Yoga teacher Stephen Cope has worn many hats over the course of a life well lived. Trained as a psychotherapist as well as an Episcopalian priest, he has spent the last two decades working at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. In addition to teaching both asana and yogic tradition, heís helped to develop the Kripalu Center for Extraordinary Living, where he researches the effects of yoga as a part of the daily lives of those in stressful occupations. Oh, and heís also the author of three books that meld the great works of the yogic canon with the everyday lives of real people involved in the world. His latest, entitled The Great Work of Your Life , is insightful, compulsively readable, and at times magical.
In this tome, Cope does not discuss asana at all. Those who practice yoga divorced from its ancient roots will find little of interest here, for this is a book grounded in the importance of the story told in the Bhagavad Gita, a seminal Hindu text. Those interested in the relationship between this ancient manuscript and personal psychology, however, will enjoy this book. The Great Work of Your Life demonstrates that oneís love for yoga (or music, or nursing, or what-have-you) shouldnít be disregarded Ė in fact, these passions are often the keys to fully inhabiting oneís life.
The Bhagavad Gita, which takes place in the middle of a war, is written as a dialogue between a young general and the person who drives his chariot. The general, Arjuna, is a prince on the eve of battle against relatives and loved one, trying to understand his proper role in the coming conflagration. The charioteer, Krishna, is ultimately revealed to be an incarnation of God; his advice to Arjuna forms the basis of understanding oneís dharma, or role in the greater cosmos.
Copeís genius is in how he weaves the events of the Gita in with the personal narratives of those who have made a difference in history (such as Beethoven and Gandhi), and then with the stories of his friends; by extension, the readerís story becomes a part of the tale. In this way, the ideas rise above Hinduism, Transcendentalism (Henry David Thoreauís story), the vicissitudes of history (Walt Whitman and the American Civil War), or the importance of a Broadway show (the life of a deceased friend). Big or small, Cope reminds us, each of us is a puzzle piece in the great beauty of our universe, and each of us has a responsibility to make sure that our lives are dedicated to understanding and developing out personal passions.
Itís difficult to read this book without focusing on the big questions, but Copeís discussion is equally applicable to the way in which one approaches any important facet of oneís life. Thus, itís possible to read this as an inspirational lecture about how to approach oneís yoga practice as well as the other, more overarching questions. Again, if you consider yoga to be just a workout, this isnít the book for you Ė but if you want to engage with yoga on a deeper level, this is an important read.
Disclaimer: I have never met Stephen Cope, nor have I spent time at the Kripalu Institute. I purchased this book with my own funds.
Cope, Stephen. The Great Work of Your Life. Bantam Books, 2015. ISBN: 978-0553386073