Can Psychotherapy Bridge Worlds Between East and West, Spirt and Matter?

Transpersonal Psychotherapy has the potential to bridge the worlds between East and West, Indigenous and Western world views. There is a vast and quickly spreading movement of Westerners seeking wisdom and guidance from other traditions. There is valuable potential for Transpersonal Psychotherapy to integrate what is missing from Western society; spiritual meaning and connection to others and our world as a whole. When seeking meaning, Westerners can come across pitfalls from exploring non-western traditions. By exploring relationship, mindfulness of body, breath and emotions, and core beliefs based on personal history,Transpersonal Psychotherapy can integrate spiritual experience into daily life and address the pitfalls that create more suffering.


There is a cultural dissonance between collectivist societies and Western individualism. Indigenous and many Eastern traditions are collectivist, and when Westerners go to the teachers of these traditions, their radical individualist and reductionist values are overlooked. This can cause spiritual bypass, as the Western seeker cannot integrate their psychological material into the world views of collectivist cultures. This is why many meditators and people who have peak shamanic experience, find it difficult to re-enter daily life in the Western world.

The result is to bypass; focus on the spiritual experience and trying to reattain it, rather than integrate aspects of ourselves that react to unintegrated parts of ourselves. These can be lazy, defiant or otherwise resistant parts, selfish, full of desire or otherwise clingy parts. The dichotomy set up between spiritual experience and a lack of cultural attunement to the spiritual in the west, can lead to painful disappointment at best, and destructive reaction at worst. Both are a recipe for spiritual bypass, as chasing after peak experience can be a quick fix in this.

The concepts of Soul Retrieval and obtaining personal power found in Shamanic practices could be utilized by the Transpersonal Psychotherapist to introduce Shamanic work to the Western client. Continue reading “Can Psychotherapy Bridge Worlds Between East and West, Spirt and Matter?”

Yoga and Psychotherapy


There is a new movement integrating Yoga movement and philosophy with Western Psychotherapy. There is a strong community of yoga practitioners, yoga instructors and psychotherapists who are offering unique expertise in this innovative integration. It seems like a harmonious marriage of yoga’s somatic and mindfulness practices with Western Psychotherapy’s wholeness through relational and psychological exploration.  But how do we integrate these two fields? There are some fabulous pioneers: Gary KraftsowDavid Emerson and Bessel Van der Kolk to name a few, but a lot of us are still skillfully experimenting.

The practical benefits of a few minutes of yogic movement and breath work can calm heart rate and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calming the fight or flight stress response. This can be beneficial for anyone, but for those experiencing debilitating reliving of trauma, depression/anxiety or addiction, these practices can be crucial in managing destructive cycles. It is important, however, for those who are using these profound yogic tools to have an ongoing relationship with a therapist who can guide and support the emotional and physical responses to yoga. Yoga can bring up powerful emotions and memories, so it is crucial for those working with yoga to have the support of a trained therapist to manage what arises from practice.

For more please visit my Yoga and Healing Trauma post.

The field of Yoga Therapy has long been established, but this tends to look more like physical therapy with therapeutic yoga poses geared towards repairing and preventing injury. Yoga Psychotherapy on the other hand, offers the physical and mental benefits of yoga practice with the psychological inquiry and the emotional support of Psychotherapy.

Yogic practices give practical techniques for the purification of the body and mind. According to Patanjali (The expounder of The Yoga Sutras, the classical synthesis of ancient yoga practices which influence modern yoga) yogic methods address the root cause of disease by purifying the body and mind. This enables purity of action and consciousness. As a result there is integration and wholeness of mind, body and spirit. This is seen as the greatest remedy for any ailment.

What does Yoga Psychotherapy look like?

Yoga Psychotherapy sessions often start with centring, intention setting and breath work — energizing breath work for clients experiencing depression or low energy and balancing breaths for those with anxiety or stress. Clients then practice yoga poses geared to their specific needs. People with severe posttraumatic stress disorder, for example, are prone to losing their sense of being in their bodies when they experience a reliving of their trauma. So holding simple grounding positions, like a warrior or chair pose, before transitioning into talk therapy can be very effective to keep body awareness. Emotional memories are stored in our bodies and it is through our bodies that we release stuck emotions and trauma. A group yoga class, is not structured to enable appropriate processing of this.

Continue reading “Yoga and Psychotherapy”

Healing Relationships Through Family Constellations Therapy

mark-newHow is Your Love Life Related to Your Mother?
By Mark Wolynn

When you think of your mother, does your heart open with compassion or tighten with resentment? Do you allow yourself to feel her tenderness and care? The way you take in her love can be similar to how you experience love from a partner.

What’s unresolved with your parents doesn’t automatically disappear. It serves as a template that forges your later relationships. Maybe you‘ve experienced this with a partner. If you felt you didn’t get enough from your mother, perhaps you also feel that you don’t get “enough” from your partner. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s true more often than not.

The same holds true with your father. Your unresolved relationship with your father will also show up in your love life.

A woman, for example, who rejects her father, can repeat the fate of her mother by attracting a partner who behaves similarly to the father she rejects. In this way, she brings what she dislikes about her father back into her life. Not only that, but by reliving her mother’s experience, she joins her mother in her discontent.

A man who rejects his father might not have the resources to commit to his partner. Let’s say he was extremely close with his mother and not so close with his father—a very common dynamic for many men.  A man in this situation is likely to experience resistance when he bonds with his partner. He might find himself shutting down emotionally or physically, fearing that his partner, like his mother, will want or need too much from him. The remedy is a closer bond with his father.

Conversely, a woman who’s closer to her father than her mother is likely to feel unsatisfied with the partners she selects. The root of the problem is not them. It is the distance she feels toward her mother. A woman’s relationship with her mother can be an indicator of a how fulfilling her relationship will be with her partner.

Rejecting our parents only brings us suffering. The emotions, traits and behaviors we reject in our parents often live on in us. It’s our unconscious way of loving them, a way to bring them back into our lives. Even our bodies will feel some degree of unrest until our parents are experienced inside us in a loving way.

Continue reading “Healing Relationships Through Family Constellations Therapy”

Yoga and Psychology Dialogue Series Produced by Lotus Yoga

psyche1Yoga and Psyche Dialogue Series is a project supported by Lotus Yoga to bring you
cutting edge research on the interface of yoga, psychotherapy and somatic psychology.

Released on January 7th and free to register:

Join us as we embark on a journey with these exceptional speakers
exploring a comprehensive integration of Western psychology and
ancient yoga practice:

Rick Hanson

Richard Miller

John Friend

Katchie Ananda

Reggie Ray

David Emerson

Stephen Cope

and many more…

Over these weeks together you will witness our living research,
conceived by Mariana Caplan and midwifed by a team of Masters
and Doctoral researchers, who are working together to create a book,
academic article, scientific research, and a workbook on this subject.

Mariana has spent over two decades simultaneously immersed in
the fields of yoga and psychology, as well as authoring seven books
on various topics related to spiritual discernment and the integration
of psychology and spirituality, including the award-winning Eyes
Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path and the
seminal Halfway Up the Mountain: the Error of Premature Claims to
Enlightenment. Mariana continues to inform her psychological inquiry
through ongoing work as a psychotherapist, working in person with
clients, and also long-distance through skype and telephone.

We invite you to listen and hope this series can inform your own journey
to wholeness and integration.

Stay informed and interactive on our website: where
you will find more about this ongoing project of research and training, as
well as ways to get involved and stay connected.

Family Constellations

baby_momFamily Constellations get to the source of our challenges by demonstrating how we are in  our family system. They make it clear that we belong to that system and will remain a part of it whether we resist it or not. What remains unresolved in the system contributes to a sense of unease in our lives and for generations to come.

Much like psychodrama, a family constellation will be played out by a group representing a client’s family. The presenting issue of the client will be explored briefly and they will pick representatives of family members from a group that knows little about their family. The representatives will follow their intuitions and somatic responses to the dynamics in the room. What tends to happen is that an accurate depiction of important family dynamics will come about and be witnessed by the client. It is very powerful to hear from the representatives who know little to nothing about the family. What is known in developmental biology as a morphogenetic field is experienced; a kind of history that is remembered through the resonant memory of the group organism.

I have been fortunate to work with Mark Wolynn, a master in Family Constellations, trained by Bert Hellinger and a pioneer in his own system of Core Language Training. I participated in his Free To Love: Creating Great Relationships 2 day workshop at CIIS as well as his 4 day Intake as Intervention Training.

Developed by Bert Hellinger as he observed Zulu communities and how they did not exclude anyone from the family system, we have a lot to learn in the west about re-integrating members back into our tribes.

What is excluded in our family systems can haunt us, like our unconscious material, trying to make itself conscious through our blocks and destructive attachments in our lives. We can feel victims to these patterns until a family history lesson is learned and rejected parts of the family are accepted.

Constellations can offer deep experiential insight into breaking unconscious family patterns. Traumatic events can imprint family members and be passed down for generations. These traumas can be inherited and re-experienced by a later generation without having the direct personal experience of the trauma. A child can pick up on what is deficient in the parent and compensate to save or heal them without the parent overtly asking them to. Continue reading “Family Constellations”

Yoga Psyche Dialogue Series

I’m excited to be part of an innovative research project on Yoga and Psyche; integrating Western psychology and ancient yoga practice.

We are conducting a Dialogue Series, lead by Mariana Caplan, interviewing the leaders in the field of new trauma research, advances in somatic psychology and neuroscience, and Classical Yoga.

The interviews are underway and include:

Richard Miller

Rick Hanson

John Friend 

and many others.

We plan to release the series early in 2013.

Over these weeks together you will witness our living research, conceived by Mariana Caplan and midwifed by a team of Masters and Doctoral researchers, who are working together to create a book, academic article, scientific research, and a workbook on this subject.

We talk about “ego” but what are we really referring to?

According to Freud, the ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego and reality. The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our idealized standards (created by the superego). Using  this psychological definition it can take a strong ego to let go and transcend the ego. A weak and fragmented ego clings on and struggles to survive, using valuable energy to feed itself. But like any good hungry ghost, it can never be satisfied and always looks for the greener pasture, or darker night, to fuel it’s craving and aversion cycle.

Ego strength is often used in psychology to described a person’s ability to maintain their identity and sense of self in the face of pain, challenge and conflict. The ego is our vessel that keeps us afloat in the sea of consensual reality.

Often in non dual understanding, ego is defined as a part of us that maintains a separate sense of self. But this is only one quality of ego. Where does the teaching of the Buddha of ‘to know the self is to forget the self’ fit into this?

Adyashanti speaks about the ego waiting for us after spiritual experience. It is often wounded and wanting to appropriate spiritual awareness. Who wouldn’t want to claim that lush experience of oneness with all things? So ego waits in the wings in order to get it’s share of the feast.

I am not sure ‘knowing’ ourselves implies a mental knowing. The Buddha, with experience in both worldly and non dual states, could be pointing to a bridge between ego strength and the ego structure falling away.

According to Adyashanti, awakening can be misunderstood.

He speaks of a difference between transcending ego -this has a sense of conflict, duality; attraction and aversion- and the ego structure falling away as a result of awakening.

He uses a definition of ego that implies a division between different thoughts, emotions, beliefs values within myself, a mediator of sorts. If there is fragmentation in these ego parts, there is an underlying sense of resistance and unease. This resistance can erupt into explosive suffering.. a sense of self indulgence and obsession that blocks us off from the spontaneous and intuitive action that life requires. What our practice can give is to bring us back to our centers.. our centers of presence that is a mindful return to this moment as it is. A return to ego after spiritual awakening can be jarring and disturbing or just a part of the necessary, unfolding process.

The ego structure can reestablish itself, fighting against transcendent vision. Ego can see this as a threat. It is our work to not get caught in the struggle to resist and separate, but to surrender to a process of ego death as we know it.

We cannot eliminate ego. It cannot get rid of itself and if it tries it only strengthens itself. We cannot transcend ego through ego; spiritual experience if not grounded and integrated, can be fodder for a separate sense of self.

Continue reading “What is ego anyway?”

Gestalt Revival

This summer I participated in a Gestalt Retreat. The kind of many years ago. Gestalt had its hey day in the 1970’s and seems to have faded to the background.. an influence of many modern day therapeutic models, but in itself, largely unrecognized.

I am grateful to have this foundational influence in my experiential tool belt. It brought about much deep inner work and healing. The experience of doing 7 days of Gestalt in nature with a group of 15 people I had spent a year with, was extraordinary. On the 7th day a wounded deer came to the tent where I camped. It was as though it visited from a dream… I had a very powerful dream and did Gestalt dreamwork on it the night before.

That morning this deer visited my tent and scratched its hoof near my head. It remained in one position near me for hours. I got IONS staff to call the humane society and he was taken away for care. Later released into the wilds, he touched my heart forever, reminding me of gentleness and inviting a woundedness into my home and heart with acceptance. 

Gestalt is fundamentally relational. Relationship is based on contact and is inherently sought by mostly everyone. Gestalt views neurosis and pathology as a result of an inability for sufficient contact or organized withdrawal. Boundary disturbances are symptoms of this distortion of the point of contact. Human beings seek contact and connection, and it is at the point of contact that we can find how our boundaries work or fail to serve our wholeness.

Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt, maintains that neuroses occur at this contact boundary. Gestalt therapy regards neuroses as disturbances of the contact boundary. The self arises in contact and is largely defined by relational contact.

When our boundaries are disturbed we develop ways of coping to survive and survival becomes paramount sometimes trumping real contact. We shut down, withdraw, disassociate, project, merge all in the name of protecting our selves. Through Gestalt therapy we explore these mechanisms to bring more awareness to our patterning. Boundary disturbance impairs our ability to accurately perceive the present moment and it is this present moment that holds awareness and the key to healing. It is believed that with awareness of this, real change and growth can occur.

Continue reading “Gestalt Revival”

Rod Stryker at Wanderlust 2012

My time at Wanderlust in Lake Tahoe this year reacquainted me with the teachings of Rod Stryker. He really stole the show for me. With a bustling, bursting schedule of hundreds of teachers, I found myself taking several classes with him. It was a chance to delve deeper into one tradition and not skim the surface, getting caught up in the frenzy of a consumer driven yoga festival.

His teachings on the use of asana to allow us to experience a full life were very concise. His integration of tantra into our modern lives is one of the most practical, insightful and far reaching I have found.

The word Tantra means “to weave.” In tantric system we can weave spiritual experience into the fabric of everyday life. According to Stryker, the goal of Tantra yoga is three-fold: to thrive, to prosper, and to tear down the wall between the spiritual world and the material world. Tantric yoga practice shows us what is blocking us from thriving, and offers techniques that will help us reveal our spiritual nature as well as ways to become more materially supported.

He proposes that each of us has our own unique dharma–who we are supposed to be in this lifetime. Rod says, “According to the Vedas, you can’t be happy with who you are unless you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. Any attempt to be other than what we are will bring unhappiness.”

Through Tantric practices we “reweave” the fabric of our consciousness to our original state so we can know what our dharma is and be the best that we can be. Rod describes it as a science of energy management. “There is no energy in your body that is not in the world,” he says. “If you can master the energy in your body, you can master the world.”
First of all we need to ask ourselves why we practice yoga. If it is to become calm, we must ask, why we want to become calm. Why do we want peace?

Rod says one of the most common reasons for coming to yoga is that it gives us a “high.” We run away from our stressful lives into a yoga class as a distraction. Through asana practice, we have reduced the symptoms of our anxieties and stresses, but we have not reshaped the causes of our stresses. We leave class feeling peaceful but as soon as we are challenged the peace is gone. The real purpose of yoga experience has to reach into our everyday lives if we are to be truly happy and fulfilled.

Continue reading “Rod Stryker at Wanderlust 2012”

Embodiment: Somatic Intelligence and Following Our “Gut.”


Being in the body or embodying a quality of being.. what does it mean? Embodiment is described as a felt sense of knowing that cannot be held exclusively by our rational minds. Our concepts about the present moment are broken down by simply being present with whatever arises. We discover empty, open awareness when we don’t mentally project the past or future on the present. This is the tantric yogic view where we reside in this open awareness; being with life as it is, being with what arises, being in intimate relationship with all of life.

This immediate direct perception is found in many disciplines: phenomenology, anthropology, sociology, spiritual studies, cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and mindfulness to name a few. Different disciplines have similar themes: embodiment is practical and challenges conventional understandings of ‘self’ and ‘world’ as separate. We have the capacity to allow our thinking minds to be a servant to the body, or embodied wisdom.

Body and mind offer unique intelligences and recent studies in neuroscience reveal that the body perceives much faster than the mind. The body therefore can lead the mind. I have been reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell talks about our ability to determine what is essential from a very brief period of experience. Spontaneous decisions connected to embodied instinct are often as good as—and often better than—carefully planned and considered ones. It is our (often unconscious) programming mixed with prejudices, projections, cravings and aversions that block us from following this gut instinct.

This study makes me think of the study of Somatics. Somatics is a therapeutic modality that uses body awareness to bring about psychological and physiological well being. It is most profoundly and effectively used in working with trauma. Soma is an ancient plant medicine first written about in the Rigveda, the oldest Hindu text written approximately 5000 years ago. Soma was used ritually to induce ecstasy and god-like realization. Perhaps this points to a connection between embodied awareness and Divine realization. Soma has ancient Greek origins as well, defined as body and mind intelligence together, not separate from one another; both are part of a living process. Many of the approaches in the field of Somatics address the body-mind split found in Western culture and body-mind synchronization is explored.

Continue reading “Embodiment: Somatic Intelligence and Following Our “Gut.””