The following is an excerpt from my master's project on yoga and psychotherapy. Yoga is a system of healing and expanding mind-body-spirit. Our work together may or may not include yoga philosophy, but it impacts my presence and gives me a lot of tools to work with.
The Spiritual Practice of Yoga in Psychotherapy with Adults
By Brandy Vanderheiden
A few months ago, I was browsing a used bookstore when I came upon a collection of interviews with Swami Muktananda (Alboher, 1978); a man who was known as a Siddha yogi, or fully enlightened being. One day, Muktananda met with a group of psychologists and one of them asked him, “What is the basic difference between psychology and Siddha yoga?” (p. 89) His answer was that psychology arises from suffering, and yoga arises from bliss, but that was almost beside the point for me. I was much more fascinated that the question had been posed, because it confirmed my belief that yoga is a very psychological spiritual practice. In fact, it is possible that yoga is the first holistic psychology. It is a complex, integrative path to individuation. The word yoga is traditionally translated as “union”; it is the union between the individual self, or the person we define as “me”, and the universal Self, or that part of us that is one with the Divine. It uses tools that access the body, mind, the causal, energetic sheaths around the body, and ultimately the Divine essence in each of us.
This concept of yoga is quite different from what most Westerners typically think it is --an exercise class at the gym. Asana practice, which is the physical postures which comprise the typical gym class, is only one out of the eight-fold path of yoga that the sage Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sutras, a compilation of 196 aphorisms considered to be one of the most important ancient yoga texts. Rama, Ballentine, and Ajaya (1976) explain that the true focus of yoga is “the modification of one’s self-awareness and relationship to the world. It is a complete system of therapy, which includes developing awareness and control of the physical body, emotions, mind and interpersonal relations” (p.1). Yoga psychologists draw from the Yoga Sutras, and many other ancient texts to find a classical context for working with clients in a clinical setting. They also integrate modern yogic and psychological concepts that make it more relevant to people today.
Yoga psychology is a transpersonal approach that is geared toward helping people transcend the maya, or illusion, of the world we have created, in order to reunite with our Divine Selves. It asks us to let go of our fears and belief that we are powerless victims, and to accept that the greatest illusion in life is our separateness, for yoga tells us that energetically, we are all one. Yoga invites us to step into the possibility of something greater and more expansive than who we believe we are.
Licensed California Marriage & Family Therapist #49771
*Please see "About Brandy" for more info on trauma friendly yoga
**It generally works best if I am either your yoga teacher or your therapist/Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, not both.
Copyright Brandy Vanderheiden 2007. All rights reserved.