Review of "Yoga"

By Mircea Eliade
Princeton University Press, 2009
Review by Minna Forsell on Aug 31st 2010

Suffering and emancipation from suffering -- the central problem of Buddhism, and the central problem of clinical psychology. In Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Mircea Eliade, the Romanian historian of religion, philosopher and writer, takes us on a journey through the discipline of yoga, the history, the doctrines, the techniques. For a Westerner, this exhaustive survey, written in the 1950's, is more than an introduction to the theory and practice of yoga, it is a more than 400 pages long erudite exploration.

When I studied to become a psychologist, I found it curious that the study of religion was not part of the curriculum. Surely this dimension of human life is worth the attention of an aspiring psychologist? Religious experience is such a potentially powerful part of human existence that is should undoubtedly be included in the field of psychology. As I see it, it is essential for clinical psychologists to be at least acquainted with the impact of faith and religious phenomena on people's mental attitudes and sense of meaning, since the impact of beliefs and spiritual outlook, whatever they may be, is essential to life.

Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and Buddhist exercises have recently flooded the healthcare industry. When trying to get a grasp of the context of these mental and physical techniques, how they relate to philosophy and history, what the etymological connections are, how the ultimate goal of existence is understood, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom is an excellent companion. It tells a tale of the yearning for liberation, inner discipline, the importance of memory, and experiments on the mind through the body. Except for the big picture, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom provides the reader with knowledge on other levels too. I personally am very fond of the kind of books where anecdotes and thought-provoking, even poetic, phrases abound. This is one of those books.   

I find gems on so many pages of this book, statements concerning the understanding of notions such as knowledge, freedom, time and action. It is not always easy to follow Eliade's passionate text, so a good deal of concentration is required when reading. The book is, however, a great resource for anyone, especially clinicians, interested in the relationship between body and mind, yogic practices and Indian philosophy. How can rejection of life enhance life? What is liberation, and how can 'freedom' be understood? Why is there human suffering, and how is emancipation from it possible? What is the price of normality?

This is not a book that will sweep you off your feet, seduce you and awaken you to a new world, but it will whet the appetite of your intellect. It also offers the reader so much more insight into the tenets of yoga than the multitude of self-help books on meditation and how-to-do-yoga will ever give. In Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Eliade analyzes in detail a religion and tradition that for years was his lifestyle. Get ready for some massive reading.

© 2010 Minna Forsell


Minna Forsell is a psychologist, graduated from the University of Stockholm. She currently works in a psychiatric health care center in Volda, Western Norway.


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