Stephen Cope is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. He is currently senior scholar-in-residence at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Millions of Americans are now savoring yoga as a form of physical exercise, but that is only one dimension of this tradition. It also is "a three-thousand-year-old science of extraordinary living that concerns itself with every aspect of human functioning mental, physical, and spiritual." To tap into these riches, the author turns to an ancient treatise on meditation by Patanjali called Yogasutra, a cogent piece of spiritual and psychological writing.
Cope profiles six yogis (composite portraits based on real people) as they face various challenges: Jack, a lawyer struggling at midlife with disillusionment and quiet desperation; Maggie a 62-year-old aspiring novelist, seeking to find her authentic voice; Susan, a popular interior designer, wife, and mother who suffers from compulsive eating; Kate, a professional dancer dealing with delusions; and Rudi, a local Berkshires handyman, gardener, and yoga adept who is living at ease in the world.
As a wisdom tradition, yoga's ample resources and practices help practitioners live an optimal life through examining the sources of human suffering and finding ways to achieve contentment. It is not enough to follow the mandates of the heart, they must be systematically cultivated. Through spiritual practice, we can develop the capacity to give more generously and to combat greed. When we find ourselves overcome by tides of envy and jealousy, we can train the heart toward sympathetic joy, taking delight in the success and achievements of others.
Compassion can be practiced as an antidote to hatred. Cope points out that in the yoga tradition, each afflictive emotion has its opposite which can be encouraged: "Rather than actively pushing away mind-states characterized by greed, hatred, or delusion, simply give juice to their opposites and the obstacles will naturally fade." It is this kind of doable and down-to-earth wisdom that makes yoga such an inspired path to liberation.