Have you ever wondered if there is more to the current exercise fad than sleek lycra, beautiful sweaty bodies, and sweet-smelling incense?
Although yoga is centered on practices that include movement, balance, breathing, meditation and the flow of energy, it is principally a pathway to finding the true self.
There are many serious books about the yogic tradition. Most are written by practitioners and teachers whose grasp of the subject has been handed down over many generations, even centuries, through the oral tradition. In many cases, these traditional writings are a “maze of incomprehensible metaphysics”.
This book is powerfully different.
The author, Stephen Cope, is an American psychologist with a rigorous training in psychoanalysis. After many years devoted to the learning and practice of yoga, he provides a uniquely Western window into the ancient Eastern tradition. If you’ve grown up outside of multi-generational yogic culture, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self is for you.
The book is, at times, an intriguing detective story—Cope is an earnest man in search of himself. At other times, it is a rich and detailed account of the history of American yoga and its eastern origins. Finally, it’s an in-depth description of the human psyche viewed in parallel through the lens of Western science and Eastern mysticism.
Don’t read this book if you want a description of postures and poses, flows and savasana. It is a serious work about the complex spiritual journey toward consciousness.
Towards the end, you will find three chapters that cover the physical practice of yoga. In them, Cope explains how the postures enable the “hardwiring of the body—the physical structure capable of containing the reorganization of the psyche”. It’s this psychic transformation that is key, and he devotes the bulk of the book to explaining this spiritual context.
The book is an easy read … in fact, so enticing, it became hard for me to put it down.
The metaphysics is colorfully balanced by extensive reference to personal experience and real-life stories of struggle and transformation, including examples from a wide range of art and literature such as the much-loved children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit, and the musical movie Fame.
In a single phrase, Cope captures yoga’s universal appeal.
“The fundamental premise of the yogic worldview is that the human being has an innate capacity and drive to mature to full aliveness.”
If this prospect intrigues you, and you’re prepared to put in the work to get there, then take the time to read this powerful book.