Fact: You are not a victim of genetics or chemistry.
Psychology of Hatha Yoga Part II: Breaking free of the psychopharmacological cycle of genetic victim and chemical fate by changing your center of control and perception.
Any new discovery of truth does not contradict past truth but fits into it (Patanjali/Vivekananda 1:7)
I started my morning meditation with this phrase from the Yoga sutras fresh in my mind. It is a phrase that I have heard often in one form or another and in many distinct places-from the mouth of my mother, in the hallways of church and in the great lecture halls of university. It is the base of the scientific method and as a reformed researcher I cannot help myself but apply this method to everything, especially in the context of psychology and the concept of happiness and well-being. A truth that I have observed repeated and again in throughout various world mythologies, religions, philosophies as well as in the sciences of biology and psychology is what Pantanjali wrote over thousands of years ago: the base of all suffering has it´s root in the attachment to pleasure and the aversion to pain.
These two things tie us to external expectations and situations and as a result takes away our perception of freedom to choose and form our decisions from a place of internal motivation. This external focus results in lower life satisfaction. The idea that we are happier when we perceive that we are in control of our life circumstances is supported by the psychological measurement of Locus of Control. The studies of this scale show that when we give more control of our lives to external circumstances and people we are less happy. It is for this reason that I would conclude that the perspective that we are victims of our biology and genes, a perspective that goes totally against the philosophy of Yoga, is causing so much harm in the western world at both a physiological and psychological level.
Psychopharmacological drugs: A western epidemic
In their books and research Robert Whitaker (Anatomy of an Epidemic) Thomas Szasa (The Myth of Mental Illness) and Russell Brand (Relovelution) all claim that the movement of psychiatry towards a medical model that is guided by genes, chemistry and drugs rather than a philosophical-social model that is guided by introspection and communication, has caused a huge surge in the diagnosis and relapse of psychological disorders. This is supported by data that shows in countries where there are more economic resources with easier access to psychopharmacological drugs there are higher rates of mental illness and relapse. For example, Whitaker highlights a study done over a period of 10 years, completed by the WHO (World Health Organization) that shows very clearly that a person is less likely to suffer from a psychological disorder and more likely to overcome one if they live in a less affluent country like India or Nigeria rather than in the USA or the EU.
In other words, if you have some sort of psychological mental illness or disorder you are more likely to overcome it if you live in a place where there is less access to psychopharmacological drugs rather than a place where there is much more ease of access.
Furthermore, the WHO in another multi-national report in 1998 found that the use of anti-depressives was associated with higher levels of long term depression rather than the other way around. In addition to the increase in depressive symptoms consumption of anti-depressives was also associated with all sorts of side effects such as insomnia, sexual dysfunction, apathy, suicidal thoughts and mania, which as a result could manifest another diagnostic of bi-polar disorder.
The great lack of evidence behind the psychiatric-medical model
What I am going to write here is fundamental to understand and in the beginning completely surprised me. There is NO evidence that there is a chemical imbalance in the brain before taking psychopharmacological drugs. There is NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE. It could be the brain of someone diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, PTSD or mania. There is no scientific evidence that shows with well documented and well-designed studies that there is a chemical imbalance behind this behavior. This imbalance only seems to occur AFTER the consumption of psychopharmacological drugs. This chemical imbalance explanation is a great myth constructed without scientific facts. This myth has been told by Big Farma and their friends in the psychiatric world during the past 40 years. The result has been lots of money for Big Farma and the psychiatric profession with little benefit for their patients.
The data shows that in the long term and in fact, in the short term as well, the majority of the psychopharmacological drugs have little to no effect greater than a placebo and in the worst case scenario can end up causing permanent brain damage. Whitaker has documented this reality with historical records as well as qualitative and quantitative research. In his research he shows very clearly that psychological and physical risks and symptoms increase with the amount of time and the psychiatric drugs are taken. Furthermore, the younger a person starts, the greater the risk. From the philosophical approach taken from both the Yoga sutras of Patanjali and the Myth of Mental Illness written by Thomas Sanz it is no surprise that the consumption of the anti-psychotics and ant-depressives are correlated with an increase in psychological risk over the long term rather than a decrease in symptoms. Here is why:
Locus of Control
In Psychology of Hatha Yoga Part I: Locus of Control I explained via the psychological measurements of Locus of Control what was written in the Yoga sutras, that the ingredients of suffering are attachment and aversion. These measurements of Locus of Control have a strong correlation with levels of well-being and depression.
High levels of Internal Locus of Control is correlated with higher levels of well-being whereas high levels of external Locus of Control is associated with higher instances of depression. You can read more here.
From a psychological perspective as well as in accordance with the philosophy of Patanjali and the Yoga sutras is it logical that a world where people take pills in an attempt to feel better, experience less life satisfaction than those who take nothing when confronted with a negative emotional experience. When we avoid uncomfortable and negative experiences by taking on an external solution (ie pills) we start to strengthen our sense of external Locus of Control instead of developing a greater sense of internal Locus of Control. We increase levels of internal Locus of Control when we learn how to accept and confront these negative circumstances using internal resources, like self-observation and breath, two great skills that form the base of Hatha Yoga.
The psychiatric-medical model offers a fixed label that patients and doctors can attach themselves to in order to explain a psychological problems (ie. Schizophrenia, ADHD, PTSD, Bi-polar, etc.) Thanks to this labeling and the great marketing scheme created by Big Farma patients internalize their problem as something genetic and chemical that they themselves do not have the power to change. With this kind of perspective and attachment to a fixed label and identity the problem becomes something outside of the patients control and the solution that is offered is an external one, a pill, rather than an internal one (self-talk, self-observation, breath work, creative expression…etc).
The result of a treatment based on psychopharmacological drugs creates a vicious cycle of attachment and aversion. There is an aversion to confronting negative symptoms that is justified with attachment towards a label of a psychological disorder. According to the Yoga sutras of Patanjali combined with the measurements of Locus of Control it is only logical that this cycle of aversion and attachment results in a greater number of relapses and lower quality of life (measured by a patients ability to live independently and maintain important relationships) than patients who never enter into this cycle of psychopharmacological drugs.
In this graphic one can see that a person suffering from schizophrenic symptoms who does not take psychopharmacological drugs in the long term, lives a better life than a patient who takes psychopharmacological drugs. This is also demonstrated in cases of depression. In 1995 in a study done over a period of 6 years with 547 patients who suffered symptoms of depression, it was shown that patients receiving psychopharmacological treatment were 7x more likely to become incapacitated and 3x more likely to abandon their principal social role than patients who did not receive psychopharmacological treatment. (NIMH 1998).
From both a psychological and Yoga perspective I would hypothesize that this is because patients who are given psychopharmacological drugs to avoid psychological pain are never taught and never learn how to overcome their condition using internal resources (self-observation, breath, self-talk…etc). They are dependent on external resources (psychopharmacological drugs) in order to survive. This dependence is justified by the attachment to an identity of a psychological disorder. An identity and disorder that doctors say is out of their control. The result is an increase in the levels of external Locus of Control which is of course directly correlated and related to lower levels of life satisfaction.
You were never bound by laws. Nature never had a bond for you (Patanjali/Vivekananda 2:18)
Before the year 1992, western Lapland Finland had some of the highest levels of schizophrenia in the EU. According to the psychiatric-medical model schizophrenia is genetic and a result of an imbalance of dopamine in the brain caused by an error in the genetic code. Most often, once a person has received this diagnostic the patient has to accept a lifetime of anti-psychotic medication which is known to increases levels of apathy, dull creativity as well as academic success. However, with the introduction of a social therapy called ´Open Dialogue Therapy´ in this region of Finland, the levels of schizophrenia have dropped to some of the lowest in the EU for both diagnosis and relapses. Furthermore, 84% of the patients of this therapy are either working or attending university. This means that either schizophrenia is not genetic or if it is, therapies based on social support and self-knowledge, can help a patient overcome and control it. Or from a more general perspective, it is possible to let go of the attachment to a destructive identity (schizophrenia) and the aversion to negative experiences via confronting and accepting difficult sensations and conversations.
It is interesting that the base of Hatha Yoga as well as Open Dialogue Therapy and other therapies such as Somatic Experience is to help the patient and student learn how to observe their bodily sensation, their thoughts and with support learn how to analyze, control and let go of them. Russel Brand (ex-addict, actor turned Yogi and activist) in his book Relovelution and his documentary From addiction to Recovery says the same approach is needed to overcome the problems of addiction.
The researchers Dr. Kolk and Dr. Levine have arrived to the same conclusion in their research and have written prolifically about the theme. You can read more about that here and here. I would say this is because this kind of mind-body approach follows a happiness truth that is supported by multiple resources and practices. This truth has its root in increasing our perception of internal control and leaving behind the victim outlook that leaves all control to external circumstances.
All the various ideas that arise making us believe that we require something external to make us happy are obstructions…and are the result of past impressions´ (Patanjali/Vivekananda 4:26)
I learned many years ago during my studies at university the importance of our own perception in living a happy life. Each one of us has the freedom to either be the victims or owners of our lives and it isn´t any more complicated than choosing the appropriate perspective. Nonetheless, we are products of our past and cultural conditioning and sometimes it is hard to realize that we have the capacity to choose how we want to live, act and perceive the world. It is more common than not that we feel a huge attachment to our identities constructed by our past and culture and at the same time a great aversion, a great fear, in confronting, changing or letting go of these identities.
Nonetheless, Robert Whitaker, Thomas Szanz and Russel Brand-an investigative journalist, a psychiatrist and an ex – addict now activist -respectively speaking – are all in agreement and show with scientific evidence, logical arguments and personal experience what Patanjali wrote thousands of years ago in his Yoga sutras. We are not victims or slaves to our biology, family, culture or past and that the act of aversion and attachment to anything takes away our freedom and causes us to suffer. If we let go of our attachment and aversion to these various social constructions/labels and chemical crutches we can begin to take responsibility for our own lives and perspectives. As a result we let go of suffering. Hatha Yoga offers a complete system for us to do just that.
Hatha Yog and the psychology of Well-being
In former blog posts I have gone into detail how practicing the postures of Hatha Yoga either chest openers or pelvic work we can learn how to let go of both physical and emotional blocks including ones associated with post-traumatic stress. Hatha Yoga classes and the Yoga community offers us a safe space and social support (Sangha). This social support has been shown to be key for our happiness. Furthermore, in the observation of the sensations of each pose in Hatha Yoga, combined with the power of breath we learn how to listen to ourselves and self-regulate. We learn how to let go of aversion towards uncomfortable sensations-at first at a physical level than at a psychological one. In the conscious practice of Hatha Yoga we increase our capacity of self-observation and we gain control over our own mind-body system. With this control we are able to observe when we are in a state of attachment or aversion and we have the tools to leave the associated suffering behind. Consequently, we overcome the need to be dependent on external resources (psychopharmacological drugs) to alleviate suffering. The result is an increase in the scientific measure of internal Locus of Control that the philosophy of Yoga and states to be a universal truth – that when we leave behind the attachment and aversion to the external…
…we require none else to make us happy, for we are happiness itself (Patanjali/Vivekananda 2:27).
The Psycholgoy of Hatha Yoga: Part 1 Locus of Control
The Joy of Freedom
Attachment and aversion towards the past or the future is what makes us resist the freedom and joy found in the present. Physical or psychological resistance is what ties us like slaves to external opinions, conditions and experiences and as western psychology has shown with measurements like Locus of Control, being tied to external conditions lowers our level of well-being. When we accept our reality just as it is, without getting ourselves stuck in the game of blame, we are free to move ourselves in whatever direction suits us and with an energy that propels us forward from the inside rather than feeling pushed or pulled in one direction or another by external motivations or conditions. A conscious and consistent practice of Hatha Yoga can help us in this path toward freedom and joy.
Attachment, Aversion & our perception.
´Attachement is that which dwells on pleasure. Aversion is that which dwells on pain…both result in suffering.´ (Patanjali/Vivakananda 2: 7-8)
In his translation and commentary of Patanjali, Swami Vivekananda explains that all suffering comes from an attachment that gives us pleasure and aversion to what does not give us pleasure. Meditating over these sutras the psychological concept of Locus of Control(LOC) came to mind once again. It is a concept that always comes up when I find myself contemplating the themes of psychology, Yoga and happiness. I believe that I always return to this concept because our perception of control is an important key to our sense of well-being. Basically, the theory behind Locus of Control states that if you believe you are responsible for the things that occur in your life you will have a high internal Locus of Control score and if not, if you believe that things just happen due to fate or luck than you will have a high external Locus of Control score. According to the Rotters Scale, there is a highly statistically significant correlation que shows that a high score of internal Locus of Control is highly associated with higher levels of well-being and satisfaction while a high score of external Locus of Control is highly associated with higher incidences (and I say incidences because this can be overcome) of depression and anxiety. The concept of internal vs. external control can help us to understand from a western psychological perspective why attachment and aversion tocan cause us to suffer.
Attachment and Aversion: Two sides of the same coin of suffering
Suffering is in the desire to prolong or continue something external that gives us pleasure-even though sometimes, ´we find pleasure in strange things…´ (Patanjali/Vivakananda 2:7). All of us would like to continue indefinately the things we would define as pleasurable. However, if we observe nature, we can observe that the only thing constant in life is change. If we start to have a perspective of life as if it were a continuous experience, we can start to leave behind the pain of resistance that can come up with each new ending of a pleasurable experience. We can start to live in the present.
On the other side of the coin of resistance we have aversion. Aversion makes us suffer because we want to avoid something that we believe will cause us pain. We have a fear of something and in order to not confront it, we resist what is by avoiding it. Maybe it is a conversation that we should have with someone, maybe it is a lifestyle change or starting a new activity. When we go into avoiding any type of experience we create resistance and we lose lots of energy in the construction of walls built of excuses and fear. Furthermore, like attachment, we lose out on the joy found in the present moment.
In this cycle of attachment and aversion one loses the perception of control over their life and runs the risk of becoming a slave of externally conditioned desires and fears instead of their master. Often this slavery to such conditioned responses is what drives addiction. This perception of control is exactly what Locus of Control measures.
In spite of the psychological reality that we are happier when we take responsibility for our lives, we are all guilty of playing the victim role and leaving that responsibility of our own lives and experience in the hands of others. Patanjali states that this surrender to the victim mentality is a result of ignorance on our part and our own inability to see and accept just how powerful we truly are.
When we integrate the concepts of non-attachment and non-aversion in our daily philosophy we increase levels of internal Locus Of Control and lower levels of external LOC because our happiness is not tied to external conditions. These external conditions come in many forms. Some of the most common are the opinions of others (good & bad), work worries, the fear of being alone or losing someone we love and/or the desire for fame, money and external beauty. By letting go of our aversion or attachment to these external conditions we can brush off the dust of ignorance and we can begin to enjoy the creative power and joy that is our nature.
You are free
´You were never bound by laws, Nature never had a bond for you´ (Patanjali/Vivakananda 2:18)
With this entry Vivekananda is explaining that we don´t have to be the victims of our biology, genetics or culture. Because Yoga asana is the philosophy of Yoga in action, with a constant and disciplined practice of Hatha Yoga we can increase our perception of internal LOC. With every asana carried out with intention and conscious observation we let go of the stress that gets stuck in the musculature of the body and we practice being witnesses of our experience, being both the observed and observer. With each asana and observation of that asana we learn that this union between mind and body responds to our intention and breath. We have total control over that intention and breath. With a conscious practice of Hatha Yoga we can understand on both a visceral and psychological level what Patanjali says throughout the Yoga sutras-we are not victims nor slaves of any kind to an external force. Everything starts from the inside. With this awareness recorded in the cells of our body and the neurons of our brain, we can leave behind the suffering associated with the both the psychologcial and physiologcial signs of resistance (aversion/attachement) and transform ourselves into free and blissful beings.