Yoga Psychology Lecture Dr. Guislain 

Katherine Walker Smith

Yoga and Psychology are synonymous terms, they effectively have the same meaning. Yoga IS psychology. Yoga, for some yogis means asana, meditation, chanting mantras, a lifestyle involving various forms of devotion and ritual practice, but then is it like a religion? Is it a just a practice like martial arts? Or is it a theology? Or is it rather a philosophy?

Yes and no, yoga is not a classical religion or theology or even philosophy because it remains even in the oldest texts human-centered. Nor is it purely a physical practice born out of a need to condition the body. Yoga could be perhaps considered a kind of anthrocentric religion, one which is highly philosophical and ritual-based, if that can even exist in combination. The early texts from the Vedanta which describe yoga for the first time, the Upanishads, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika make some mention of the experience of Gods, or the manifestations of God-like energies. However, the texts themselves are mainly concerned with the human experience. The root of yoga in the Vedantas and Tantras are non-dualistic, meaning they make no separation between man and divine spirit, therefore implying man is divine by his nature. There is nothing to worship or revere more than our own faulted existence!

Svadyaha, The Science of Yoga

The ritual practices and moralizing philosophies of yoga are what do make it feel very much like a religious practice, or like a theology. Although, looking closely at society and culture reveals that human nature constructs cultural rights and morality outside of religious concepts as well. So what sets yoga apart would be what Patanjalis Yoga Sutras call Svadyaha, the study of the Self in order to understand the nature of the Universe. So yoga was always concerned with relating the microcosm to the macrocosm, as modern-day psychology and some philosophies are concerned with relating the individual to a universal human experience.

Psychology is the study of the psyche, not just the thinking mind but also the feeling-body, and the dream world. It distinguishes the conscious from the subconscious and recognizes both have equal influence and power over human thought and action. So, just like we use psychology to access new wisdom about the psyche, we use yoga to access wisdom about the human experience, Svadyaha, self-study. Psychology, like yoga, asks for a trust in the value of ones own personal experience to gain wisdom. Psychology cannot be considered a part of yoga, because it IS yoga.

A Bit of History … Yoga meets Psychology

Jung’s school of psychoanalysis more so than Freuds or Adlers lay closest to yoga – Jungian system includes the idea that psychoanalysis can contribute to human higher development. Jung was aware of yoga in fact and wrote a very nice book called “The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga” (nothing to do with the kundalini yoga we know today, but of the theory of the chakra system). Some people even integrate the ideas of Jung into books or workshops on the yoga chakras without realizing that the ideas come from his lectures on yoga in 1932, and not from ancient texts.

Looking Forward

Many crossovers have occurred between contemporary yoga teachings and psychoanalysis, which came first is a bit the question of the chicken or the egg…but the dialogue between the two is accelerating and is intriguing. Modern day Somatics has perhaps been loosely based on yoga tradition, as well as Sensorymotor Psychotherapy, Jungian Play Therapy, Bioenergetic therapy and Psychodynamic theory. These “new” therapies have started to build the bridge between the body and the mind with a goal of optimizing mental and physical health. Scientific research has only begun its investigations on the power interplay between mind and body, and to chart the set of influences that one has over the other. The yoga tradition has a lot to offer psychology, and psychology has a lot to offer us!


**This article was written for a lecture given at the Museum Dr. Guislain in May 2016, this article may not be reproduced without authors permission



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