Yoga Psychology and its Applications in Modern Life

Jignasu Sudarshan (Sushant Pandey), Lecturer, Dept of Yoga Psychology, Bihar Yoga Bharati

Yoga psychology is a holistic science with the following aims:

  • to study the behaviour of an individual from the physical and mental levels through to more subtle levels
  • to establish harmony between the three dimensions of body, mind and spirit through following yogic principles and practices
  • to bring about a realization of this totality within each individual.

Harmonizing head, heart and hands

In this present age our attitudes towards life are fragmented and we are constantly running after objects of luxury in order to find happiness and peace of mind. We have forgotten that happiness and peace are very much a part of our essential nature and are within us. The experience of these inherent qualities is lost because we have lost contact with the core of our existence, the spiritual dimension, which is the source of boundless energy, happiness and unfathomable peace. To actualize our inner potential we need to establish integration between our head (thinking), heart (feeling) and hands (behaviour), which means discarding discrepancies in our thinking, feeling and behaviour. To achieve this, yoga psychology recommends leading a disciplined lifestyle and developing a positive attitude towards the events of life.

Ananda or bliss is the essential nature of a human being; it is the state of spontaneity and harmony. Hence we find that the state of bliss and the state of total health are synonymous. In Indian philosophy health is defined as a state of being where one is established in one's own essential nature, swaroopa.

In the materialistic thinking of the modern world, we understand health merely as a disease-free state. So, here the approach becomes symptomatic and negative. Health is not only a disease-free state, rather it is a positive state of being where one's body, mind and spirit exist in total harmony. It is the state of totality, and yoga psychology shows a path to actualize this totality.

Defining the aim of yoga in the second verse of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says, 'Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah', which means, “Yoga is the cessation of all the modifications of mind.” Vritti here means all the painful or non-painful elements of the mind which keep on surfacing in the forms of thoughts, feelings, emotions and neurotic tendencies. These elements restrict the enjoyment of freedom and spontaneity in thinking, feeling and behaviour. However, the moment these modifications cease to exist, another vista opens, as Patanjali explains in the third verse: 'Tada drashtuh swaroope avasthanam', which means, 'Then the seer is established (abides) in his own essential nature'. Here the individual experiences spontaneity, freedom and everlasting bliss.

To reach this state of being, the path of discipline must be followed. In this context discipline means the management of the actions and reactions of the body, mind and emotions starting from the physical or gross level through to subtle levels. To achieve this aim, Patanjali has propounded the famous eight-fold path, which shows a way of living in the world and how to interact and behave in society. The eight-fold path is:

  1. Yama (social code)
  2. Niyama (personal code)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (control of prana)
  5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (superconsciousness)

Management of the mind

From the psychological perspective it can be said that the total potential of the personality can be realized when one is able to sublimate the primal energy from the lower dimension to the higher dimension. This is possible by fulfilling the needs of the individual – from material to more subtle spiritual needs – in a systematic, balanced and disciplined way. As we have seen, these needs and desires are diversions on the path of free-flowing energy. This is the reason why management of the lifestyle is given so much importance in yoga. To bring to fruition any yogic practices, the background of a disciplined lifestyle is the foremost prerequisite. This is also the reason why Rishi Patanjali places yama and niyama before asana and other yogic practices.

The yamas and niyamas are the two essential prerequisites for achieving the ultimate goal of the yogic path. They are listed as follows:

Yamas (social code) Niyamas (personal code)
1. Ahimsa (non-violence) 1. Saucha (cleanliness)
2. Satya (truthfulness) 2. Santosha (contentment)
3. Asteya (honesty) 3. Tapas (austerity)
4. Brahmacharya (sensual abstinence) 4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
5. Aparigraha (non-acquisitiveness) 5. Ishwara Pranidhana (resignation to God)

The five yamas and five niyamas form the basic yogic attitudes which help an individual to attain self-discipline at both personal and social levels. They also prepare a solid foundation for the path of yoga. Rishi Patanjali advises these disciplines for calming the mind; he knows that there is a large discrepancy between the mind in terms of thoughts and feelings, and the behaviour or conduct of the individual. Through the practice of yama and niyama one can discard this discrepancy.

Living with these ten positive attitudes will always create a harmonious environment for the aspirant, both internally and externally. Psychology has realized that the mind and body are closely interrelated; the state of one affects the other. For example, if my body is exhausted then I will clearly see that my mind is dull and tired and vice versa. Similarly, if my mind is filled with healthy, positive thoughts, it transforms all the internal processes of the body. The mind is such a powerful agent; it can produce a disease like cancer and yet it also has the potential to cure such a disease. Therefore, the way we think, feel and behave affects our physical body, changing the whole chemistry of the body considerably.

In another way we can say that our thoughts and feelings transform themselves into different bodily responses. We have seen that 80% of diseases are psychosomatic in nature, which means the root or cause is in the mind. Therefore, in yoga we use this mind as a tool to reverse the condition of the body by following the same psychosomatic route which has caused the disease. Manage your mind, organize your thoughts and feelings, make them positive and healthy and you will definitely get results.

Proper utilization of energy

The mind runs after the senses all the time, which in turn are fuelled by the instincts, and because of this we can't perceive the unified picture of reality. The senses, mind and instincts are transient in nature and will always prevent us from developing a state of balance in our personality. According to yoga psychology, to achieve mental balance and stability management of the instincts is advised. Food (ahara), sleep (nidra), fear (bhaya) and sex (maithuna) are the four basic instincts described in Indian philosophy which pull the individual down to the instinctive level of existence. These instincts colour our thinking, feeling and behaviour, and we fail to enjoy spontaneity and freedom. So, freeing ourselves from these instincts means achieving a state where energy and consciousness move freely without any blockages or barriers in their path. Management of these four instincts also corresponds to the management of the four different dimensions of our personality, the physical (food), mental (sleep), emotional (fear) and energy (sex).

To develop positive interaction within the personality these four instincts must be managed efficiently. Yoga advises using the two tools of viveka, discrimination, and sanyama, restraint, through which we can sublimate our energy. Using one's viveka, discrimination between right and wrong, and sanyama, restraint of the senses, mind and behaviour, one can free oneself from the clutches of the instinctive patterns of behaviour. The aim of all yoga practices is to strengthen these two potent qualities in order to elevate oneself above the realm of instincts. As long as behavioural patterns are guided by these instincts we remain subject to the principle of duality. Hence we remain in a state of despair, tension and suffering. According to yoga, the transient tendencies of the mind are the cause of kleshas, afflictions, and many other neurotic states such as obsessive thoughts, anxieties, fears, passions, etc. Therefore, until and unless one frees the mind from the conditioning of these basic instincts, elevation from the plane of suffering is a distant dream.

Following a lifestyle based on yogic principles acts like a panacea in this modern age; such a lifestyle not only prevents and cures disease, it also promotes health and well-being.