Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness:
Seeing through the eyes of Infinity
by Don Salmon and Jan Maslow
Paragon House, St. Paul, MN.
First edition: 2007
Book Review by Larry Malerba, DO, DHt
For true devotees, yoga is a spiritual discipline. For others it is a form of breathing, meditation, and relaxation. An increasingly popular Americanized version of yoga amounts to a trendy form of recreational exercise. The psychological dimension of yoga is not something that receives a lot of attention. In Yoga Psychology, we are treated to an examination of mind and its relationship to the infinite. Or, in the words of the authors:
Psychology refers to the study of the mind. Yoga—literally to yoke or unite—is a means of helping us to recognize the connection between our individual consciousness and an infinite, all-pervading consciousness. Thus, yoga psychology is the study of the mind in light of its inherent connection to an infinite Reality… We base our presentation…on the synthesis of…the large body of psychospiritual knowledge accumulated over thousands of years by those who have engaged in this kind of intuitive study. p. xxvii
Salmon and Maslow take us on a journey through the evolution of consciousness. Along the way, they point out the limitations of materialistic science, which would have us believe that the secrets to conscious life lie waiting to be unlocked through an understanding of brain anatomy and function. This neurobiological dead end can be averted only when Western science awakens to the truth that its focus on physical existence is limited and will only be able to take us so far.
Until science acknowledges the legitimate existence of various gradations of non-physical reality including consciousness as a primary phenomenon, its reductionistic explorations into the minute details of the material dimension of human life will become increasingly irrelevant. The sterile objectivity of the rationalist worldview, while serving its purpose, is incapable of achieving a more holistic perspective that incorporates the clinically forbidden dimension of subjectivity and experience. Here, we see how rational thought can actually be an impediment to human growth and understanding:
…in the course of human evolution, the thinking mind, paradoxically, can create enormous obstacles to the awakening of a deeper consciousness. It can focus attention on the surface of things to such a degree that a wealth of inner experience is completely lost to our awareness. Its obsession with dividing up the world, reducing it to ever smaller and more meaningless pieces, can lead to an occlusion of the Soul so great that the world itself is seen to be a purposeless “collection of atoms,” a “sound and fury signifying nothing.” p. 157
One could say that the authors are proposing a new, more inclusive science of the spirit, which, when combined with what has been learned through conventional material science, will help complete another step in the evolutionary development of consciousness and the maturation of human understanding. To this end, inspired by the thought and writings of Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo, Buddhist monk and physicist Alan Wallace, and others, they describe in detail the anatomy of a non-physical dimension that most Westerners believe either does not exist or consider to be a mere by-product of brain electro-chemistry.
The book does a wonderful job of delineating various phases of the evolution of consciousness and the developmental aspects of the human psyche on individual, collective, and cosmic scales. From the origins of the material universe to the birth of rudimentary consciousness, from animal mind to the thinking mind, from the false sense of self generated by ego to the true Self grounded in spiritual maturity and cosmic consciousness, it is all here.
I particularly enjoyed the discussion of karma, which is presented not as popularly conceived as a form of cosmic retribution for bad behavior, but with a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding grounded in Buddhist and Indian spiritual tradition. As such, karma is proposed as one of the “rules” that ensures the long-term progression of the evolutionary arc of development:
In the yoga tradition, the force that keeps us lost, the process by which desire and attachment bind the Soul to the limited surface personality, is known as karma… Paradoxically, according to the rules of the cosmic game, the same force that keeps the psychic being lost in the Field also assures that it will ultimately awaken. In the words of the Kulanarva Tantra, “that by which we fall is that by which we rise.” The very desires and attachments that bind us to a finite identity can, when turned within, become aligned with the Force that sets us free. p. 215
There are strong echoes here of the dynamics of growth and healing elucidated by my own homeopathic experiences. Indeed, it reinforces the fundamental truth of the wounded healer as a universal principle. The karmic “knot” that binds us to the illusion of egoic self and drives our superficial pursuit of satisfaction of temporal desires can also be the very key that unlocks the door to a universe of profound healing experiences, spiritual growth, and expansion of consciousness. Even the use of the word “Force” here is reminiscent of the homeopathic vital force as first proposed by Dr. Hahnemann.
All in all, Yoga Psychology is an excellent read. Although it is well written and easy to understand, it is also challenging and not dumbed down. It represents the cutting edge of new paradigm holistic thought that is coming to challenge the dominant reductionist mode of thinking in contemporary culture. Far from anti-science, it presents a more inclusive and comprehensive perspective that transcends the materialistic limitations of conventional scientific understanding.
Larry Malerba, DO, DHt is a physician and educator whose mission is to build bridges between holistic healing, conventional medicine, and spirituality. He is the author of Metaphysics & Medicine: Restoring Freedom of Thought to the Art and Science of Healing and Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. He writes for Huffington Post, Natural News, and the American Holistic Medical Association. Dr. Malerba is board certified in Homeotherapeutics, is Clinical Assistant Professor at New York Medical College, and past president of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York. He is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland. Website: SpiritScienceHealing.com