Yoga & Psyche: Unifying Yoga and Psychology Lifestyle for Healing, Transformation, and Joy

By Mariana Caplan

Has yoga improved your health and expanded your awareness and lifestyle, but emotional and relationship issues continue to challenge you? Have you found psychotherapy helpful, yet yearn for further spiritual discovery? For myself and countless others, yoga saved only half my life; psychology saved the other.

Many are familiar with the experience of being in a yoga class and feeling relaxed, balanced, and maybe even wise, only to walk out into the activity of human relationships, work, family, and responsibilities, and within minutes, completely lose touch with the good feelings they had just moments before. Similarly, many know the feeling of doing deep therapy and psychological work, only to discover that the powerful insights and self-knowledge that they uncover remains very difficult to integrate into their bodies, relationships, and all the gritty challenges that daily life brings with it.

Whereas many of the Western world’s Buddhist traditions have recognized the importance of psychology’s teachings and practices for several decades, the yoga tradition is only beginning to understand and promote the benefits of Western psychology as complementary to yoga practice. The developments within psychology of neuroscience, trauma healing, and somatics are becoming of increasing interest to yoga teachers and practitioners and are just beginning to be taught in yoga studios. When we blend the yoga and psychological traditions—yoga being 2,500-5,000 years old and the other just over 130 years old—we awaken new possibilities for integrated transformation within our bodies, psyches, and spirits. Together, they form a seamless weave of insights and practices applicable in the yoga studio, therapy room, or amid the rush of daily life.

As yoga gains widespread acceptance in the Western world—with practitioners in the United States alone registering upwards of 20.4 million—it’s becoming a major focus of scientific studies as well as the subject of groundbreaking research at academic institutions across the globe. In a survey of 200 scientific and academic studies done on the integration of yoga and psychology and their related fields, yoga was shown to have a positive effect on post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depression, anxiety, immunity issues, eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, well-being, and mood.

Science, too, has begun to extensively demonstrate yoga’s capacity to heal the body and the mind. This body of evidence-based, scientific documentation of yoga’s effectiveness can promote the widespread acceptance of yoga, in tandem with psychology, into areas of healthcare, public policy, education, mental health, insurance, and many other social sectors where this lifestyle integration has begun, and will continue to bring profound healing and benefits.

The good news is that everything we need to access a map for a full range of healing and thriving, from the darkest and most unconscious places within us, to our greatest potentials, is at our fingertips. When we integrate yoga with the developments in Western psychology, we harness new possibilities for personal and collective healing. As we witness the increasing impact of environmental, political, and social issues throughout the world, we will need to draw on a deep well of inner resources to meet and address the challenges that we face. As human beings living in times of both great suffering and great possibility, it is exciting to live in a globalized society, even with its demanding nature. Challenging times call for creative solutions, and the integration of yoga and psychology together support more harmony and balance within ourselves and others, as well as prepare us to respond effectively and with love to the world around us.

Mariana Caplan, PHD, MFT, E-RTY 500, is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, and author of eight books, including her latest, YOGA & PSYCHE. She’s been teaching throughout the world since 1997. She is the founder of Yoga & Psyche International, an organization created to integrate the fields of yoga and psychology globally.