,unseen threads that link us. We know that we’re exactly alike inside. We’re the same being. As author John Welch says, ‘We are each like a well that has its source in a common underground stream which supplies all. The deeper down I go, the closer I come to the source which puts me in contact with all other life’” (page 43).

“All mystical paths have taught that the union with God, or with the Absolute, subtly transforms the self. Each time we penetrate into samadhi, we have a small death-rebirth experience. Samadhi the world as we know it—its boundaries and categories. The deeper into union I penetrate, the less I am ‘I,’ and the more I am ‘we.’ For this reason, the merger with the One is known to create psychological upheaval and world-shattering shifts in perception” (page 43).

“This love is so overwhelming that you will lose consciousness of the conventional world. You will not be able to entertain the slightest feeling of personal ownership, not even toward the body, which is the most precious and jealously guarded possession of most persons. There will no longer be any instinctive notion that the body or the mind constitutes your being” (page 44).

“The word yoga itself means, literally, to be ‘yoked’—or to be in union. Eventually, repeated penetrations into mystic union transform the physical structure of the body, the personality, and the mind” (page 44).

“In Christianity, don’t you have this understanding: God is both—what do you say—immanent and transcendent? God is both here, within, right now, and is also everywhere? At the same time? It is the same God, the same Reality. Just our language has trouble capturing it. This is the wonderful thing about yoga. You find God right here, right now. In the body. You become a fully alive human being. You become jivan mukta—awake this lifetime. As a human being. Not in, what did you say? Transcendent realm with the angels. No. Not at all. You see, you are an angel” (page 48).

“‘Deep eternity,’ in Emily Dickinson’s phrase, is right here, right now. It is the subtle interior anatomy of the body—and the subtly interior anatomy of this entire world of form.
‘The goal of human life,’ says Ramakrishna,’ is to meet God face to face.’ But the magic is this: if we look deeply into the face of all created things, we will find God. Therefore, savor the world, the body. Open it, explore it, look into it” (page 55).

“When we pay close attention to the world of the many, we inevitably discover the One” (page 58).

“Gitanand was telling the story of a dialogue between a Vedic master and a Western student. ‘The student, confounded by the radically different worldview embodied by his teacher, asks, “Do we live in the same world?” Replies the teacher, ‘Yes, we do. It’s just that you see yourself in the world, and I see the whole world in myself.’ Yogis insist on seeing the world from the inside out” (page 70).

“We can experience the entire reality of the universe directly through a full exploration of the phenomena of our own bodies, feelings, minds. There is nothing that is ‘out there’ that is not also ‘in here’” (page 70).

“‘Disappointment,’ he said, ‘is a much more fertile ground for spiritual practice than dreams’” (page 89).

#1 of page 90-92
“In order for us to fully inhabit our bodies, we need certain kinds of responses from our environment. These include empathic holding, nurturing, mirroring, challenge, optimal frustration, and optimal disillusionment. Problems begin to happen in our developing sense of self when, as infants and children, our real emerging needs and capacities are not met with adequate mirroring, nurturing and sustaining responses. In the post industrial West, the problems of the disembodied sense of self are pandemic. The reasons for this are simple: Because of the breakdown of the extended family in the latter half of this century, we depend upon the depleted resources of small nuclear families, where hard working parents may already feel stretched and needy themselves. This nuclear family upon which we place most of our hopes is all too often an impoverished emotional environment for children. Overburdened parents feel fragmented, insecure, and in some cases terrified by the needs they feel they should be meeting but cannot. They’re hungry to get their own unsatisfied needs met” (page 91).

“The false self is born when the environment does not welcome the self to be as it is” (page 93).

“There is no telling precisely at what chronological age the self will come to one of these crossroads. One thing is certain: these times of meltdown are precious. A delicate window is opened into the very terrain explored and mastered by yogis and buddhas and seers of all kinds. In these times, the soul has a heightened potential to discover the real. There is a palpable longing for the mother, for matter, for the earth, and along with this an openness to the father, to the spirit, to consciousness.
In his commentary on the Yogasutras, Bhagwan S. Rajneesh identifies this meltdown of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ in adulthood as the entry point into yoga” (page 97).

“May we be protected together.
May we be nourished together.
May we work together with great vigor.
May our study be enlightening.
May there be no hatred between us.
Om peace, peace, peace.

Lead us from the unreal to the real.
Lead us from darkness to light.
Lead us from death to immortality” (page 100-101).

“‘Just being in my body makes me happy. I don’t have to do anything, or prove anything. What freedom!’ For the first time in her adult life, Amy had tasted the possibility of a life not lived in the head—or in the abstraction of the edo-ideal—but in the very real world of current direct kinesthetic experience” (page 106).

“The body likes living in reality. Stepping down onto the solid ground of reality always feels better than living in delusion. It may be painful, but there is life in it, energy in it, and, like the ground, it holds us up in a way that delusion does not. ‘Only reality is wholly safe’” (page 112).

“The genius of yogic practice is that it cultivates the capacity to experience a close-range, moment-by-moment inspection of reality. In fact, yoga teaches that living fully in the moment is the only doorway into the hidden realities of the Self” (page 113).

Amrit Desai:
“If you want to experience the joyous ecstasy that life offers, there is one commitment that is absolutely fundamental: the commitment to live in the moment. With that commitment as your guiding focus, whatever you do in your daily life is part of your transformational process. Your commitment to living in the moment becomes your vehicle for spiritual growth.

Living in the moment, however, is the most dangerous situation anybody ever faces in life, because everything you have ever avoided is revealed to you when you live in the moment. You get to face all the denied contents of your subconscious as the reappear again and again through the events of your life” (page 113-114)

“the goal of the reality project is not to disengage from the phenomenal world, but to turn to embrace it more deeply—to discover its hidden depths. And in order to do that paradoxically, we do not reject the vicissitudes of the embodied life. We no not reject suffering. Rather, we turn and go through the doorway of suffering. We turn to embrace our neuroses, our conflicts, our difficult bodies and minds, and we let them be the bridge to a fuller life. Our task is not to free ourselves from the world, but to fully embrace the world—to embrace the real” (page 115).

“Through the practice of yoga, the physical structure is said to be ‘baked,’ or refined, creating a form strong enough to tolerate and hold the powerful energies of the fully alive human being without being roiled or destroyed by them. Without the creation of this hard wiring, as Viveka saw, it was simply not possible to tolerate the subtle levels of awareness into which the quest would take him. Like Viveka, without the development of a compassionate and equananimous body and mind, we literally cannot bear what the seer reveals to us” (page 124).

“‘Laymen often think that the best way to deal with any difficult situation is not to deal with it—to forget it. But you and I have the experience that the only way you can forget is to remember” (page 130).

“do we uncover conflict or do we build up the self?...Both of these pillars of the reality project have to be developed in the context of relationship. We cannot become real in isolation” (page 139).

“My grandparents were most important self-objects for me, allowing me to relax into the stable, calm, nonanxious, powerful, and protective environment that they created with their care. Within the vast and safe container of their nurturing, I was allowed to discover my true self” (page 142).

“The truth is, however, that all the yoga postures in the world cannot create the opening of the heart. In their original context, yogic practices were completely submerged in a web of relationship” (page 142-143).”

“that which is damaged in relationship must also be healed within relationship, and character can only truly be transformed through relationship—not through solitary practice” (page 144).

“Ramakrishna always used the language of the mother and child in explaining his relationship with God. As he once put it, ‘One must have the yearning for God of a child when his mother is away’” (page 145).

“about the importance of other human beings in the ongoing creation of th self. He understood that only other human beings can initiate us into the Real. One of his most useful proverbs was this: ‘Company is more powerful than willpower’” (page 166).

“When we carry a heavy load of repressed, hidden, and unitegrated experience, we are constantly seeking out relationships that will help us hold this experience, to reveal it in the actual dramas of our lives, and, hopefully, eventually bring it to a more successful conclusion—to heal it” (page 182).

“Reality must be, in a sense, triangulated. It takes two sets of eyes, not just one, to accurately locate the third point in space. The ‘third’ becomes a powerful still point, constructed out of the interaction of two minds and hearts” (page 183).

“‘Sometimes, rest is the highest spiritual practice’” (page 241).

“Real healing happens in relaxation, and unless we’re relaxing, we are not healing” (page 242).

“What begins as an experientially grounded practice—one that asks us to take nothing at all on faith, indeed, asks only that we pay attention to the body—brings us finally and inexorably back to God. The physical is revealed to be spiritual. The spiritual is revealed to be physical” (page 268).

“You thought that union was a way you could decide to go.
But the soul follows things rejected and almost forgotten.
Your true guide drinks from an undammed stream” -Rumi (page 273).

people to look into:
Marion Woodman: student of Carl Jung
Sylvia Boorstein: psychologist and senior American teacher of Buddhism
Jacquelyn Small: pioneer in the synthesis of spirituality and addictions work
Tom Yeomans: poet, psychologist, and leader in field of spiritual psychotherapy

“‘This is so much that wisdom of Jung,’ continued Marion (Woodman). ‘If we allow ourselves to be ravished the by the irrational, we are compelled to face our own evil. Trust takes on a new dimension. In knowing our own darkness, we know what another’s darkness can release. We learn to forgive and to love. Then, we don’t know from moment to moment what will happen next. As your Pashupats clearly understood—this is God’s country, not ours’” (page 289).

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He, for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of you life, body, and soul” -Swami Vivekenanda (page 290).

“In order to hear the teaching, we must slow down, cultivate awareness, and tune in. Most of all, we have to drop our hopes and dreams and preconceived notions of how it should be. We must look at how it is. We must look with a mind that lets go. Then we will see” (page 292).

“And the worst part is that at the same time that we’re leaning in toward the magic powers [of another], we will miss the real, more subtle, ordinary magic of transformation in our lives” (page 295).
“As I sat with myself…” (page 295). emphasis added, with not by

“Whatever transformation was happening was surely going to be by grace, not effort. Through letting go, rather than hot pursuit” (page 295).

“When all is said and done, most of the stages of spiritual practice are stages of grief work” (page 296).
11 reviews
May 18, 2021
This book is the opposite of enlightening. Written for a narrow audience of upper-middle class white people, it reads like a sustained advertisement for the Kripalu Center. It should be renamed "A Western Psychoanalyst Encounters Kripalu Yoga," as it is entirely tethered to 1) the author and his psychoanalytic worldview and 2) the institution of Kripalu.

The content is also unbearably superficial and contains distortions and inaccuracies. A good example of Western fetishism of Eastern spiritualities.
Profile Image for Clif Brittain.
132 reviews8 followers
December 24, 2009
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.
8 reviews
July 13, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Byron Stripling.
3 reviews3 followers
July 4, 2014
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 we expend in securing the basement door, the more dramatic their appearance will be when they get out. To paraphrase Carl Jung, that which we hold unaware in our unconscious will eventually come to us as fate."

The book is full of these kinds of gems.
June 30, 2022
i bought this book because it was cited in The Body Keeps the Score (fantastic read) and i thought it would be an enlightening read as i am a nuance in the yoga practice and it had pretty great reviews. boy was i wrong. the book’s preface started out promising and interesting. as soon as the author began to drone on and on about his personal problems, dull conversations he’s had with his friends, and the yoga center i became disengaged and bored. it began to read like the author was mansplaining the practice of yoga and it came across as very white-washed. i put it down and tried to pick it up again A LOT. however, in the end i got about halfway through and i couldn’t continue anymore. i had high hopes for this book but i am pretty disappointed.
Profile Image for Amy.
246 reviews4 followers
January 8, 2016
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 ways that don't include me. Or maybe because I'm already converted to yoga there were fewer epiphanies to be had from his account.
Profile Image for Sian Lile-Pastore.
1,190 reviews150 followers
July 13, 2015
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.
40 reviews
June 3, 2016
In preparation for my upcoming yoga teacher certification class. Loved the book and can't wait to start in class learning.
Profile Image for Gregory Williams.
Author 7 books91 followers
June 30, 2019
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. Crazy.

So I read this to get a better understanding of yoga, and I did get that. Perhaps a bit more than I was ready to chew, as it seemed to get down into the weeds as it went on, and then into the root structure of the weeds, and at one point felt like a textbook glossary of terms I didn’t care about. But for some - perhaps even me in a decade or so - it may help better define very specific conditions related to the effective practice of yoga.

I’m a believer in simplicity and I do think any practice can get mired down in unimportant details. Including every religion I’ve ever studied.

So I’m going to ascribe 4 stars because I think this is an important, wise discussion of this topic that I so resist. I do understand the transformative nature of yoga because I’ve read so much about the immense value people get from it. I’m trying, not by bit. Mostly because I want to invest in my future and be a fit and flexible elder man some day. I’ll get there - some day.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
959 reviews67 followers
April 19, 2020
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 the core of our nature. “We are that” which we seek. We are already inherently perfect; we have already arrived; and we have the potential in each moment to wake up to our true nature. (p. 42)

What instead? We can listen to ourselves, accept and trust our body, our breath and live each moment fully. We do not choose against any part of whom we are, but choose and accept all. We need to learn to listen to and trust our inner demons – and learn that these rejected parts of ourselves are not demons at all.

How? Yoga and meditation provide opportunities to slow down, cultivate awareness, and tune in to the True Self. They allow us to drop our hopes, dreams, and preconceived notions of how life should be, of who we should be. Rather than believe false stories about who and what we, we must search with an open mind. Only then can we really see.

I love yoga for multiple reasons, but I tend to think that this is a path rather than the path. Nonetheless, Cope outlines a useful path.
Profile Image for Fantasia ☮HippieMoonchild☮.
1,271 reviews86 followers
February 22, 2021
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 opposite.

That's not to say that my rating should reflect Cope's writing or that I don't agree with some of the things that he says--I do. In fact, the first half or so of the book are full of underlines and circlings of mine for the things that really did speak to me in reading this author's work.

However, at one point he just sort of lost me, and so far I haven't managed to convince myself back into reading this, and forcing myself isn't doing any good, so for now I'm going to set it aside and leave it at that. This is definitely something that I plan to take another look at in the future, as it really is well-written and has some good insights, but right now it isn't what I need, and that's a good enough reason to set it aside.
Profile Image for Alex Boon.
213 reviews
May 9, 2018
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 could be 25% shorter without much loss but overall I recommend it if you have an interest in the more traditional yoga model and yoga communities. The most interesting and important thing I took away from the book is the importance of developing awareness and equanimity side by side.
Profile Image for Gina.
Author 5 books22 followers
March 15, 2021
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 ones I cared about most. I realize there are other paths toward healing, but it is good that there are different things that can work for other people. I also think the appendix is very valuable.

I guess after what happened with Gurudev at Kripalu that there are still people who were listening to Oshi (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh)... I think there is a problem with gurus in general that makes total sense, and I believe they are missing some lessons with that.
Profile Image for Kristi Hanratty schlup.
13 reviews14 followers
May 2, 2023
I absolutely love this author. He uses great examples, quotes, and stories to illustrate ideas and concepts. Yoga and the Quest for the True Self is a fun and educational book and expands, for me, yoga on the mat to yoga as a way of life. I particularly like this book for the appendix at the end designed to help those readers who wish to dive more deeply into an understanding of yogic practice. It is an approachable book with immediate gems to take away, but I will read it again and again because there is so much to learn and absorb.
70 reviews1 follower
June 28, 2020
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.
Profile Image for emma.
53 reviews39 followers
March 13, 2022
I started this during my 200-hour certification course and finished it in the weeks after. I loved how the author chronicled his personal journey through yoga and his time at Kripalu. So many important passages and ideas resonated with me — I’ll be sure to revisit this in the future. Highly recommend to anyone who is similarly on a deeper exploration of yoga.
Profile Image for Magnus Lidbom.
114 reviews52 followers
June 25, 2021
The smell of cult recruitment propaganda slowly gets stronger and stronger as I read. Still, to begin with, I mostly enjoyed the mix of western psychotherapy with yogic ideas. There are plenty of ideas which resonate with me and Cope makes an effort to state yogic ideas and beliefs as being such rather than as facts.

But then the book suddenly takes a sharp turn into profoundly harmful and dangerous territory. Cope states flatly that practice is essentially useless and all real transformation and development happens through relationships with "a human embodiment of the divine.". This of course refers to the guru. He hammers in this idea for page after page.

Just in case you know nothing about the virtually ubiquitous abuse and exploitation in the spiritual world let this be your first warning. Whenever you hear that the guru/teacher must provide and/or verify your development and progress: Run! Don't walk or jog, Run away! NOW!

Do not believe this bit of manipulative and self-serving propaganda. This is a toxic belief. Organisations that try to indoctrinate you into dependency on the guru and/or the organisation itself are unsafe and you should stay away.

And of course this held true here as well. 5 minutes with google will tell you that the guru that Cope adores turned out to have sexually exploited an unknown number of students out of which he confessed to at least three. This came to light years before this book was published and Cope is still writing this dangerous cult indoctrination BS.

As I keep reading it becomes ever more clear that Cope has been deeply indoctrinated into utterly blind belief in his guru. This quote is quite something but only one of many similar:

Astonishingly, Bapuji never really studied postures with a yoga teacher. His guru, Dadaji, gave him only one posture, the lotus pose for meditation, and one pranayama, a pattern of alternate-nostril breathing called anuloma viloma, familiar to most beginning yoga students. The entire hatha yoga vocabulary of hundreds of postures and pranayamas—postures and pranayamas that he had never seen—were revealed to him spontaneously in his practice.

Cope really appears to believes this!
This is quite the testament to the power of the Kripalu indoctrination machine.
Stay away people. No one is immune to indoctrination. If you want to remain rational and avoid trauma and sexual exploitation: Stay away. Do not fall for this cult recruitment material.

OK so he "deals" with the exposing of his adored guru sexually exploiting students later in the book by swallowing his guru's BS excuse hook line and sinker. In short, it is really all the students fault. We, western students, for no good reason what so ever, idealize the teacher and project onto them the perfection we wish they had. It's in no way the guru's doing. Really.

Many Eastern teachers, not understanding the depth of the Orphan archetype in the West, walk right into situations in which they are highly idealized.

Now this is some prime strength willful ignorance right there. "The east" is shock full of guru worship. I doubt any guru in India is without his very own set of stories about how he is superior and effectively perfect. That is basically what guru means! This books retells multiple such stories about Copes adored Guru. These stories were almost certainly created by the guru and/or his inner circle. The idea that the guru is the innocent victim here is classic and ugly victim blaming.
Profile Image for Jonathan Karmel.
363 reviews37 followers
May 30, 2023
I recently read The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
by Bessel van der Kolk. That book discusses yoga as a treatment for people with PTSD, and it specifically recommended this book to learn more about yoga.

In this book, Stephen Cope does not describe the postures (asanas) and movements that most Americans think of as yoga. Rather, this book describes the mental transformation that some people experience when they do yoga. I have done many different types of physical exercise, including yoga for the last few years. And yoga is a great form of physical exercise, combining stretching, body weight strength training, and a cardio-vascular workout as well. At the same time, it can be done in a way that is not overly strenuous and is not likely to cause any injuries. It can be done by any person of any age no matter what their physical limitations are.

But I think the most interesting thing about yoga is that it does often lead to mental transformation. The book The Body Keeps the Score explains in detail why yoga helps some people heal from trauma. This book describes how yoga can have psychological benefits for anyone, or perhaps anyone who is on a "quest" to be transformed by it.

This book posits that most people go through life with a false self, and at some point they may embark on a quest for the true self. The false self is similar to Jung's concept of the persona; it is the self that you have had your whole life whose purpose is to present to other people. It is how you want other people to perceive you. In yoga, this false self that has been shaped by the environment and influences that a person grows up with is also called the Ego.

Often in middle age, people become disillusioned with their false self and begin a quest for jivan mukti, having the self awareness and enlightenment that comes from understanding the true self.

It may be difficult to change yourself if you don't change your setting. In order to bring about this change, it is helpful to find a transformational space such as a place where a person would go on a "retreat." You need a refuge with supportive people who encourage creativity, and then an activity like meditation or yoga to facilitate the transformation.

Yoga helps people let go of their attachment to their Ego. Your Ego believes you always need to be doing something, but if you accept that you are as God created you and you focus on discovering your soul, you can eventually come to realize you don't have to do anything; you are already okay just the way you are.

A belief in yoga is that we are born divine. Shiva is associated with masculine, the sun, the One, the transcendent. Meditation harnesses shiva energy, witness consciousness. Shakti is feminine, embodiment, becoming, dance, the phenomenal world, the moon, energy. Hatha yoga, especially the tantric and kundalini tradition, is about developing Shakti energy. Shakti energy lies coiled at the base of the spine. Shakti longs to meet her consort, Shiva, pure witness consciousness, which is in the crown chakra. The union of shiva and shakti, which is the goal of hatha yoga, is accomplished when shakti moves up through the spine.

We identify with our possessions, our thoughts, our personalities, our ideas, our careers, our families, our countries. But our true Self is pure consciousness. Our self-estrangement is due to the five afflictions or kleshas: (1) ignorance; (2) Ego or "I-ness"; (3) attraction; (4) aversion; and (5) clinging to life/fear of death.

We spend a lot of time focusing on the "self under its own power": our achievement, wealth, beauty, and success. We are obsessed with "I, me, mine." The idea of "no-self" is frightening. Our "identity project" tends to be focused on work and love. We identify with the persona we've created for ourself, and we assume that this is who we are. But the identity project just creates a false self.

The false self
1. It's disconnected from your body
2. It does not feel right
3. Your ego ideal is at odds with reality

Your ego is incredibly invested in believing that your false self is real. But at some point you mature and let go of your false self. Then the yoga journey can begin. You begin to separate atman (Reality) from non-atman (the apparent). As the reality project emerges, we begin to relinquish our attempts to make life the way we think it should be, and we turn our attention instead to a minute and thorough inspection of the way life really is.

The reality project
1. Return to your body
2. Stop trying to dominate your body; accept it
3. Be authentic and caring for yourself
4. Stop engaging in habitual self-sacrifice
5. Be aware of your likes, dislikes, interests, and curiosities
6. Express yourself genuinely and say "no" when you want to say "no"
7. Be okay being ordinary
8. Value your idiosyncrasy
9. Use your relationships to explore and reveal your real self
10. increased capacity to see the previously denied aspects of reality

Twin pillars of the reality project
1. Clear seeing, we need to understand our unconscious beliefs, use your mind to become wise and acknowledge that there is no self
2. Calm abiding, we need to accept how we really are, use your heart to have compassion for yourself, this is the path to contentment and equanimity

We need to be held and soothed to feel equanimity. This is felt in the "lotus of the heart." In traditional yoga, people seek this from a guru in an ashram. In the West, sometimes a therapist serves this function. It may be more needed by people who are "orphans," i.e., were not securely attached to their parents at a young age. We need to get to the point of feeling "I'm okay" or "I'm good enough."

Things that stand in the way
1. Trying to be perfect and invulnerable
2. fear of individuation
3. avoidance of commitment and accountability
4. fear of intimacy
5. inability to mourn loses
6. Avoidance of feelings

A "used" child is likely to have feelings of emptiness, isolation and fear. Children who are hated don't trust others and don't trust themselves. Children who have been abandoned become unable to express their needs.

The problem with gurus as that there are true gurus and false gurus. Another way is to seek a community as guru.

When you embrace your false self, you fluctuate between feelings of grandiosity and worthlessness. You are constantly asking yourself "Am I real?" When you accept your true self you know that you are real. You use your wisdom and intuition to live in interdependent relationships with other people.

People have multiple selves. Rather than keeping them separate and keeping some of them secret, we need to integrate the different aspects of ourselves.

6 characteristics of the witness
1. Accept all aspects of reality, don't judge some as good some as bad
2. Do not censor life, allow yourself to be who you are instead of being ashamed
3. Experience life with your whole body, not just your prefrontal cortex
4. You already are what you are, you don't need to become something else
5. Remain still even if your life is chaotic
6. Take the witness everywhere

Engage in self-observation without judgment. Accept yourself.

Yoga involves these 5 aspects
1. Breathe
2. Relax
3. Feel
4. Watch
5. Allow

People who don't do yoga engage in the following:
1. Suppression of the breath (shallow breathing)
2. abdominal inhibition (hold stress in stomach with tight abdominal muscles)
3. Weak legs (walking leading with head). You need to learn grounding
4. Tight back (raised trapezoids)
5. locked jaw
6. Needy eyes

Yoga practice makes the following possible:
1. Proprioception (body awareness)
2. Restoring control of your brain
3. Penetrating the deep inner body (gaining some control over organs, glands, fluids, bones)

People have muscle memory, and you need to train your body to move in healthy ways. Connective tissue, or fascia, is the most widely distributed of all the body's tissues. When you contract muscles, resist relaxation, you develop energy cysts. With calm abiding, you develop the equanimity of the body.

Yoga is meditation in motion. You enter a state of flow.

Breathing or pranayama moves energy through the body. Kundalini, from the tantric lineage, helps move energy through the body. As the nadis are opened, purified, and balanced through pranayama practice, and as our consciousness remains attuned to the energy body, a kind of enriched prana will begin to move through the body. Eventually the physical is revealed to be spiritual, bringing us closer to God.

I have no plan for my life
I accept the plan life has for me
I follow the plan and what it provides me moment to moment
I am not the roles I play in following the plan
I am the witness of all that I interact with in my life
I was a child, an adult, and will soon be an old man
I was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a grandfather
I was an artist, a businessman, a yogi, a guru, a friend
I have been healthy, sick, successful, a failure, awake, and asleep
Behind all those changing experiences, I am the changeless consciousness that is constantly present
I am that I am, in spite of the changes that "I am" experiences
I am That
My present is pregnant with all my past
My future unfolds from the way I live my present
My being manifests in the present
I am present
I am at home in the eternal now, living the plan life has for me

We are born divine. All of humanity is one family. We are already awake and enlightened. The body is the temple of the divine. Life is transformation. This moment is sacred.
Profile Image for Rochelle.
303 reviews10 followers
April 15, 2009
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 year or two off without having to continue to generate a source of income, and dedicate that year to healing a broken heart and partake in some soul searching?), his genuine desire to understand the quest and the object of his quest are genuine enough that the reader is willing to go along for the ride. It is not hard to see that, eventually, Kripalu, this oft-recreated Eden, will prove to be as flawed as the one of Biblical fable, as vulnerable people look to someone other than themselves to take responsibility for their lives, resulting in emotional and spiritual damage to some and financial woes to the ashram--Paradise regained, lost, re-designed. He writes about this with some compassion and discretion, but eventually decides that the growth he has experienced was worth what turned into a very deep personal commitment. Seeker, be warned. He does just that, making sure to explain what the characteristics of a healthy spiritual program is and is not. When all is said and done, the reader is rewarded with a very readable, highly personal exploration of Yoga as it relates to individual growth, as well as some rudimentary understanding of the psychoanalytical process, but please be reminded that this is one man's memoir and experience. As with most things of this nature, it is impossible to generalize about the outcome of similar spiritual journeys. This caveat notwithstanding, the title does deliver what it promises, and I would probably read another book from this author. As a bonus, there is an easy-to-understand appendix on yoga terms and some background on this ancient and richly complex practice.
86 reviews4 followers
April 19, 2021
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 “slain in the spirit.” Very disconcerting that he never fully challenged the unhealthy atmosphere at this centre. Yes he does touch on the fact the guru should not be worshipped, but these statements fall flat after his vivid descriptions. Clearly he was fully converted and unable to reasonably assess the community, which was frustrating to read as it was much more clear from the readers point of view that the community was unhealthy.
There were some interesting parts here, but little yogic teaching which is why I wanted to read the book. Some of his psychoanalytic musings were fascinating and enlightening. Some were absolutely toxic, especially once mixed with religious ideas. When he said that a child may have deserved its own abandonment due to actions in a past life (with the attitude of, who knows? Maybe?) I couldn’t read much more. What a horrific thought. Such ideas only come from deep saturation in completely unreasonable religious doctrines and are extremely psychologically damaging. As damaging as the Puritanism that he disparages on and off throughout the book.
This book had interesting parts, and a few distressing parts, but it was not what I was looking for when I desired to learn more about yoga. Would not recommend it.
Profile Image for Bruna Dias.
32 reviews2 followers
January 29, 2023
Although I do not identify myself fully with the author's perspectives, I found it interesting to follow his personal journey. It intrigued me not only because of his personal experiences with yoga, but also because of the nature of his developmental path.

It can be said that this book provides a brief introduction to yoga terminology and history (I personally found it hard to grasp - there were a lot of complicated words involved), and insights about the multiple ways people can relate with yoga culture.

However, if you're only in for a yoga introduction, you will be better served by a more objective book. This one has the content mixed with, basically, the author's diary - which I can imagine being hard to put up with for who could not care less about his personal views.
Profile Image for Edith.
64 reviews
September 1, 2019
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 have no support, and yet doesn't shy away from esoteric concepts either. He talks about how it is important to bring equal amounts of skepticism, common sense, and openness to these topics, and to my mind he did exactly that in writing this book. He has a sense of humor about the weird stuff, too.

My favorite parts were his discussions about breath control as an unconscious defense mechanism. (Hard to summarize; worth reading if you're into yoga.)
Profile Image for Missy.
86 reviews2 followers
October 27, 2015
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 for allowing me to relive my R&R Retreat while at the same time getting to read a first hand experience back to the days of Amrit Desai and the downfall and rebuilding of Kripalu. Plus all of the rich history before it was a yoga center. I'm sorry I'm finished with the book. I want to go back to Kripalu again!
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