Asian Disciplines and Therapies

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The applied side of Asian psychologies focuses on disciplines and therapies designed to foster psychological and spiritual development and well-being. The best-known disciplines are meditation and yoga. Meditation refers to a family of techniques that train awareness and attention in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control. This control is used to reduce destructive mental qualities; to cultivate beneficial qualities such as concentration, compassion, and insight; and to enhance psychological and spiritual growth and well-being. Yogas are more inclusive disciplines that encompass meditation, ethics, lifestyle modification, body postures, breath control, and intellectual study.

In addition to specific meditative and Yogic techniques, Asian systems, like contemplative traditions around the world, emphasize seven central practices and goals.

1. Redirecting motivation and moving up the hierarchy of needs, especially by reducing attachment and aversion

2. Transforming emotions, especially reducing problematic ones such as anger and fear, and cultivating beneficial emotions such as love and compassion

3. Living ethically so as to reduce destructive mental qualities such as greed and attack, and to foster helpful qualities such as empathy and generosity

4. Developing concentration

5. Enhancing awareness

6. Fostering wisdom

7. Increasing generosity and altruism

To give just two examples of Asian techniques and resultant skills—which until recently Western psychologists considered impossible—consider the cultivation of love and lucid dreaming. Several meditations are specifically designed to cultivate the encompassing, unconditional love known as bhakti in the East and agape in the West. Dream yoga is a 2,000-year-old discipline for developing lucid dreaming: the ability to know one is dreaming while still asleep. Advanced practitioners claim to maintain awareness and continue meditation and mind training throughout the night, a claim now supported by electroencephalo-graphic studies. These capacities hint at the remarkable abilities, developmental possibilities, and powers of mind— some as yet unrecognized by Western psychologists—that Asian psychologies have discovered in their 3,000-year-long exploration of our inner universe. The Swiss psychiatrist Medard Boss (1963, p. 188), one of the first Westerners to examine Asian practices, suggested that compared with the extent of Yogic self-exploration "even the best Western training analysis is not much more than an introductory course." However, even modest amounts of practice can produce significant psychological, physiological, and therapeutic changes, as several hundred experiments and clinical studies have shown.

Because they focus on different aspects of health and development, Asian and Western psychologies may be partly complementary. One of the major challenges for the twenty-first century will be to synthesize Asian and Western systems into an overarching integral psychology that honors and includes both. The writings of Ken Wilber provide the best example to date of this possibility.


Boss, M. (1963) A psychiatrist discovers India (p. 188). New York:

Basic Books.

James, W. (1958). The varieties of religious experience. New York:

New American Library.

Marsella, A. (1998). Toward a "Global Community Psychology: Meeting the needs of a changing world." American Psychologist, 43, 1282-1291.

Maslow, A. (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. New York: Viking.

Wilber, K. (2002). Integral psychology: Consciousness, spirit, psychology, therapy. Boston: Shambala.

Roger Walsh

University of California College of Medicine

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