Practical Yoga Psychology
Dr. Rishi Vivekananda
Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India

As we collectively get saturated with the anatomy of hatha yoga, it is helpful to look at the anatomy of the mind and yoga psychology. The more in-depth look is a natural progression from yoga physiology to the philosophy and psychology of a more encompassing yoga. Going under the surface shows us how all aspects of being are tied together and the effect of the various practices at every level of being. Through the increasing popular use of Yoga Nidra (see these practice meditation tracks) and various other meditation practices, understanding yoga psychology gains increasing importance.

Before going into Practical Yoga Psychology by Dr. Rishi Vivekananda, a quick look at the definition of philosophy and psychology connects the dots between the two. Yoga is considered one of seven Indian philosophies. How is it also psychology? We looked at various dictionaries and online sources and have chosen to quote Wikipedia:

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. It is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek philosophia, which literally means “love of wisdom.”

The word psychology literally means “study of the soul” (psukhe, meaning “breath”, “spirit”, or “soul” and logia translated as “study of” or “research”)… The earliest known reference to the word psychology in English was by Steven Blankaar tin 1693 in The Physical Dictionary, which refers to “Anatomy, which treats of the Body, and Psychology which treats of the Soul.”

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (see Four Chapters on Freedom: Yoga Sutras and Raja Yoga: Conquering the Internal Nature) is a philosophy of yoga through the medium of yoga psychology: wisdom gained through the study of the soul. It systematically studies timeless, universal fundamental issues through logical observation of the mind: the mind through which the soul undergoes the experience of human being. So it is not a case of the human trying to have a spiritual experience but the spirit having a human experience.

Practical Yoga Psychology is mainly about the seven concentrated energy centers or chakras, and their effect on human psychology. Each chakra is associated with certain behaviors and personalities. The behaviors result in, or can be due to, certain actions, reactions, and viewpoints that determine the quality of that person's human experience. Practical Yoga Psychology discusses the chakras in conjunction with gunas. Gunas are described as “qualities of all creative nature.” There are three of them: tamas is inertia, rajas is passion/activity, and sattwa is purity/balance. The book gives a detailed analysis of all the possible combinations of these underlying core qualities in the chakras. So the reader can determine the dominant chakra in his personality and the specific quality, or combination of qualities, that is active in it. The author states that the degree of evolution in the chakras is determined by the dominant quality (inertia, activity, purity/balance) in each of them. The quality of the chakra is a critical factor in the individual’s evolution in yoga psychology. The most desirable quality is purity.

The book goes on to briefly say how various Satyananda Yoga practices (accompanied by cross-pollination with their other publications) can be used therapeutically to elevate or transform the quality and hence the personality or disorder. In addition, the psychological relevance of fundamental yogic principles and practices is also explained. The therapeutic aspects of karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga are also addressed briefly.

Dr. Rishi Vivekananda is an Australian physician and consultant therapist. There is a good amount of interesting, useful content in the book. In our opinion, the book suffers because it is not well planned. The information is unnecessarily repetitive.

The process of reading, checking, rewriting, and doing it over and over again, can be an important exercise in seeing, clarifying, organizing, and shaping our thoughts and concepts. It is a process of reprogramming the mind. Thinking, when crystallized objectively in black-and-white can look quite different from abstractions in the mind. Witnessing the content of our minds projected in writing is a form of meditation. The process of reviewing books in depth is also a meditation sadhana and a form of jnana yoga!