Both Yoga and Psychology study the mind but... what is the role of each discipline?

YogaAndPsychology (Lightweight).jpeg

The Indian Counsellor and Yoga Teacher Ajay Kalra throws some light on this topic:

   In my journey in personal growth two schools of thought have contributed immensely. They are Yoga and Psychology. Both deal with examining the mind. While yoga talks about transcending the mind, psychology focuses on understanding the mind. I see them as father and mother. Let me explain.

Yoga is the father. The father normally sets the boundaries for behavior that create self-discipline. He is not interested in your likes and dislikes. He wants purposeful committed action. Emotions, impulses and sensations have to be overcome if they come in the way of our duty. Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in his moment of weakness during the war against his near and dear one’s was “Do your duty Arjuna. A karma yogi should fight treating victory and defeat alike, pain and pleasure alike. Even death in the performance of one’s duty brings happiness.” The eight fold path of yoga begins with Yamas and Niyamas – Don’t’s and Do’s. Self-restraint and observances. The dictums are universal. They do not change from person to person.

Psychology is the mother. The mother generally listens, empathizes and even if she challenges, she does so gently. The mother is interested in hearing your personal story. What happened to you, how you felt, how it impacted you, what hurt and pain are you holding within. She offers you the space to express your emotions and gently offers you a few tissues to wipe your tears. “The struggles of my life created empathy - I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.” says Oprah Winfrey on how her own personal challenges enabled her to create healing spaces for others. The mother does not have any dictums. She gives you solace and encourages you to find your own answers.

Having experienced both schools of personal growth I have noticed quite often people who subscribe to one school of learning are doubtful of the other. People who have a spiritual inclination tend to look down on psychology as a poor country cousin. They feel they have access to the ultimate wisdom and self-analysis only leads to paralysis. On the other hand psychological folks see spiritually inclined people with a certain cynicism. They perhaps view all religious and spiritual activity as faith oriented lacking scientific evidence. In my view both these perspectives tend to throw the baby with the bath water. To dismiss any activity or philosophy without having experienced it fully is indicative of shallow thinking.

I began my journey in self-awareness through yoga. It gave me control over my impulsive mind. It also gave me a sense of purpose and direction. It cultivated faith in a higher power. However it did not address my emotional baggage of the past. By that I mean childhood traumas, unexpressed emotions and a psychological understanding of my internal mental-emotional make-up. In my eagerness to follow the yogic dictums and have a balanced mind, I suppressed my anger and impulses. Perhaps I was also scared of the consequences of expressing my impulsive side. This lead to an emotional explosion which washed away all my yogic ideals. I then moved towards psychology for answers. I experienced different psycho-therapeutic healing process to resolve my emotional issues. This resulted in a good amount of awareness of my unique psychological framework and emotional patterns. However there was no end to the process of self-analysis and healing. Something within me longed for purpose and devotion. Something that yoga had given me. At this point of time I visited The Yoga Institute.

I am now able to appreciate the value of yoga and psychology for what they both have to offer. Personally for me both are needed. Yoga addresses the transcendental dimension of my existence, while psychology speaks to the human side of my being. Divinity and humanity are integral elements of my being and go hand in hand. I have now realized that I cannot aspire for divinity by ignoring the humanity in me. Neither can I choose to be purposeless, impulsive and emotional in the name of being human. A balance is needed. I can only enjoy the freedom of being human if I learn to discipline myself by the universal principles of yoga. Unlike earlier where I suppressed emotions out of fear, I have learnt to channelize my emotional energy with awareness and acceptance. Finding creative and safe ways to express emotions is a key element for emotional well-being. Living a purposeful life gives direction to emotional energy which otherwise gets dissipated in impulsive actions.

Having said this, there is one thing that yoga offers that I find missing in psychology. Faith. It encourages you to believe in a higher benevolent reality. Surrender to it. Unlike religion yoga does not insist that you believe in God. It says having faith in a higher power is an effective way to manage the anxiety of your mind. It offers you tools to cultivate faith. Even though as a counsellor I do not always tell counsellees to have faith in a higher benevolent reality to manage their anxiety, as a yoga teacher I whole heartedly recommend it.

Eventually my journey through yoga and psychology brought me on the other side of the fence. I became a yoga teacher and a counsellor. When I am teaching yoga I wear the father’s hat. When I am counselling I wear the mother’s shawl. Both roles complement each other. A child needs the purposeful discipline of the father and the emotional warmth of the mother for a balanced growth. Life has come a full circle.