Psychotherapy and Yoga

The link between mind and body is far from traditional, but has recently received much attention in the media, particularly with the treatment of depression and mood disorders.

Yoga, meaning union in Sanskrit, seeks to create awakening through somatic experience, cultivating states that connect us more wholly with something larger —the basis of our being, the web of life, or what Jung termed the “Self”.

The experiential practice puts us in touch with our physical being and serves to ground us more fully in the earth, anchoring us to something immutable. Our breath and movement serve to make us more consciously aware and to shift inherent patterns and blocks we may be experiencing.

C.G. Jung, who valued yoga for its evidence-based experiential approach, perceived “important parallels” with psychoanalysis. He made a comprehensive study of yoga, delivering multiple lectures over the course of several years focusing on a psychological interpretation of kundalini yoga. He asserted that yoga, being the oldest practical philosophy of India, was the mother of psychology and therefore the foundation of everything spiritual.

Jung found that Yoga affirmed many of his own personal experiences and put them in cross cultural contexts that he could understand and further explore. Although the unconscious is difficult to observe objectively, Jung viewed the unconscious as real and therefore part of the scientific study of the psyche. He believed that to understand the unconscious, one needs to clearly understand her own individuality, without viewing it through the opinions of society. Yoga was a parallel way for him to understand the psyche. To him the study of chakras was a study of symbols that one encounters as they further develop their individuality and awareness of the unconscious.

In contrast to the meditation found in yoga practice, the psychoanalytic aim is to observe the shadowy presentation — whether in the form of images or of feelings — that are spontaneously evolved in the unconscious psyche and appear without his bidding to the man who looks within. In this way we find once more things that we have repressed or forgotten. Painful though it may be, this is in itself a gain — for what is inferior or even worthless belongs to me as my Shadow and gives me substance and mass. How can I be substantial if I fail to cast a Shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole; and inasmuch as I become conscious of my Shadow I also remember that I am a human being like any other.
Carl Jung; Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Research has substantiated that the key to effective therapy hinges on the effectiveness of the relationship between patient and therapist. Jung was way ahead of his time on being able to articulate this with his method. Every therapy relationship is fundamentally different from all others. As Jung states when two personalities meet, both are transformed. The chemistry between the persons, how they mix, is therefore crucial. It is possible to draw parallels between this viewpoint and the transformative nature of yoga on the mind, body and spirit.