NAMAH Journal
Moving Forward
New Issue
About us
Contact us
Publication Ethics
Other Publications

Namah Journal

Yogic insights into human psychology

Yoga and psychology

Dr. Alok Pandey


The last few decades have seen an increasing interest in yoga not only as a tool for health but also for a deeper understanding of human nature and its complex psychology. Here, we have a first look at the profound effect of yoga on our psychology. But first we need to understand ‘yoga’, its evolutionary potential for the individual and the collective, its scientific nature, above all, its possibility of transforming our human nature.


The last half of the previous century has seen yoga and yogic practices making steady inroads into the field of psychology. This entry, one must admit, has been so far through the backdoor, more as a practical tool for helping someone going through a crisis. These tools range from meditation and guided imagery to cognitive realignment and handling our emotions and impulses through ways and means that have been known to yoga practitioners thriygh the ages. While the hard-core academia are still a bit suspicious of including yoga and yogic insights into their mainstream body of literature and teaching, they are finding an increasing acceptance in parallel models and alternate approaches to understanding the human phenomenon. The time is fast approaching when this antagonism needs to be healed as it will be helpful not only in the interest of health and healing but in a deeper understanding of our humanity.

Generally the advocates of yogic insights have a tendency to use terms such as Eastern, Indian, ancient, etc as opposed to Western, modern, scientific for the academic course. This division is artificial since yoga has been known and practiced under one name or another in different pockets of humanity as it evolved out of the animal and began to grow conscious of a subjective self and began to ask questions about the meaning of our existence. This type of humanity is not confined to the East or the West nor is it limited to ancient times. Every age of mankind has witnessed a group of human beings who went beyond the human formula of life and sought to discover something deeper and higher than the human frame. What is however, unique to India and to her credit, is the fact that this eternal seeking of mankind has been not only well preserved, its various experiences widely documented in detail, but also transmitted down the generations through a unique system of guru-disciple tradition. Thereby it accumulated a rich material, a large body of literature which can be taken as an empirical evidence of its discoveries.

The guru-disciple tradition handed over the key to rightly understand and practise what was contained in the yogic literature. It was found by our early forefathers that the practice of yoga can be very daunting; besides its own dangers it can open doors to a host of psychological forces and a range of occult phenomenon which an uninitiated person cannot really handle. Hence arose the need of secrecy, while in other scenarios this seeking and its attendant findings were not thus transmitted. The first revelation was considered to be the final one thereby drying up the evolutionary stream of human quest or turning it into a petrified formal religion whose deeper sense was lost in an elaborate system of rituals and symbols. What was originally a kind of yoga turned thereby into a narrow, rigid dogma.

Quite naturally humanity in its effort to break free from this fixity of thought had to pass through a phase of a purifying atheism, though sometimes, in its overzealous attitude it went overboard and turned atheism itself into a yet another religion whose priest was the scientist sitting in the university temples, the rituals and sacred books were the ‘rigorous’ scientific methods and analysis the only tool through which we can understand the human formula. As in the case of exclusive religions, there began to appear various schools of psychological thought, each claiming its own superiority, if not exclusivity, over others. Each had and still has its faithful followers who fight vociferously to convert the ‘others’ aggressively to their own doctrines. Each claims to know and therefore the right to preach and teach.

Yoga starts with much more sobering premises of which the first is that Reality is Infinite and it is impossible for the limited human consciousness bound by finite experiences to ‘know’ IT in totality. Therefore it accepts varieties of approaches to THAT and leaves each one free to discover and follow his or her own unique approach towards THAT. The one thing essential is to discover the Ultimate Reality or Truth or whatever else by whatever means possible. The means themselves have a limited usefulness. They are useful until we have found the object of our seeking. They may still remain useful as signposts and guiding lamps on the way to those who may follow later. However what is important is not the means but the process, not the tools and the methods but the seeking. The seeking comes first and then the process follows. Tools and methods are mere convenient devices. They are useful only to the extent that they can nurture our seeking and help us go through the process. But devoid of a seeking they are mere encumbrances, like the formula of relativity for a child studying in Kindergarten. He understands e and m and c and 2 but has no clue as to what the formula actually means! Therefore if we wish to truly take help from yoga to better and help our human state then we need to understand its principles along with the practice. It is not enough to merely learn some techniques and methods, useful as they are in whatever limited ways, but to learn it as any other science and art, first the principles and then the practice.

The idea of yoga

The principles of yoga are based upon discoveries made by yogis. These men and women may well be called scientists of the Spirit or of human nature, if we like. They explored the boundaries of nature, ventured to go beyond the limits ordinarily set for our life, entered hitherto unknown territories and observed the effects of these discoveries and their impacts quite objectively on their own life and others’. Once they had discovered their own unique point of contact with the Beyond, they shared the discovery with other seekers. This allowed the experiment to be replicable. In other words, their discovery was not confined to themselves but could be replicated in others if the conditions required for the process to bear fruition were followed. This is very different from armchair theorists who sit in their air-conditioned offices with high-paid salaries pursuing their ambitions and who start writing papers on yoga and compare it with other systems and theories of psychology! But yoga has to be done and practised, better still lived, to be understood in the true sense. It is not a philosophical system of thought but a practical psychology. The philosophy follows later and can even be left out. Therefore yoga cannot be taught in classrooms or through seminars and webinars. These activities can be helpful as groundwork but to truly understand it one must go beyond the classroom, into the fields of one’s nature, enter into its dangerous jungles and charming territories, grapple with the luminous forces and the shadows that move us, study the actual impact of countless inner forces that are at work in our lives. It is a vast and deep work, fairly complex in its nature and generally speaking cannot be safely undertaken without some kind of a guidance or better still a guide.

We can take an analogy to better understand it. For example, we cannot understand swimming by merely reading a book or all possible books on swimming since however much we may know about it theoretically, a gap, even a fundamental gap will always remain between our readings and the actual experience of the swimmer. The swimmer has tried various ways to stay afloat and conquer the law of water and establish a new way of relating with this medium. He has experienced the joy and the danger, learnt about the predictable and yet unpredictable behaviour of the different water-bodies. Unlike the reader who has simply engaged in brain exercise, the actual swimmer has challenged his body and mind to align it in a new way with regard to the river or the sea. He has learnt a new way to be. And to stretch the analogy a little far without disturbing its logic, if the swimmer stays longer and longer in water he would completely modify his physiology and perhaps in time to come, if more and more swimmers did the same, even the anatomy and very genetic constitution will change to bring out a new species! After all, dolphins and many other creatures did evolve that way. The mud-fish jumped out of water twisting and turning for breath until it changed into a tadpole and began to breathe as naturally and normally on land as well as in water.

On the other hand the four-footed creatures that began to love the life of water some 90 million years ago began to develop new ways of breathing in water and evolved into modern dolphins. Seen thus, we may look at yoga not just as some set of exercises to heal or keep fit but a new mode of living, a dwelling in a new state of consciousness, a change of our internal habitat as much as of our outer habits, a dwelling upon the heights of human nature rather than in its underbelly as we now do. Perhaps yoga is a grand experiment of Nature undertaken to evolve the human species into a new superhumanity of tomorrow. It did take some 40 million years for dolphins to evolve. We can do it faster and with much less hazard. Seen thus we may say that Yoga is essentially an exercise or an experiment in conscious evolution.

Nature has tried many ways and paths for the evolution of individual human beings and of small groups gathered around certain Masters. But perhaps the time has come now for this individual evolution to take a definitive step and go beyond the human formula into the superhumanity of tomorrow. It would mean the emergence of a new species for whom living in a New and greater consciousness, a higher and vaster and more luminous consciousness will be natural and spontaneous and not through the hard and difficult effort as all genuine yoga requires for breaking out of the human limitations into the freedom of Infinity. The one sign is that the seeking for yoga has become much more prominent in the last century or so as if humanity is tired of the old ways of living and is thirsting for the New, a new that is one with Truth and Vastness and Beauty and Love and Unity and Joy. It may not be able to always define it. Like the mud-fish all that it feels is the suffocation of the river life; like the dolphin ancestors it feels the danger of earthly life where conditions are becoming increasingly difficult and is thereby drawn near the waters but knows not how to live in it. Perhaps all that is happening today, the sense of doom as if humanity were standing on the brink is only to push us towards a new way of life, a new way of being. We may not know it fully now but it is just a matter of time before the existential angst will carry us to the promised land beyond the horizons of struggle and strife, to a haven of safety and splendid peace, to a life where love and joy are natural, and error and sorrow and suffering find no place, to an inner world where unity and not division is the way of being! What started with a few ‘yogis’ here and there, individual freaks or secret initiate groups, scattered through Space and Time may well end up with a new species that yet has no name, though we can call it the superhumanity of tomorrow. It is not mere chance that man’s imagination is also drifting in that direction and its possibility is beginning to be explored in groups of humanity striving for a better tomorrow.

Yoga for collective evolution

Perhaps we are entering a new evolutionary cycle and its impact is being felt in all fields of human activity. The field of health and psychology is no exception. We meet more and more youngsters who are experiencing an evolutionary angst that is manifesting as various forms of mood disturbances, state of unease, maladaptation, changing social patterns and ‘abnormal’ behaviours that challenge the human measures and shatter the conventional stereotypes. These are perhaps the early birds who are awkward in their gait and have yet to grow wings. Or they are like the amphibian with one leg in water and another on land. They do not follow the human social conventions but are yet to find the law of another species. They feel it vaguely, sometimes sense it in their very bones but yet know it not.

All these various forms of abnormality which we find, especially the youth of today, vulnerable to, may well be the search for a new normalcy or rather the supernormalcy of tomorrow. It is a cry for evolution so to speak. What is needed is to understand it and to give it direction and shape, to channelise it rather than to label and drug it to sleep. This is not to say that there are no cases of other conventional types of ‘depressions’ and ‘schizophrenias’ and perverse forms of human behaviour. That continues to exist, in fact also spikes up as the common ground of humanity is lost. We are no more a stable human mass, if there ever was one. We are either moving upwards or gravitating downwards leading to an increase in extreme forms of manifestations. But behind it all one can sense the increasing evolutionary pressure to make it or break it; to remake our humanity into a newer and better and diviner mould or to break it so as to give way for something else that we yet cannot conceive or imagine.

The concept of individual evolution through yogic processes has always been there since antiquity but the idea of conscious collective evolution is relatively new. Nirvana is no more the highest ideal but a change, a transformation of earthly life. Mukti in some other-worldly state is no more attractive but as a state of inner Freedom here and now. True, this need for inner freedom takes an outer form, a thing impossible so long as we remain what we are, but behind it all there is a conscious urge to be free even while we live and act in the world. Though the idea of collective evolution through yoga has been hinted in the Vedas, the Upaniṣads and the Tantra, it has been brought to the forefront in the Gita, and has found its fullest justification in Sri Aurobindo’s work and vision. He clearly saw the collapse of the old world, a failure of all its methods but more importantly also foresaw the emergence of a new life of humanity, a new light, a new daybreak that will expunge and annihilate the terrible dreams of the night that mankind witnessed in the previous few centuries, nightmares of gory wars and mass executions and ethnic cleansing and an utter depravity of taste and values as if everything that we once called as human was fading into some dark abyss. Or was it perhaps returning with a glorious face with the outbreak of a New Light? This gives a new sense to yoga. It ceases to be something personal, meant only for individual mukti or nirvana, let alone for one’s own health and fitness, but is emerging as a means for hastening the collective advance of mankind. Each individual who breaks free from the prison-house of humanity and yet refuses the lure of dissolution in some beyond, helps others to break free and arrive at a newer mode of living. This means humanity as a large mass gaining an evolutionary momentum until it reaches the tipping-point and then the crucial and critical breakthrough when the new species arrives!

The Evolutionary Energy

But what is this Evolutionary Energy that is ever at work in creation, shifting its elements, bringing out new ones for better adaptation, taking away the old ones that are no more needed for her grand plan? Whatever we may say or argue, and there is no end to this debate, Nature does seem to work as if it is driven by a Conscious Intelligence that adapts very well the means to the end. We are unable to fathom its intentions since we see things on a small scale of time. Our consciousness is limited by our own lifespan or of a few generations this way or that. But when we look through larger spaces of Time we shall see how she uses everything, including catastrophe and destruction as evolutionary spurs to bring out new things buried in her own depths. It is as if she was staging a mega-show, spectacular with lights and sounds on the cosmic stage, an endless epic of the soul putting on various forms as masks and disguises to make the play interesting and meaningful. For her it is evidently a delightful thing to do but for the masked actors who forget themselves in the play, forget that it is a role and not the entire truth, it can be frightening. We experience sorrow and joy, pleasure and pain as the play unfolds and each plays his part. But if we can, even for a moment, step back, if we can enter into contemplation of the oneness that is always hidden behind each element of creation, if we can contemplate the boundlessness of Space and the endlessness of Time then we too can share some touch of this delight that always accompanies the play. The animal being preyed upon and the animal preying upon it becomes at a certain critical point, one reality, each losing its separateness in the other.

That is why perhaps the first stir of joy is felt in eating or devouring things. It is as if it were the first effort to recapture oneness, albeit an ignorant effort. This first instinct towards oneness becomes something perverse when it extends beyond its legitimate domain of material food onto psychological forces and energies. There are people who feed on emotions and devour feelings and thereby crush the existence of others. Even with food, when the impulse to devour becomes uncontrollable then this too creates a problem and has its revenge in an opposite manner. Behind it is a need for love that is the ultimate way towards oneness. It is a lack of love within the heart that leads us to devour things, turning us into heartless machines crushing others.

The sign of this lack of love is of course a lack of joy in the heart, a disease that humanity much suffers from. The remedy is to awaken love, to enter into a deep state of oneness with creation and with the Creatrix Consciousness, the Conscious Intelligence that is operating everywhere and in everything. Yoga is a means to do that. As its very name implies, yoga means a state of union. This union brings delight and peace which is the sign of being in yoga. Its opposite, a state of division, brings suffering and pain. The greater the sense of loneliness, the more selfishly we are turned upon ourselves. The more we cut ourselves off from the great universal current of life and try to utilise it for our own separate benefits, the more miserable we become. If we learn to step back from the immense and complex workings of the million forces of nature or step out of the dizzying eddy that our mind and feelings are trapped in, then we shall experience the state of oneness and the Silence that stands behind creation. In that Silence we can gather strength, in that Stillness we can rejuvenate and prepare ourselves for a greater action, in that Peace we can find the Conscious Intelligence, the Oneness of creation, the Wisdom that moves the worlds, the one Force that works in everything, the evolutionary Energy, the ultimate Power that is the Source of all things.

Science and yoga

Yogic practices are often various means to help us reconnect with our Source. Science itself is a kind of yoga trying to find the Source. It is however a long winding path, a circuitous route since it starts with examining different things and elements that constitute creation. It starts with physical objects and examines how this material universe is created, then goes on to studying the enormous energy that is trapped within or released out of material bodies. We discover all things as patterns of waves that spring up as articles to our separate sense. But always behind it is the state of Oneness, the Energy of the ocean throwing itself up as separate waves and ripples and drops. Going beyond the energy-body of the universe it shall enter the realm of Idea-forces that pour upon creation to build forms for its manifestation. Each form is simply a symbol of an Idea-force. It is this Idea-force that gives it distinctness. Going behind still further and deeper, we discover the common tie that holds all these separate and distinct units of creation in a single Unity where all Idea-forces are revealed as facets and aspects of the One Reality. The many are aspects of the One, the ocean one with each drop, the earth one with each atom and particle of dust, the rays one with the Sun. When we realise this, then we too can share the delight of creation.

What Science is trying to do through a deeper and deeper probe into the world and its objects, yoga does by probing into our own subjective space. Probing the objective world is bound to lead us one day to a point where the objective phenomenal world fuses with the subjective Self. After all one day we shall ask this most important question as to who is the seeker, the scientist and the thinker; if the world is an illusory dream then who is the dreamer; if it is an objective fact that who is perceiving these objects? Who is the student and who is the knower? In other words ‘who am I?’ All other answers derive their validity from the answer to this first question. That is how yoga starts. Instead of probing the external world and digging deeper into matter, it goes straight to the heart of the problem.

It raises the question, who am I? Then going from one level of awareness of the subjective self to another it discovers the Knower, the Enjoyer, the Mover of all existence. Then extending this Self-knowledge it discovers that our individual self and the Universal Self is essentially One. The many are a seeming, there is but One Reality playing with Itself in countless forms. This awareness is deeply liberating. As we draw back from the illusion of a temporary self or selves that are merely constructs of Nature and Time (our ego-self) and discover our Timeless Self, that has assumed numberless bodies and countless births, then our one life and its petty miseries appears as a mere fraction of a moment compared to the vast play of Time. Our relation with others and the world around us changes since there is no other but the One alone who is playing at hide and seek with Himself. Naturally these and other such experiences that are the crown of yogic endeavour take time to come. It is not like a rapid crash-course into Nirvana. Those who turn yoga or yogic practices into a quick-fix solutions for life’s problems are actually unaware of the deepest potentials of yoga. Yoga is a serious engagement with oneself, one’s deepest self if we like. It is an adventure as great, if not greater than climbing treacherous mountain peaks or diving deep into unplumbed oceanic depths. It is perhaps when man is done with his outer explorations that he will turn towards this greatest of all adventures. Or perhaps man’s urge to venture into far reaches of outer Space is an indication of an inner urge to explore the extreme limits of inner Space.

The largest utility and scope of yoga

But apart from this, yogic practices and processes themselves are a science in their own right. Just as in Science we observe and experiment and study the laws of physical nature, in yoga too we observe, experiment and study the laws of human nature. Just as in Science we learn to master the laws, to manipulate or utilise the powers of nature for certain outer gains, so too through yogic processes we learn to master our psychological nature, alter the laws that ordinarily govern us, bring in a new combination of psychological forces, utilise the existing powers of our psychological being for inner gains. Just as there are laws of physics that govern physical matter as we experience it so too there are laws of our psychological existence that move us. We can master and even change these laws by a deeper study and understanding. We can even go as far as completely changing our character, develop strength where there is weakness, grow fearless and courageous where there is fear and anxiety, establish peace and quietude where there is restlessness and agitation, experience a state of constant inner joy, a deeper and subtler happiness independent of all outer conditions or inner self-regard where now there is only a see-saw of moods swinging between pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow. We can even completely outgrow our selfish nature, outgrow greed and lust and jealousy and anger and all that dark fuel of fallen nature-forces that lead us towards the precipice of unconsciousness, and replace it with a larger heart full of a self-existent love and sweetness and delight, a stronger and luminous life-energy, an action that is wide in its scope and mighty in its effectuating force. Outgrowing our small and narrow and ignorant personality of the moment we can develop from within us a new personality, a new mind, become an entirely new person.


Even as yoga is becoming a common household word and the eyes of the world are turned towards it for its enormous potential, it is important that we discover all its different dimensions and facets. For this we need to go far deeper than the conventional idea of yoga as a set of physical exercises or techniques to keep one physically and mentally fit. This may be a starting-point for many but the largest potential of yoga cannot be unlocked by this alone. The greatest potential of yoga is, as the very term applies, the union of human soul with the Divine. To put it in other words, a union of the divine element in the individual with the divine element in the creation and even beyond it. This is the inward road to unity towards which we aspire. It is not just a unity among human groups but a unity with all other species, and going deeper with all other aspects and powers of creation. It is this universal spirit of unity that yoga seeks and finds. It is this unity that is the perfect solution to all our various individual and social ills. It is this unity that opens the doors for the highest possible freedom and going still further to an entire transformation of our now struggling human nature.

Dr. Alok Pandey, an editor of NAMAH and a member of SAIIIHR, is a doctor practising at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

Share with us (Comments,contributions,opinions)

When reproducing this feature, please credit NAMAH,and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.



Guru-disciple tradition


Sacred books





Youth of today


Dark abyss







Laws of physics