Yoga & Psychotherapy – a book review

The Yoga Therapy program offered at Kripalu Yoga Center for Yoga and Health suggests a number of books as both required and suggested reading in preparation for advanced training in yoga therapy. I poured through the course descriptions and scooped up a list of those reading materials, thinking that I may need a considerable amount of reading time to complete the program. I offer up a summary of one of those books from the list.

Yoga and Psychotherapy: The Evolution of Consciousness is written by Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine, MD, and Swami Ajaya, PhD. It was published in 2014 by Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A.® and weights in at just over 225 pages, with additional pages for Preface, Appendix, and References and Notes.

My copy will be unsuitable for re-sale now because of the excessive underlining of passages throughout the text! I felt compelled to draw little symbols and pictures in the margins and circle the many names of experts mentioned. At several points in the reading, I found myself re-reading several sections while doing a combination of day dreaming, soul searching, and contemplation. The introspection that is prompted by reading any kind of psychology reduces my reading speed to slower than half time. And even more so than in astrology, I find myself looking to see if I can diagnose either my own psychosis or relax in the recognition of normal behavior.

The common theme throughout is the comparison of Western Psychology and Eastern Yogic Psychology. The authors use extensive references to many of the major players in traditional psychology from the west, such as Freud, Maslow, Erikson, James, and most extensively quotes and references to the work of Carl Jung.

The text continues a very light compare and contrast approach that seemed to work hard to provide a balanced discussion. At times the book gives such deference to western psychology that it makes yogic psychology seem less than a serious science.

The second key theme to the book is the idea of the yogic path as being a “growth” process. In western psychology this is usually referred to as a process to “cure” an illness, or address some negative expression of the personality. With exception of true psychosis, eastern psychology looks at the individual’s personality as a work in progress or a move to growing in spiritual awareness. By describing the yogi as either growing or not growing we are able to realize that the path is not always a linear move toward pure consciousness. The psychology of being human can be related as normal, natural and growing toward the constant goal of awareness from the gross to the subtle.

To grow or to move toward consciousness from a yogic perspective, involves following a path that follows what the ancient texts describe as sheaths, or koshas. The book is divided in to chapters that discuss the five sheaths, each describing an aspect of what it means to live within the human existence (the physical body, the energy within the body, the sense organs, the intellect, and the true soul). In the deepest depths of the five sheaths is pure consciousness. The sheaths provide a framework for exploration and discussion of the whole being, and a complete system of therapy.

The “causes of misery,” or the situations in life that prevent growth and cause us mental anguish are the five categories referred to as “kleshas” in the yogic tradition. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras these are the causes of fear, anxiety and depression. The kleshas keep us from realizing our capacity for higher consciousness. They are:

  1. Ignorance
  2. Limited self concept
  3. Attachment
  4. Aversion
  5. Fear of death

After an interesting exploration into the body, breath and energy, the mind (manas, chitta and ahankara), consciousness, sleep (my favorite chapter!), the last sections of the book deal with psychosis, mysticism and the centers of consciousness. In the final analysis the authors are making a very strong case that “yoga offers to modern psychology the possibility of integration.” They explain that modern western psychology has done a superb job of scientific and laboratory study of behavior but that it remains fragmented, and has not pulled together the theories and techniques needed for real health and growth. Calling psychotherapy “uncoordinated and scattered” as compared to the benefits to be learned from a different culture working on the same areas of humanness. The book closes with an analogy as to how Arabic numerals provided a path to Western mathematics in a way that Roman numerals never could have made possible.

Learning the Sanskrit for Asanas

Learning a new language can be a challenge for some people. There are those of us who seem to have a knack for acquiring language skills easily, mastering the exact pronunciation and gaining a good understanding of a new, foreign syntax. For me, it is more like the pounding of the round peg in the square hole. It just doesn’t sink in!

I find myself overanalyzing the word structure and trying to leap frog over the hard work of memorizing by making up word patterns that I think I am seeing. This approach of “analogous thought” has served me well when learning concepts, recognizing trends and when trying to anticipate the next likely event. It apparently is the worst way to learn a new language!

And so it is with my efforts to learn the Sanskrit names to yoga asanas. There are many lists on the internet and thousands of books that are helpful. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Yoga Toolbox by Joseph Le Page and Lilian Le Page. A sturdy binder containing 90 laminated cards. It’s a comprehensive book that illustrates the poses and gives detailed information about getting into the poses, alternate poses, the effects the poses have on the Chakras with notes on the Koshas, Prana Vayus and Ayurveda.

Yoga Journal’s index of yoga poses lists the Sanskrit name and the English name is an easy to read table with links to pictures and descriptions of the poses.

Wikipedia’s list of asanas is a table with columns for the Sanskrit translation, Sanskrit text, English common name, image and classification in an easy to navigate format.

My personal favorite tool in the form of a game with animated flash cards and score keeping for the competitive at heart:

Yoga Toolbox – Yoga Asanas on Quizlet. Quizlet.com is a simple online tool that is useful for teachers and people wanting to make learning easier and more fun. I’ve set up a set for Yoga Asanas that you may find fun and entertaining. The Quizlet platform has gone back to the age-old method of games as an engaging learning tool. I particularly like the “Scatter” and “Space Race” tools. Of course there is a Quizlet iPhone app that weaned me off time sucking Zynga’s “Friend” games like Words with Friends, Running with Friends, Hanging with Friends and Gems with Friends. Now I have a new addiction! Quizlet sets.