Yoga and psychosis: Risks and therapeutic potential

K.V. Naveen & Shirley Telles
Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation

An early report described altered reality testing and behavior in a single subject, several weeks after initiation into Transcendental Meditation. Subsequent studies attempted to analyze the correlation between contemplation and psychosis. Observations were made in three patients who presented psychotic symptoms subsequent to practice of meditation. In two of them sleep-loss following a wrong doing of meditation was found to be the main cause and drug withdrawal was the principal factor in the third case. Also, in the case of Qigong, a Chinese meditation, a series of psychological and physiological disturbances followed inappropriate training. Some patients experienced a range of physical and mental symptoms which came to be called Qigong deviation syndrome , which disappeared after the exercise was stopped. In traditional yoga texts, it has been mentioned that by a mistaken course of yoga the yogi brings upon himself all diseases (Hatha Yoga Pradipika (2:16). Ayuktabhyasa yogena sarvaroga samudbhavaha). However, our clinical observations were that some schizophrenics did benefit with yoga breathing exercises and physical postures. Hence in a prospective one year follow-up study of chronic schizophrenics in a half way home, we evaluated the effects of slow yoga breathing practices (one hour a day, for five days in a week) and a meditation technique, derived from the Mandukya Upanisad (Cyclic Meditation, one hour a day for five days in a week). The subjective reports of the patients were that during the experience of eyes closed relaxation they entered into an introspective state which was both revealing (giving them insights into their thoughts and feelings) but also very disturbing. Close support and supervision allowed the experiment to continue. Following 2 months of this initial phase, patients had fewer episodes of being agitated and disturbed. This result suggests that chronic schizophrenics respond well to activity in the form of physical training, and the emphasis on relaxation, and awareness of internal sensations which are an essential part of yoga may not be so useful.

This paper was presented at the
National Conference on
Yoga and Indian Approaches to Psychology

Pondicherry, India, September 29 - October 1, 2002