Yoga Therapy (In The Light Of Contemporary Psychotherapies)

Yoga Therapy (In The Light Of Contemporary Psychotherapies)



The dimensions of yoga therapy become quite vast and in fact, immeasurable when we look at the different aspects, principles and approaches. As far as the approach is concerned, it is preventive, curative and promotive in nature and treats the individual as a whole. Therefore it is a holistic system of cure. In the system of yoga therapy we find some important underlying principles, which guide the entire process of transformation or cure.

Yoga therapy is a systematic and individual oriented therapeutic process, which treats the individual as a whole and is not a disease oriented therapeutic methodology. The goal of the yoga therapy is to harmonize both the internal and the external environments of the individual, so that the growth and integration of the personality become possible.

Yoga is surely a system of psychotherapy, for its whole aim and purpose is to lead man from unhappiness and suffering to the state of lasting peace and harmony. In this pursuit yoga psychology has put forth many of the theories and methods now being rediscovered by modern psychology. All the different branches of yoga aim at establishing harmony at different levels of human functioning. In yoga, the body, energy, emotion and mind are considered as the different facets/ levels of human functioning and all the different practices/techniques available in different branches of yoga, aim to establish harmony at all these different levels.

In the entire process of yoga therapy the therapist works with the individual concerned, considering the limitations of the person in the mind. The therapist and the client work together to enable the training in self awareness and self regulation of the body, breath, diet habit patterns, emotions, attitudes, likings and disliking, unconscious processes, desires etc., in an integrated and efficient manner. If any area is left out the therapy is incomplete. The therapist ensures that the teaching of yoga is not restricted to the class room only but the individual makes an effort to change his perspective to the events of life. So the therapy actually works at all different dimensions of personality, from physical, energetic to deep emotional and psychic levels.

Whenever we deal with the term “psychotherapy”, we are dealing with a systematic methodological process based on well defined paradigms of psychology. The most classic definition of psychotherapy is, any intentional application of psychological techniques by a clinician to the end of effecting sought after personality or behavioral changes. All systems of psychotherapy start from the fundamental assumption that human behaviour can be changed.

In the system of yoga therapy the practices are tailored in such a way that they suit the individual’s needs and bring about a change on the levels of one’s thinking, feelings, attitudes and behavioral patterns. There is a point of contrast also between these two systems of treatment. In psychotherapy the main concern of the therapist is the refinement of behavior, whereas in yoga, the aim is not only to refine the behavioral and thinking patterns, but also, to transform the consciousness. Yoga is the science of consciousness, therefore one of its aims is to transform and refine the individual consciousness. The different principles and theories found in the different systems of yoga, they all pursue the same goal i.e. the transformation of the human psyche or personality. Modern psychologists are for the most part unaware of yoga science as a systematic and comprehensive basic and applied psychology. However, if one studies both modern psychology and yoga psychology, one would find that many of the psychological processes described in modern psychology are strikingly similar to conceptions found in yoga texts dating back more than a thousand years. In yoga psychology one will find that there is a considerable integration of seemingly divergent principles expounded by the various systems of modern psychology. Yoga psychology has a balanced admixture of the principles of psychology and modern therapeutic systems which give a comprehensive understanding of the nature of human being and the different levels of human functioning.

The idea in the traditional yoga therapy is that the practices are adapted to suit the conditions of the individual to help them with suffering at the psycho emotional levels and it uses the various techniques to bring about the state of harmony at the different levels of the human functioning.



Objective of the study

The purpose of this theoretical work is to study the principles, techniques and the process of yoga therapy in the light of contemporary psychotherapeutic techniques/systems of psychology.  Therefore, our aims will be:

To systematically present the underlying principles of yoga therapy; with special reference to the existing principles in the contemporary psychotherapies.
To focus on the psychotherapeutic aspects of the various methods/techniques employed in yoga therapy.

The principle of yoga therapy

The principle of holism. In the eastern medicine and therapy the individual is always perceived as a unified whole hence the whole philosophy and the science of treating a person becomes very much holistic and complete in itself. The underlying principles of yoga therapy are based on the assumption, “treat the individual not the disease”. In yoga therapy the therapist treats the person by paying considerable attention on the environments (internal as well as external) of the individual. We find the similar theme throughout the process of the Client centered and the Existentialistic approaches of the contemporary psychotherapy. In the above two systems, for example, the primary concern of the therapist is to look at the individual from the holistic perspective and try to understand the problems from his perspective so the individual and the level of functioning of the individual become the pivotal point in the process of treatment. The main role of the therapists here becomes to facilitate the right healthy environment around the individual, which provides the opportunities to the individual to flourish and grow. Therefore the aim of yoga therapy is not restricted alone to the cure or the treatment of the diseases but it focuses on the overall growth of the individual concerned. In modern psychology we do not seem to have a comprehensive theory and methodology which considers all of the facets of human functioning and explains their proper place in the total person. But in the ancient psychology of yoga, such a comprehensive approach exists. Modern psychology seems to divide the individual into different parts, each to be worked with by a different school. Thus each school or the approach is incomplete and partial. But in yoga, teachers have for ages tried to understand and treat the whole person. Neither behavior, the unconscious, interpersonal relations nor one’s emotional life is taken as the sole or primary target of intervention in leading the student towards growth. All are seen as important and are systematically dealt with.

Together these techniques become an integrated therapy to help the individual free himself from all those limitations.

The principle of purification.

The eastern system of therapy presents a very interesting and positive way to look at the disease. For a yoga therapist disease is always an alien state and is imposed on the individual. The natural state of being in yoga is the state of health and harmony and is considered as the permanent or the eternal state of being. This is the essential state of being (swabhava). This state of being which is characterized by the state of perfect harmony, balance and bliss, is what desirable in yoga. Since the state of health of health is considered as the essential nature of the human being, it is always a possibility in yoga, when all the alien elements are eliminated. The state of purified being as pure consciousness is when obscured because of some impurities, the vicious cycle of suffering starts. This principle of purification runs like an undercurrent throughput the process of yoga therapy and is used while working with all the different techniques of yoga. The process of purification in yoga is the process of deconditioning/detoxification of the human personality. The various pollutants, found in various forms condition the self and the personality of the individual and yoga aims to dilute the level of conditionings which give rise to the notion of limited self and results in suffering. This state of purity is achieved at different levels, from gross (body) to the subtler levels (energy, emotions, feelings, attitude etc.), using appropriate techniques and methods of yoga.

The principle of relaxation. The principle of relaxation is in fact, another aspect of the principle of purification. The state of relaxation is the state of being. This is the state of harmony and unconditioned awareness, where the individual is in contact with one’s essential state of being. The state of relaxation is the result of purification. Relaxation, in broader sense, denotes “letting go of the tension that creates the illusion of the ego’s individuality and separateness”. Thus relaxation is not merely the relaxation of the body but also of the mind, our opinion, concern, hopes and attitudes. Whereas, in modern psychotherapeutic techniques the primary concern is to reinforce the ego of the person, which is considered as the centre of integration. On the contrary in yoga, letting go of ego is emphasized.  The concept of letting go of the ego implies the meaning of transcending the notion of the limited self. Although, most western psychologists do not accept an experience that is beyond the ego or empirical self. Freudians have viewed any such phenomenon as regressive and psychotic. Jung emphatically denies the possibility of an experience without ego as the centre of consciousness. Indian literature on the contrary not only accepts the transcendence as a possibility but also consider it a life goal. In some western schools of psychology e.g. transpersonal psychology, this concept is accepted. As the name ‘transpersonal’ denotes that the transcending of the personality and its many aspects as one of the basic premises of this school. The practices of yoga attune one’s awareness to different levels of being through the process of relaxation. So, with the process of relaxation the range of conscious awareness increases.

Goals and strategies of psychotherapy.

The goal of therapy has been put in terms of removing symptoms, restoring earlier levels of functioning, freeing the person to be self realizing( in Roger’s term, “a  fully functioning person” and according to Gita, becoming a “sthita prajna personality”), helping the person find personal meaning and values or restructuring defenses and character. The behavioral transformation is the main concern of both eastern and the western therapists. The dissimilarity we may find in the approach to look at the problems. Mind in western therapy is considered as a clinical entity whereas in yoga it is used as a tool to actualize one’s essential state of being. In both systems of yoga and psychotherapy the following may be instrumental for a change or transformation of personality:

1. Insight: To increase awareness and understanding of how and why we act as we do is fundamental to many therapeutic approaches like Psychoanalysis, Analytical psychology, Gestaltism, Existentialism etc. In yoga therapy different tools are used to expand the range of awareness. Developing self understanding and knowledge is what aspired in yoga.

Correcting emotional experiences: There are different approaches to deal with the emotional experiences of the individual. To relive the traumatic experiences and to give a safe vent to the feelings are important features of the psychotherapeutic process.
Reeducation: In both yoga and psychotherapy reeducation is emphasized. It is accomplished by replacing an infantile, pathologic or maladaptive attitude by more mature and healthier ones.
Growth: Successful therapy removes the obstacles to growth and permits the process of self actualization to continue.

Psychotherapeutic values of the yogic techniques:

As it has already been mentioned that yoga is a system of psychotherapy. And the various tools which are employed in the yoga therapy are potentially capable to bring about a change in one’s thinking, feeling and behavior. Working with the body is an important aspect of the yoga therapy. Through the appropriate postures, breathing techniques, and purificatory practices, the therapist tries to transform the physical, mental, emotional and the energetic beings of the individual.  Relaxation practices such as Yoga Nidra and other meditation practices help to release mental and the emotional tensions. It has been a well accepted fact nowadays that mind and the body are intimately interrelated. Therefore tension carried in the body is intimately related to emotional and mental tension. When one works on body through asanas, pranayama or shatkarma (a group of six bodily cleansing practices), one experiences that the long held tensions (both muscular and the emotional) are released from the body and the feeling of ease and comfort developing from inside. As one learns to become more aware of the experiences of his body while doing the yogic practices, he becomes increasingly aware or sensitive to the body’s tensions and its dis-ease. He experiences the states of physical, mental and the emotional well being.




I started yoga teaching 10 years ago after completing my Post Graduation in Yoga Psychology from Bihar Yoga Bharati (Deemed University). After completing the study there I started sharing my learning with yoga aspirants, in the same university as Lecturer in the Dept. Of Yoga Psychology. The field of yoga has been an awakening and life transforming experience for me. It opened a completely new perspective to see the reality and participate in the flow of life! And I do believe that every particle in the UNIVERSE is participating and contributing to the eternal flow of life..

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