September/October 2012 Everyday Intention
Psychology of Yoga
by Dr. Uma Krishnamurthy
Who can be called mentally healthy? This is, indeed, an interesting question.
The ancient texts of yogic philosophy, such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have addressed it admirably and are loaded with psychological wisdom. Their rich insights can help deepen our understanding of mental health.
Embedded in these ancient texts are practical psychological guidelines that can enhance positive mental health, and stabilize us in happiness and wisdom. The psychological insights from the great yogis and sages, both ancient and modern, can bring the ancient texts to life and further enrich this process.
Today, we are in a position to integrate the rich psychological wisdom of both East and West. Psychological suffering is unnecessary, according to the ancient sages and can be overcome by wisdom. The mystics and yogis view suffering as an opportunity to evolve into higher states of consciousness.
This is clearly seen in the Bhagavad Gita. Lord Krishna is the divine psychotherapist who skillfully helped Arjuna overcome his acute mental distress by broadening his perception and lifting his mind to loftier heights. His divine presence and yogic wisdom helped Arjuna understand the ingredients of right action and mental equanimity.
Dr. Uma Krishnamurthy
The psychological skills imparted by yogic masters can help us in counseling, yogic healing or transformational work on ourselves. To reduce suffering in others, we need to work on ourselves also. The mystic Ramana Maharishi has hinted — when you are free of sorrow, those with whom you interact will also be set free.
Sri Aurobindo said, "All life is yoga." Every event in our daily life is an opportunity for us to evolve and grow. He gained mastery over his mind by the practice of psychological vigilance. Ramana Maharshi overcame the fear of death by enquiry and vigilant observation. If we apply the skills in daily life, our suffering gradually diminishes. The teachings of such mystics who transcended all shades of suffering can help promote our mental health.
Much of our psychological stress arises because our mind lacks direction. Ramana Maharishi has suggested that we reduce the restlessness of our mind by providing it with a goal. We are at times confused and indecisive. This is mainly because our mind is not receiving guidance from our discriminative intelligence. It is perhaps cloudy because of impure motives and excessive emotions. The yogic skills and suggestions given in the Bhagavad Gita can help us to purify our motives and deal with emotions that obstruct our judgment and prevent us from effective functioning.
Expressing Your Potential
Abraham Maslow, the founder of transpersonal psychology, suggested that most of our emotional disorders are due to the contraction of our personality. We are not expressing our human potential enough. He has suggested widening our perception to include the dimension of the sacred. We each hold the possibility of perceiving the eternal in every temporal event. This quality of perception helps us to live life with dignity and also to express our potential. When we start using our hidden strengths and potential in a constructive manner, our mind gets healed.
Lord Krishna has expressed similar sentiments in the Bhagavad Gita. He urged us to discover and give expression to the unique properties of our soul that we are destined to fulfill. He warns us not to waste away our life in performing the duties of others but instead focus attention on our own duty. In that lies our contentment. This is a key contribution of the Bhagavad Gita to healing our emotions and manifesting our potential.
Ramana Maharishi has mentioned that the performance of destined duties should not create distress psychologically. However, when we perform actions that are not in accordance to our temperament we tend to suffer. We will try to find out whether we are fulfilling the evolutionary plan of our life or whether we need to study and tap our potential better. If we are experiencing a lack of fulfillment and direction in our life, we need to study our personality at a deeper level - our aspirations, desires, ambitions and so on.
The Bhagavad Gita also offers guidelines on preventing psychological suffering in the future by discussing actions and their consequences in depth. Jiddu Krishnamurti addressed the very important question — what is right action? When we act from a fragmented state of mind, our actions will inevitably lead to suffering.
The teachings and practices from yogic psychology can help integrate our personality and reduce such conflicts.
Dr. Uma Krishnamurthy, a renowned transpersonal/yoga psychologist and child psychologist, presents a lecture on Sept. 11 at New Renaissance and a workshop on Sept. 16-22 at Ananda College at Laurelwood on “Yoga Therapy: Transpersonal Psychology, Yoga Psychology & The Healing of Emotions.” Visit www.anandauniversity.org.