I’ve been reading Stephen Cope’s Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (Bantam Books: 1999) for the past few weeks, mainly while on the Metro to and from work. It makes for fitful reading, but Cope has produced a book that is worth thoroughly absorbing and pondering. It is definitely not a book for a yoga novice. It is not a book about asanas, vinyasas and how to fit them together. It is not another book about interpreting the enigmatic refrains of Patanjali (Cope’s latest book is actually about that).
Cope’s book deals with how yoga can change you in dramatic ways, with why yoga is uniquely equipped to help delve into the human mind and condition, and with the dilemma of self-identity and the real world. But despite its lofty topics, it is still very accessible because it comes at yoga and human change from a personal perspective of his own life, his process of change and the community within which he was working, the Kripalu Center in western Massachusetts. Cope is a trained psychotherapist so he brings a full tool kit to analyze his experience and also a remarkable capacity to communicate a potentially ethereal process in palpable terms.
In order for the book to make sense, you need to have sweated on the mat for at least a year or two. It’s also worth trying to discuss it with other practitioners and teachers because it challenges the intellect and benefits from multiple perspectives. At this point in my evolving practice, it has responded to a lot of formless questions that were bouncing around in my head and I could not condense into concrete inquiries.