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.