The Yogic Mind: Yoga & Psychology

yoga psychologyWhat does the yoga tradition say about psychology?

Yoga is a science of experience, a holistic view of mind and body that is far in advance of anything thus far attained by Western psychology. One of the reasons that it has gone so far is that it’s practical rather than theoretical. It works on the fundamental nature of being. What does that mean? Being? I don’t quite get it.

Well what are you doing right now? You can tell me where you’re sitting, what you think is happening around you, what you have done today, and what you’re about to do, but much of this is a confusion of your direct experience with your interpretation of that experience. When you tell me what happened before, what’s about to happen, why you’re worried, or what things mean, you’re telling me a story. Being is the constant of our experience. Beyond story, beyond interpretation. Direct and immediate. Now.

storyStory and Self

These stories are the province of the mind, and they’re not all bad. In fact, we use them to communicate, to structure our lives, and generally to get along in the mundane world. Problems come when we identify with the story, and when we try to fit our experience into it, instead of allowing being to direct mind.



In Sanskrit, mind is termed citta. This is an aggregate, composed of three parts: manas, the quality of attention and our selective placement of attention, buddhi, the quality of intellect or making distinctions and evaluations, and ahamkara, the ego or the sense of “I” that makes our experiences personal. Each of these aspects can be refined. Manas can be developed by recognizing where and how we place our attention, by recognizing the factor of choice within it. This takes practice, and one of the key virtues of the art of yoga is the opportunity to direct our attention actively and in alignment with our will.

Buddhi is the quality of reason, and it has been overdeveloped in the Western world. The deepest refinement available within the process of reason is to recognize that the map is not the territory. Our mental picture of the world is not the actual nature of the world. When we are willing to let go of our old pictures, we become open to new learning.

The deepest transformation of experience comes through the refinement of ahamkara. When we recognize that the “I” is not the true Self, we can let go of the attachments that cause us pain and difficulty in life. This is far easier to say than to do, and comes only through a combination of philosophy and discipline. The physical practice of hatha yoga forms an entry point for this refinement, but it must be expanded with the other eight limbs of the yogic practice to be taken to fulfillment.

Yama and niyama allow us to recognize when the habitual impulses run counter to our will and freedom. Pranayama and pratyahara deepen our awareness of the subtle impulses, while dharana and dhyana deepen the practice into the internal aspects of experience, allowing us to move past reaction and into enlightened action. Taken together the elements of yoga allow direct experience with the being, an opportunity to move past the puppet strings of mind and ego, past the training and conditioning of our surroundings. This is psychology from the inside, and the inside is the only access point to our Truth.

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