One of the more beautifully developed sciences of spiritual-based psychology is yoga psychology, the study of human psyche in relation to life and the larger dimensions of existence. This science, matriculated from the ancient tradition of yoga, seeks to explain and explore the potentials of the human life, uncovering the hidden mysteries behind life’s purpose, existence, and relationship to the world in which we live. While there are many systems of psychology available to modern man, yoga psychology is unique in that is seeks to merge modern science with ancient philosophy. Through its distinct methods of treating and transforming the mind to its open and holistic approach to life, yoga psychology is an effective science for providing a healthy, balanced, and individually sensitive approach the mental health and wellness.
The Philosophy of Psychology
Generally, the philosophy of psychology has pursued two outlets. The first that suggests that life is empirical and can be measured and observed on a material level. This philosophy maintains that all system are composed of matter which can be seen through physical observation and observed through the senses. Therefore, everything that exists within the human being can be measured on a physical level accounts for all aspects of the human existence. One important point of this philosophical ideology is that everything is based off of experience, external input, and genetic disposition. These together form the entire foundation for the psyche. Therefore, elements that appear to extend beyond the confines of the physical and observable level of existence are either imagined or yet to be proven through empirical observation.
Contrary to the empirical belief is the philosophy that human beings are composed of elements that are beyond the confines of the physical structure of the human being. Although material components contribute to our existence, there are many features of the human being that cannot be measured with a microscope or electromagnetic scans. Although these features are not composed of the same material as the human body, they existence in their own dimension and retain their own qualities that allow them to exist. One of the primary examples of an element that exists in its own form is consciousness. Under the definition of the non-empirical philosophy, consciousness is a part of human life, but is not contained solely within the human being, nor can it be found within the structures of the brain. Rather it is a field of existence that permeates all of creation, but takes the appearance of separate entities when filtered through the structure of the individual entities such as a human being. Therefore it is part of the human being, but not limited to the human structure in and of itself.
For the most part, empirical based psychology believes that consciousness is a component of the brain, and a spirit, or some entity that is connected to a higher source, does not exist. All that is experienced and seen within the individual can be explained within the physical content of the human being. Therefore, the pursuit of understanding and comprehension of the functions of the human psyche are mostly undertaken within the study of brain through the sciences such as neuropsychology. This forms the foundation for the more extended studies of behavioral, developmental, and cognitive psychology.
Non-empirical psychology, on the other hand, accepts the soul, or something existing with the human being that extends beyond the limits of the perishable body, as an additional entity contributing to the human existence. While the human body contains part of the material necessary to form life, it does not make up the whole system. Non empirical psychology maintains the belief that individual consciousness is a component of a large system that has been referred to as cosmic, universal, or collective consciousness. With this understanding in mind, non-empirical psychology pursues the study of the human psyche through the components of consciousness, soul/spirit, and other elements beyond the physical body.
While not every psychology conforms to these boundaries, most of the applied practices of psychology conform themselves to the outline of one of these ideology; either the mind is in the body and the brain, or it is part of something larger and beyond the limits of the body. As a social practice, western psychology usually follows the path of the empirical study where as eastern psychology has been that of the metaphysical and spiritualistic. Yet there are modern schools of thought, researchers and psychologists that are extending beyond these boundaries and seeking to reform psychology into a complete science of the human mind. Indeed, the human brain does show significant contributions to the functions of thought, perception, and behavior, but at the same time there has been no substantial evidence that self-awareness or consciousness can be contained within the functions of the brain. Together, both of these insights have proven to be significant challenges to the modern day research of the psychology of human beings.
Yoga Psychology, as a conventional practice, has evolved to embody both the empirical and non-empirical perspective of psychology. Although it could generally be considered a non-empirical philosophy, yoga psychology has also greatly accepted the influences of the anatomical structure in developing, shaping, and creating the psychology of a human being; yet the physical body does not contain all of the elements necessary to form the complexity of the human mind and consciousness. Through the philosophy and spiritual-inquisition of yoga, yoga psychology maintains the belief that the human psychology is shaped by factors from various sphere of life, starting from the most material physical body and working through to the subtle elements of the spirit. Each layer is not an independent system, nor is it contained within one single structure. Rather, there are several sheaths that co-exist and work seamlessly between one another to form the complete structure, form, and existence of the human being.
The Application of Psychology
Practically, psychology is designed to be applied as a functional means to provide people with a healthy mind. While the definition of what constitutes a health mind may vary between different philosophical beliefs, generally people want live a life that contains more happiness, a stronger self-concept, and a personality that is capable of handling the changes and evolving events in life. Psychology seeks to provide people with the tools necessary to create the proper circumstances for a health mind, using a variety of skills, perceptions, and methods to help form the desired results. Among some of the major components used by modern psychology to help people find a healthier mental construct include: medication, counseling, group therapy, psycho-analysis, environmental alterations, and mental conditioning. All of these methods seek to provide people with a stronger mental state with which they can approach life.
“Natural” forms of psychology usually avoid medication and evasive techniques that may cause unnecessary changes to the bio-chemical structure of the body. They also traditionally focus on approaching psychological complexes with a more holistic perspective which includes physical ailments and emotional disturbances. In contrast, a more “westernized” system of psychology usually treats patients based upon classified disorders or dysfunctions which are related to the mind or the brain. Treatment is provided based upon the symptoms of a patient in relationship to other classically defined cases. For many patients, medication is used in conjunction with counseling and therapy.
As a practice, yoga psychology usually addresses the psychological changes within a human being’s life with a wide variety of techniques, each designed to help regulate and modify a specific irregularity within the human system. Generally, yoga psychology follows the “natural” system of psychological healthcare as it typically treats each case independently, providing help to an individual after analysis of the physical, psychological, energetic, and spiritual elements of their life. For physical disturbances which are affecting the psychological state, exercise and movement known as the asanas (postures) are applied. These can also be used in conjunction with cleansing techniques which help to remove toxins from the body. For psychological disturbances, meditation, concentration, and self-observation are used. Generally, the body and the mind are viewed as interdependent entities, so specific physical activity or alterations can treat psychological disturbances as well. For energetic problems, breathing exercises are used to increase or decrease energy within the body. Diet can also be modified to help increase vitality. The health of the spiritual aspect of life is dependent on the state of the physical, mental, and energetic bodies, and therefore is typically cared for by treating these bodies first.
Although many systems of psychology exist, yoga psychology is one that can be applied for those who seek a better knowledge of themselves. While a belief in spiritual aspects of life will assist one who wishes to practice yoga psychology, it is not a necessity. Rather, yoga psychology should be viewed as a holistic system of psychology which works to create an equilibrium in the body and the mind so that optimum health and strength can be achieved. It also works to provide people with a greater understanding of life as the body, mind, and spirit are actively transformed to reach their fullest potentials.