Thursday, March 24, 2011

Essays - Jung and Yoga


Mankind is at the beginning of a new era in regards to the possibilities of self-realization. This is greatly influenced not only by scientific advances in all fields, but also because of the gentle penetration of our perceptions by Eastern ways of looking at the universe, including individual development. Yoga, an Eastern system defined by author Jess Stearn (1965) as:

Union. From Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to join. A controlled effort toward self-integration so that the individual spirit may merge with the Universal Spirit in a spirit of oneness. (P. 343).

has a great deal to add to Western psychology. Carl Jung was one of the first theorists to attempt to understand the yoga way and bring it into awareness in our culture. Much of yoga can best be explained in Jungian terms, though parts of it differ from his theories. This paper looks at the two systems and their practices.

The first, Kundalini Yoga, encompasses an important aspect of Yoga’s symbolism and view of personality development: that of Kundalini energy. Kundalini energy is the energy that becomes available to an individual when, through meditation, the unconscious has been brought into awareness. The symbol for this is a coiled snake which is ready to spring. The circularity of the coiled snake represents completeness. Another way of looking at the snake is through its relation to the tree which corresponds to the masculine principle. The snake, representing the feminine, coils around the tree. This symbolizes entanglement and moral dualism. (Cirlot, 1971). Jung also notes the frequent use of snake imagery to denote a well-documented archetype. This is the archetype of transformation and renovation, of an ascending force rising up, related to “sublimation of the personality.” (Cirlot, 1971). This concept is in keeping with the yoga idea of kundalini energy.

It should be noted that there is an actual physical as well as psychic form of this energy. Kundalini is physical in that the energy is said to travel upwards along the spinal cord, passing through physical points as well as increasingly higher centers of consciousness called chakras. Jung said of the chakras:

The cakras are symbols. They symbolize highly complex psychic facts which at the present moment we could not possibly express in images...they represent a real effort to give a symbolic theory of the psyche. (Ajaya, 1983, p. 243).

Each chakra has its own archetype, a particular polarization within the personality. (Ajaya, 1983). According to Swami Ajaya (Allan Weinstock, PhD), one is usually psychologically engaged with a specific chakra or several chakras, and the character that unfolds from their archetypes. One may experience different “energies” at different times. However, there is usually a dominant role such as seductress, sullen child, etc. one plays in relation to the point of fixation or regression. (Ajaya, 1983). Often the level of one’s energy along this Kundalini pathway is manifested not only in psychological symptoms, but also physical ones corresponding to the chakra(s) of fixation. For the sake of brevity and clarity the tables on the following page outline the meaning of the chakras.



7-Sahasrara Unitary consciousness Advaita Vedanta

6-Ajna Insight, witnessing Yoga, Buddhist psychology

5-Vishuddha Devotion, receiving nurturance Jung

and unconditional love, surrender

Trust, creativity, grace, majesty,


4-Anahata Compassion, generosity, selfless Rogers, Fromm

loving, service

3-Manipura Mastery, domination, conquest, Adler, Ego Psychology

competition, inadequacy, inferi-

ority, pride

2-Svadhisthana Sensory pleasure Psychoanalysis, Reich, Bioenergetics

1-Muladhara Struggle for survival Primal scream therapy


Chakra Mode of Experience Ideal Representation Polarities Experienced Examples

7-Sahasrara Unitary Consciousness No representation; beyond none Shankara, Meister Eckhard,

forms Shiva in meditation

6-Ajna Insight, witnessing The Sage Sage/fool, objective observer Socrates, Lao-tsu, Kant, the

deluded participant Wizard of Oz, Delphic Oracle

5-Vishuddha Devotion, receiving The Child Object of devotion/devotee, Christ Child with Madonna, St.

Mother/child, found/lost, Teresa of Avila, Hanuman, Sri

Trust/mistrust Ramakrishna, Don Quixote

4-Anahata Compassion, generosity The Mother, The Savior Rescuer/rescued, liberator/ Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus, Mother

selfless loving, service liberated Teresa, Schweitzer, Gandhi, St. Francis

3-Manipura Mastery, domination The Hero Gain/loss, success/failure Alexander, Napoleon, Hamlet,

Conquest, competition Dominance/submission Prometheus, Superman, sports &

inadequacy, inferiority Blame/praise military heroes, corporate presidents,

pride political leaders

2-Svadhis- Sensory pleasure The Hedonists Pleasure/pain, male/female Bacchus, Eros, King Henry VIII,

thana Salome, Ravana

1-Muladhara Struggle for survival The Victim Predator/prey, life/death Movie monsters and their victims,

Hitler and the Jews, The Inquisition,

Hansel & Gretel & the Witch

From: Psychotherapy East and West (1983). Honesdale, PA: The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science & Philosophy of the USA.

While the first two chakras are concerned with basic survival and pleasure, the third one represents ego (ahankara) and the potential for mastery or power of dominion. The fourth-heart-chakra completes a quaternium where egocentricity is transcended. (Ajaya, 1983). “In the first three chakras, the two sides of a polarity are experienced as being distinct from or in opposition to one another, but at the heart center one begins to understand the complementary relationship between the two sides of a polarity.” (Ajaya, 1973. P. 274).

One could also say that Jung’s personality functions of feeling and sensing have been experienced at the that level, and if the chakras complexes are successfully passed through, integrated into the personality. This is a little different than Jung’s theory of dominant and inferior functions. If one is fixated at a particular chakra, a yogi would probably agree that is it a dominant function at that time. However, Jung’s theory says that total synthesis of the four functions is impossible, because it is only possible when the Self is fully actualized, which is impossible in Jung’s view–it is only an ideal (Hall & Lindzey, 1975).

The next three chakras pass through integration of the thinking and finally intuitive functions. This represents an evolved buddhi, the higher mind of yoga philosophy. The seventh and final chakra represents unitary consciousness the symbolism of the three higher chakras “represent the solution of the conflict caused by dualism” (Cirlot, 1971). While three symbolizes the spiritual synthesis that occurs at this higher level of functioning, the totality of all chakras, seven is “symbolic of perfect order, a complete period or cycle. It comprises the unity of the ternary and the quaternary, and hence is endowed with exceptional value...and finally, it is the symbol of pain.” (Cirlot, 1971). This pain can be related to the pain felt at letting go of attachments which accompanies growth and change.

In addition to Kundalini as a way of looking at human development, Yoga has its own model for the psyche and the transcendental state called “samadhi” that is a goal of Yoga.

Hearing Ego

Touch (Ahankara)

Sight Lower Wisdom Self

Taste Mind (Atman)

Smell (Manas) Memory (Buddhi)


From: Yoga and Psychotherapy, 1976.

The senses are the scanning device that picks up information from the internal and external physical environment. Mana, or the lower mind, doesn’t carry a sense of self-awareness. It is the unconscious, sensorimotor mind. The senses project information onto the screen of mana, which responds by instinct or habit. (Ajaya, et al, 1976). The chitta is our memory bank and, like the senses, feeds data to the manas. It is part of the unconscious and though not indicated, appears to include the collective unconscious.

Since the shadow is the dominant of the personal unconscious (Singer, 1973), it resides in chitta. Yoga psychology would tend to see the shadow as a one side of a polarity strengthened in the unconscious when the individual identifies with the other side of the polarity and acts in an unbalanced manner (Ajaya, 1983). Singer (1973) says that the “repressed shadow will sooner or later find a way to collapse the out-of-balance persona.” (P. 220). Ajaya and Singer agree that the unconscious expresses the repressed shadow side so that it can be “known and integrated into the conscious mind.” (Ajaya, 1983, p. 52). While Jung explored the concept of a transcendent function, resulting in the union of opposites towards furthering individuation, he did not seem to believe in a constant balance of opposing forces in the personality. (Hall and Lindzey, 1978) Rather, if one adheres to Jung’s theory, there is a constant state of tension attempting to pull the polarities into balance. On this matter Ajaya (1983) says:

Yoga psychology, on the other hand, seeks to dissolve all polarities in the sense that they have no hold or determining influence on the individual. This does not mean that the polarity is necessarily destroyed; rather its domination over the person is ended as he achieves an equilibrium with respect to that polarity...Once this is accomplished, the individual may continue to function in the world of polarities, but he experiences polarities as illusory phenomenon..The polarities then take on a playful quality rather than being perceived as the compelling and inevitable divisions of reality...Conditions of existence are not of a mutually exclusive character; in essence things are not two but one (p. 56)

It is through meditation and physical practices such as breathing and postures that one achieves this point of unity according to yoga psychology. Relative to this, Jung mistakenly believed that the aim of meditation was absorption in the collective unconscious once the personal unconscious was freed from the stranglehold of repressed elements and their polarities. He encouraged westerners not to imitate yoga methods in a Christian Way -Imitatio Christi-but to try to discover an intraverted tendency similar to the guiding spiritual principal of yoga (Hall and Lindzey, 1978) His advice has merit, but is not in keeping with yoga philosophy. Western man should not ignore his nature when entering into yoga practice or he risks further repression of the contents of his psyche. The problem stems from Jung’s incorrectness in assuming that “samadhi,” yoga’s highest or nirvana state, is a sinking into the bliss of identification with the internal deity that is concretized by images which arise from the collective unconscious during meditation. To more deeply understand what the state of samadhi actually is, we can look more deeply into yoga’s model of personality.

Ahankara, ego or “I-ness” in yogic terms, is that part of the personality which allows one to “separate the self from the flow of events and to think of oneself as an individual entity.” (Ajaya, et. al., 1976, p.84) It is that which separates self from other: I and not-I. Yet, it is not an “active decision-making, thought-producing agent.” (Ajaya,, p. 87-88) I’ness is constantly in flux. All during our lives we experience the giving up and acquiring of attachments, which either through pain or pleasure serves to redesign the “I.” As attachments are relinquished growth occurs. “With time and the accumulation of more experience, each new “I” in its turn will be found to be lacking. Its limitations must be experiences and understood...relinquished for a more inclusive and less restricted identity...Each one [step in development] reorganizes and expands the identity to some degree as a result of changing the pattern of attachments. I’ness is no more than the sum of one’s attachments.” (Ajaya,, 1976, p. 182)

Thus in many ways, the yoga concept of ego is related to Jung’s ego. Another personality component in yoga that is related to this is the buddhi or higher mind. Buddhi is the power of decisiveness, discrimination, and understanding. (Ajaya, 1976) Buddhi evolves from “crude perceptive discrimination which simply reacts to the impressions coming onto the screen of the manas,” (Ajaya, et. al., 1976 p. 91) through “an intellectual framework which permits purposeful and rational organization of activities” (Ajaya,, 1976, p. 91), to “the stepping outside of cause and effect to disinterestedly pursue pure truth.” (Ajaya,, 1976, p.92)

Buddhi gradually shifts from a preoccupation with pleasure towards a concern with truth and understanding, and frees itself from the grip of attachments. (Ajaya,, 1976) Jung, too, recognized the importance of non-attachment. In Jungian terms, attachment can be equated with complexes and projection (because emotional ties - attachment - contain projections). According to the concept accepted by Jung and yoga that one may be fixed at a certain chakra/archetypal stage, then the chakra traits not consciously adopted are projected as contents of the unconscious out into the world. Jung indicates that the possibilities of individual reactions to these unconscious pieces, if they grow strong enough, are one of these three: 1) an overpowering by the unconscious resulting in a psychosis (Singer, 1973); 2) the individual is overpowered and obsessed by the unconscious content and becomes paranoid and isolated (Singer, 1973). 3)Regressive restoration of the persona occurs where one restores functioning, after a great loss of an attached object, at a level below his/her ability (Singer, 1973). According to Singer (1973), this last type most effectively projects the shadow. She suggests a continued search for evidence of the shadow so that it can be brought into consciousness and then to reflect on its meaning in relation to the individual’s lifestyle (Singer, 1973). Singer sees this as a lifelong process because the shadow is a devilish form, a quick change artist that does not disappear. It simply changes guise and comes forward in another form. The yoga way of dealing with the above situation is to discontinue identification with a particular chakra’s “character” and to become absorbed in a higher level chakra.

Transcendence and nonattachment are achieved through yoga practice. Pranayama and asanas (postures and exercises) first have the effect of reducing anxiety in the body and mind. Gradually, as one increases the ability to control anxiety, an observing ego develops. This is equivalent to a developing buddhi. According to yoga psychologists, images arise, as in dreams, that contain day residue and archetypal material. Traditionally, a yoga teacher would suggest images (yantras) or mantras of relevance to a particular student. The teacher, a therapist of sorts, was able, because of a highly developed intuition, to discern the pupil’s level of development and attachment. This process can be related to Jung’s use of active imagination in that “there is a sort of spatial logic that guides the use of picture thinking that transcends the narrow verbal reasoning of the ego” (Ajaya, 1976, p. 146); however, in a therapeutic modality, the image comes from the client not the therapist.

In yoga, there is symbolism related to the meditative images that are assigned. The setting sun, water, ice, lapis lazuli, etc. give rise to archetypal images that represent “the treasure hard to obtain...consist[ing] of two pairs of opposites which proclaim ...suffering and non-existence, impermanence and non-self, signifying that all existence is full of suffering, and that everything that clings to the ego is impermanent. Non-being and non-being-ego deliver us from these errors...”(Jung, 1969). The problem is that Jung interprets this symbolism as giving rise eventually, through meditation practices, to the realization that one’s mind produces the godlike image and that the psyche is producing that through the Self.(Jung, 1969) Again, I must stress that yoga psychology does not agree with this formulation since it recognizes a higher consciousness above even the integrated psyche.

Yoga advises one to allow thoughts to pass through consciousness without struggling to exclude them by using “ego-will” or “active volition” (Ajaya,, 19 , p. 149) to force relaxation. According to the authors of Yoga and Psychotherapy the mantra “provides a base from which...[to] observe [the flood on the manas from chitta] without becoming drawn into the drama of thoughts...” (Ajaya,, 1976, p. 150). This strengthens the objective buddhi, which leads to nonattachment. This practice also serves to fill the chitta with mantra, an expression of a more evolved consciousness, as the chitta is cleared of other elements. This assists one in achieving the calmness necessary for higher consciousness. During this process resistance to the flow of unconscious material can be pinpointed.

Jung was partly able to comprehend the value of yoga in assimilating the unconscious. He used yoga exercises to reduce anxiety when he felt himself undergoing psychic turmoil (Jung, 1965). However, he did not realize that through persistent practice, the unconscious could be revealed more clearly to him. Rather, his approach was:

I was frequently so wrought up that I had to do certain yoga exercises in order to hold my emotions in check. But since it was my purpose to know what was going on within myself, I would do these exercises only until I had calmed myself enough to resume my work with the unconscious. As soon as I had the feeling that I was myself again, I abandoned this restraint upon the emotions and allowed the images and inner voices to speak afresh. The Indian, on the other hand, does yoga exercises to obliterate completely the multitude of psychic contents and images (Jung, 1965, p. 177)

It is no wonder Jung doesn’t recommend to Westerners imitation of yoga techniques if that is his understanding of it. Just as a therapist aids a client in drawing material from the unconscious, so too does yoga. The highest state, samadhi, does not arise from the obliteration of psychic contents. It arises from the understanding integration and evolution of the conscious and unconscious into a complete individual who, like the analyzed individual, knows their complexes and can resolve them through bringing opposites into balance.

Samadhi is a state that is hard to define unless one has experienced it. I have not, but will try to explain what it is to the best of my understanding. Samadhi is not bliss or ecstasy as Jung thought (Jung, 1969). Bliss is the state that exists in yoga nidra (dreamless sleep). Samadhi is breaking of all attachments, including to bliss; it is pure consciousness. (Ajaya,, 1976) It is considered unity because as Franklin Merrell-Wolff points out in The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object,

...the distinction between the subject of consciousness and the object of consciousness is destroyed. It is a state wherein self, identity and the field of consciousness are blended in an indissoluble whole. (Ajaya,, 1976, p. 269)

This is not the collective unconscious of Jung or deepest layer of the psyche. Instead it is the exact opposite, the highest form of consciousness.

It is my belief that yoga and Jungian therapy can be synthesized to produce a valuable therapeutic method, but it is not for all and not to be entered into lightly. Those therapists who are already attuned to the importance of the physical and creative aspects of the self in relation to the psyche will probably be the pioneers in this area. Of course, there is still the problem of Western v. Eastern modes of thinking, and translating Eastern into Western “dialect.” Also, unless a therapist truly feels some connection to and has an understanding of yoga philosophy and is practicing yoga themself, they will probably not succeed in imparting its benefits to others. And there are risks for all practitioners. Yoga can become regressive at times by providing a urobouric sort of protection for ignoring rather than detaching oneself from one’s processes. It can produce the flat affect of apathy instead of objectivity and non-attachment. As a pathway that one may follow on the heroic quest toward Selfhood, it is full of pitfalls. Each stage of development that is represented by the chakras must be explored and may pull one into extreme attachment and egoism, in extreme cases delusion or psychosis.

An example of how yoga has been used successfully therapeutically follows: One of the authors of Yoga and Psychotherapy, Swami Ajaya, worked in an prison treatment program. He led a yoga group and a verbal group with the same participants, though there were some in the verbal group who were not in the yoga group. A brief sketch of the process follows:

Body Work (Postures & Breath)

a. increased self esteem through feeling better physically

b. more interest in the problems of others

c. beginning of ability to control anxiety


a. increasing ability to control anxiety

b. growth of observing ego

c. mastery over impulses, obsessions, etc.

d. introspection rather than projection

Meditation in action

a. non-attachment

b. karma and responsibility

c. identity

(Ajaya,, 1976)

Other principles Ajaya worked with in the yoga group included: equanimity - we create our environment and each situation is a means to growth; levels of consciousness - awareness of chakras and one’s way of experiencing the world; replacement of habits - develop routines of meditation, thought patterns, and behaviors that would replace problem-causing ones (Ajaya,, 1976). In addition, Ajaya views transference similarly to the Jungian perspective that a client transfers an ideal onto the therapist (and others), that “the archetype comes to the foreground as the significant source of meaning and motivation. Using yoga philosophy and practices, a new perspective is achieved (here the similarity is to Jung’s transcendent function) that helps to correct one’s egocentric and inflated positions” (Ajaya, 1983, p. 83). In yoga therapy one would have the patient meditate not on the external object but on the archetype that has been uncovered. This synthesis of methods should enable the client to realize that he projects the archetype not only onto the manas, but also into the world; that what is outward is a manifestation of what is already within (Ajaya, 1983).

As evident, there are differences between yoga therapy as expounded by Ajaya and his colleagues, and most Western therapies. One key difference is the practice of silent retreat, where patients may spend time in solitude with their needs taken care of so that introspection and concentration is enhanced. This approach appears to differ from the “here and now” external orientation of some schools of Western therapy. Yet, the content of the inner world, from which one’s perceptions of the outer world springs, is dealt with in an extremely immediate manner. It provides a springboard to know oneself and learn to be more at ease in the internal as well as external world. Fortunately, since Ajaya’s pioneering work with yoga and therapy, cognitive and neo-cognitive therapy models have begun to embrace the benefits of mindfulness.

Some final yoga therapy concepts Ajaya discusses in Psychotherapy East and West that are not so foreign to us include: 1) surrender-related to heart chakra and the experience of humanism that transcends I-ness (egoism); 2) creativity - related to throat chakra and chanting, where the source for creativity transcends the ego; 3) unconditional love and acceptance - accepting a higher source of nurturance (nonreligious) and consciousness rather than projecting the ideal of nurturance onto others; 4) awareness of interaction among chakras. It is of interest here to note that Jung once said that Westerners should work on bringing kundalini back down from the upper, intellectual chakras to the lower chakras. On the one hand, many Westerners do identify themselves first of all with their head and rationality. Thus, they may feel more energy condensed in the upper two chakras. However, there are also higher functions associated with these chakras, as indicated previously, that may not have yet been integrated due to lack of resolution of complexes related to the lower chakras. So working with these is still an important part of the yoga process of growth.

Overall, there is a deep richness in both Jungian and Yoga psychology. Both go beyond reductive or ego-based models of the psyche to mine the depths of the unconscious. While they may not agree on processes or what is the ultimate possible outcome, they each acknowledge the depth of the human psyche and the interconnectedness of psyche and matter with reverence.

- Submitted by Luanne Sberna

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