Mind, Body, Soul|Nov 28, 2004 12:17 PM| by:

Yoga Therapy – Theoretical and Paradigmatic Considerations

Yoga, it is said, is practical psychology.[1] It is psychology in the sense that it deals with man’s deepest needs and his present limitations; his present state of a narrow view of existence as well as what he can be if he chooses to exceed the limitations of his body, mind and life. It is practical in the sense that it uses methods, both physical as well as psychological to achieve these aims which have been recognised and practised successfully throughout the ages. The word ‘Yoga’ literally means ‘Union’, – union of the diverse and scattered strands of man’s own existence; union between his deepest gulfs and his highest aspirations; union between himself as a limited and ephemeral product of nature and all existence around him. Thus, Oneness, Wholeness, Integrality, has been the goal of all his yogic endeavour.

As nature grew in and through man and with the admittance of reason in him, yoga assumed a more and more definitive shape and acquired a psycho-physiological dimension. This phenomenon is reflected in the development of various asanas. For the layman as well as many professionals, the word yoga is used synonymously with asanas. But this is an oversimplification. Yogic psychology recognises in man a three-fold existence [2] and hence a three-fold limitation. There is first the limitation of the body, next the limitation of the life impulse and its capacities in us, and finally the limitation of mind and its narrow view of reality and existence. To surpass this three-fold limitation, the traditional yogas advocated asanas for the body, pranayama for the life-force and meditation for the mind.

The Yogic Approach Vs. Materialistic Approach

To understand how the yogic system works, we have to get rid of the rational bias towards which the modern mind is especially predisposed. It is a strange irony that while man’s reason often errs in things of the present, it tries to extend itself to domains behind and beyond. This apart, there is another difficulty. Yoga was not born out of reason. Reason often sees chaos in the workings of nature but in doing so forgets that nature is not just a mechanical phenomenon but a vast intelligent will, a consciousness that is ceaselessly throwing out forms and shapes.[3] Yoga was born from an urge in man to constantly exceed himself and evolve – this need, this ever recurring dissatisfaction with our limitations, holds the key to the birth of yoga. Illness and death are only one such limitation. To cut off yoga from its totality and study it from the physical angle alone is to do a great injustice to a system that in principle has an inner approach. This is so because the basic approach of science and yoga are different.

Science as it is understood today studies only the phenomenal part of Nature. Thus it ties itself to a mechanistic universe and a mechanistic man. If at all it admits consciousness in its scheme, it does so as an epiphenomenon – a strange coincidental by-product of material laws and processes.[4] Yoga psychology considers consciousness as primary and to exist even when the phenomenal activity ceases.[5] The analogy is often given of the sea and its waves. Modern science sees the waves, studies them and infers the sea. Yoga on the other hand goes beyond the waves to directly perceive the sea. To tie yoga purely to the methods of observation and reasoning is to reduce its intrinsic potential. Many of the changes that take place through yoga are at the level of consciousness. The process is akin to the sprouting of a seed. What yoga does is like sowing a seed in our consciousness. If the soil is receptive and the inner and outer environment favourable, the seed sprouts forth giving fruits and flowers. But if the soil is poor and/or the inner/outer environment not conducive, the seed may remain dormant for long till something reactivates it. Since all our modern gadgetry can measure only the phenomenon and not the consciousness and since the effects of yoga depend on subtle internal variables, our conventional measures and statistics become poor indicators. In present times the sacred mystery of yoga seems to be emerging from the caves. A complex and vast yoga of Nature has secretly prepared our consciousness to now relate to our deepest potentials more directly and yoga seems to be more accepted and revitalised.

The Paradigm of Yoga

All yoga in its essence is an attempt to activate a freer play of our dormant possibilities. The yogic system assumes a multi-dimensional cosmos with an ascending order of reality where matter is at one pole, the spirit at the other. Man, as yet a mental being, is the middle term of this range of existence with a subconscious element below him and a superconscious element beyond him.[6] Both these elements are as yet abnormal to our ordinary consciousness. One contains our hidden and submerged past that conditions much of our behaviour (the subconscious). The other holds our hidden potentials and latent powers.

Illness: An Imbalance

An illness is an imbalance in the play of consciousness. The same imbalance from the yogic view point can cause multiple disorders or aberrations depending upon the basic constitutional weakness, inherited or learnt. Similarly, various imbalances can also cause the same disorder or symptoms based upon the vulnerability of a particular organ (a fact acknowledged in the aetiology of psychosomatic diseases).

These imbalances basically arise due to the false sense of separation from our inner Truth. This false sense is the ‘ego-sense’. The imbalance is corrected through yoga by reintegrating nature with the highest Truth in us.

What are these imbalances that can arise from the ego-sense? Our normal life, by a process of adjustment finds a balance between the energies of body, life and mind, within and without. Any excess or misuse at any of these levels can lead to an upsetting of the balance. Thus a lack of moderation in physical habits, for example, food, rest and activity; lack of moderation in life activities, for instance, desire, greed, lust, anger; and lack of moderation in the mind’s movements, for instance, dullness, worry, ambition etc. can all lead to a disturbance in balance. This may also happen if the doctor and the other people around us are not in balance for we are affected by the surrounding psychological and physical atmosphere. Strangely, the balance may also be disrupted if a normal man living in an ordinary consciousness suddenly takes to yoga with intensity and zeal, without proper guidance and moderation.

Yoga as Balance

What then is the basis of curing these imbalances?

(i) Moderation

The first principle is moderation. One cannot expect wonders if one continues to create imbalances and expect magic by a set of yogic techniques. It is like a chronic smoker who is unable to give up smoking but challenges his cardiologist for a wonder drug to cure his ischaemic heart disease (IHD). Of course, the process of yoga itself can and often does bring moderation into the system. In the yogic view, for example, smoking and IHD may not appear interrelated as cause and effect but rather both may be seen as an effect arising from a single cause, which if corrected can restore both to normal.

(ii) Concentration and stillness

The next step is a kind of concentration of the physical and mental consciousness so as to stabilise them and raise them to a greater capacity. This stability is expressed at the physical level by a kind of immobility achieved through a set of asanas.[7] Similarly, the life-energy can be stabilised through breath regulation or pranayama which increases the body’s capacity to receive and hold life-energy. This is important in therapeutics from the yogic standpoint as all fatal illnesses ultimately lead to a disintegration and a diminution of life energies.

Peace and stillness of the mind can be achieved through meditation and concentration.

Once the consciousness is stabilised it can be directed to different ends – cure of illness is one such effect. The basic thing is to allow a play of higher and higher level of energies in a consciousness silent and immobile. These higher forces lead to health, prevent illness and help in healing. They not only restore the balance but also create a new balance. One is not only cured of his present ills but finds his body and mind stronger and full of peace and joy.

(iii) Purification and liberation

The same results in body, life and mind can be obtained without the elaborate, difficult and time-consuming techniques of asanas, pranayama and meditation. It is possible to adopt a certain attitude that opens itself, admits and receives a higher influence in life through faith, aspiration and a conscious and willing surrender to Grace. Slowly or swiftly, depending on the capacity and intensity of such a turning and opening and the incalculable mystery of Grace, the life-energy and the body consciousness are released from false and wrong movements. We are liberated from narrow and limited frames and patterns of life i.e. the ego-consciousness, into a vaster, truer and deeper state. Such a deeper state naturally activates the play of higher and beneficent energies, changing us and healing us from within outwards. Such a cure is complete and holistic since it removes the roots and not just the surface phenomenon of illness. These roots, if neglected come up again as other problems. Cure diabetes and hypertension springs up; correct the BP and the person suffers a stroke; contain the stroke and we are faced with auto-immune disorders! Yoga rightly and sincerely practised strikes at the roots of illness that lie in the subconscious and not merely trim the outer growth. The roots tackled, the tree shrivels up, dries and falls off.


Some characteristics of the yogic approach are:

(1) Yoga considers consciousness as the primary basis and the phenomenon as secondary.
(2) It assumes a multidimensional and multilayered reality.
(3) Yoga views illnesses in terms of imbalances within and without.
(4) The primary goal of the yogic approach is to activate the higher healing forces which not only correct
the imbalance but also create a new balance.


[1] Sri Aurobindo. The Synthesis of Yoga. Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1988, p. 39
[2] Ibid
[3] Sri Aurobindo. The Life Divine. Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1987, pp. 71-79.
[4] Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness Explained. Boston; Little, Brown and company,1991.
[5] Dalal, A.S. Consciousness the Mechanistic and Mystical Views, NAMAH, [4(2)]: 1997, pp. 76-85.
[6] The Life Divine. p. 561.
[7] Dalal, A.S. Psychology, Mental Health and Yoga. Pondicherry , Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1991, p. 151.