Western psychology (and therefore science in general) is deeply influenced by ancient Indian psychology and philosophy (yoga can be broadly defined as “the science of mind and consciousness”). The Swiss depth psychologist C.G. Jung (who coinned the term “collective unconscious”) wrote extensively on yoga philosophy. Jung formulated the following:
By using the term embodied [cognition] we mean to highlight two points: first that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological and cultural context.
So it is better for Western man if he does not know too much about the secret insights of the Oriental sages to begin with, for, as I have said, it would be a case of the ‘right means in the hands of the wrong man’.
Yoga is thus an ancient science which has profound effects on the human mind and on consciousness. It is far more than merely a form of intense physical exercise. However, it has strong effects on human physiology and specifically the human brain. These effects can be quantified by using various cutting-edge scientific methodologies (e.g., fMRI, EEG, et certera). From a physiological point of view it is very beneficial for the endocrine system, the lymphatic systems, the neurovascular system, and the deep fascia, inter alia. Recent empirical studies show that yoga has beneficial effects on various brain derived neurotrophic growth factors (e.g., BDNF) and on anti- inflammatory cytokines, inter alia (but see Cahn et al., 2017). It has been concluded that yoga significantly contributes to ‘brain health’ and autonomic homeostasis. Western science has only very recently started to systematically explore this vast and uncharted territory. Psychology can make important contributions to this endeavor. Yoga is particularly interesting from an embodied cognition point of view which postulates that sensorimotor processes are fundamental for all cognitive activities. Research indicates that physical flexibility is significantly correlated with cognitive flexibility (viz., thinking through the body). Moreover, Yoga is a fascinating subject for the modern neurosciences and we are now in the first stage of investigating its numerous and complex effects on neuronal processes (e.g., changes in neurotransmitter concentrations, neuroplasticity, dynamic functional connectivity, genetic/epigenetic effects, etc. pp.).
However, Yoga by far exceed the investigative scope and intellectual capacity of these relatively immature and mainly materialistic sciences of the West. The phenomenology of yoga is very difficult to describe in linguistic terms. Its ultimate goal is self-realization (cf. Maslow) – the lifting of “the veil of māyā“ (Sanskrit: माया) and the attainment of a non-egoic higher level of consciousness which is free of illusion and devoid of conceptual content (Nirvikalpa Samādhi; Sanskrit: निर्विकल्प). The “Western mind” has great difficulties to grasp the ineffable depth of yoga. Our linguistic toolkit is not designed to communicate the essential aspects of this ancient spiritual discipline. Sanskrit, on the other hand, has an extensive vocabulary for psychological states. In addition to its semantics its phonology is regarded as very important. Psycholinguistic theories postulate that language fundamentally shapes the way we think (cf. linguistic relativity/Whorfianism). Therefore, it is not just the habitus & hexis (i.e., habits of thought and habits of movement) which influence our cognitive processes but also the socio-linguistic context in which we are enculturated, educated, and conditioned (or even propagandistically indoctrinated).
Yoga, Brain-Health & Creativity
Yoga rejuvenates the nervous system and specifically the brain.
The word psyche is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek ψυχή (psukhḗ, which translates into “mind/soul/spirit/breath”).
Embodied cognition & AI
Cerebellum, motor coordination & cognition
Vrischikasana (Sanskrit: वृश्चिकासन) or "Scorpion pose" is an inverted asana which requires deep balance.
Lord of the Dance
Balance & Coordination