Self-study vs Therapy

IMG_3720As established in my previous post, there are many similarities between the yogic practice of svadhyaya and the Western practice of therapy. 

However there are a couple significant aspects which set them apart. The Yogis realized there are essentially two major challenges to therapy, the first being the fact that causality is an “infinite regress” – that is, if we get overly concerned with trying to determine where our patterns come from, we can unconsciously get lost in what is essentially a bottomless process.

For this reason, the Yogis realized it is essential to keep our focus largely on perceiving patterns themselves rather than excessive focus on where they come from, which can easily shift from awareness to affixing blame.

The second major challenge with therapy is, the deeper we go into our challenges and issues, the easier it is to unconsciously trigger old patterns or even “re-wound” ourselves – that is, instead of stepping beyond our past, we can unwittingly get caught up in it. 

For these reasons combined, the Yogis realized, in order for self-study to be effective, we need two additional processes to compliment and support it: the first is checking our personal experiences with the wisdom of those who have gone before us, a process the Yogis referred to as “scriptural study,” and the second is cultivating awareness of our thoughts so we can see we are unconsciously falling into old patterns, a skill achieved through meditation. 

One of the major challenges with self-analysis is the tendency to unconsciously shift from observation to “dwelling” or ruminating – obviously processes that not only don’t contribute to stepping out of our patterns but in fact tend to deepen them.

Therapists who work with those suffering from trauma are especially aware of this issue, supporting their clients in staying mindful and in knowing it is always okay to “step back” when we fall into re-wounding or the dissociation that can take place when diving too deeply into past suffering.

Through our practice of yoga, including self-study, we are building awareness of the constant dialogue of our minds. The more we develop this skill and tendency, the better we get at seeing when we move from objective reflection on the past into brooding or lamenting or blaming. We are building our capacity to redirect our minds – again, during meditation or asana practice simply toward our given focus (towards Muladhara chakra for example) but over time this skill translates to the ability throughout our days to pull our minds away from unhealthy focus toward more constructive ones. 

 In the case of self-study, this gives us greater power not only to see when we fall into critical thoughts (of ourselves or others) but to purposefully redirect our minds toward thoughts that are more healthful, shifting for example from blame or shame to compassion and commitment to forward movement. 

Your thoughts? Comments? I love to hear what you are thinking and experiencing. 

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