Yoga in the West
Why has Indian Yoga become so popular in the West? What is its particular allure? What are the health benefits of Yoga—physically, mentally, and spiritually? Does Western Yoga need a philosophy of non-dualism? What might a Jungian analyst have to teach about Yoga in the West that has not already been said by Eastern swamis, teachers, or gurus? Many psychiatrists and psychotherapists recommend Yoga or Zen or mindfulness practices to patients because they see the psychotherapeutic benefits of such methods. They have been scientifically proven for millennia to still the mind and cure it of impatience. I heard from a colleague recently, a Jungian analyst, who told me she recommends Hatha Yoga classes to eight out ten of her patients in private practice. Eighty percent is a high percentage! As an analyst, she also focuses on dreams and their interpretations. I find it useful as a Jungian to recommend, moreover, to some of my patients the practice of Yoga, which is very popular here in the Bay Area. Yoga seems to be growing ever more widespread in this region by the day. But Yoga without an understanding of the importance of dreams lacks substance and insight. Dreams are the breath of life. Our understanding of Yoga is much too literal in the West, I feel. It needs a solid grounding in embodied awareness of the Self in all of its aspects, especially the body. Swami Vivekananda brought Vedanta up to date with current trends in modern psychology; he modernized Indian Yoga with a psychological teaching that was both pragmatic and dream focused. He brought Yoga to the ground. He included a practical point of view that was pedagogic and personal. Vivekananda was one of India’s best teachers of non-dualistic Advaita philosophy, and his simple instructions about how to begin the exercise of Pranayama are down to earth and very practical. Although I’m not a certified yoga instructor and do not teach breathing practices, while I’m working as a Jungian analyst, I have, at times, explained to patients the benefits of disciplined breathwork, which, under expert supervision, can lead to a change in the activities of the central nervous system. The effects of such changes in the body and mind and one’s sense of well-being during and afterward are noteworthy. Yoga and meditation and breathing practices are so beneficial because they slow down the activities of the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic system, which slows down rhythms of the heart, relaxes internal organs, reduces and, in some instances, temporarily eliminates anxiety and depression, puts the body in a state of relaxation and relative peace and bliss. This can be an antidote to symptoms of hypertension; it may reduce distractibility of the mind, improve mental concentration on one’s work, and lead to deep inquiry into questions about what one really wants, which is what the Self wants from us. It can also lead to a greater sense of detachment, letting go, and reflection. I have occasionally recommended Yoga classes to some of my patients and have seen some positive results.
Book orders for my 2022 book "Swami Vivekananda and C. G. Jung: Yoga in the West" may be placed at my Publisher's Website: