Things You See in a Yoga Studio – The Mandala

The Mandala and Yoga


In Sanskrit, mandala translates into “essence” or “containing”, but can also be translated to mean “circle-circumference” or “completion”.  Recently, mandalas have become popularized in the in coloring books as a form of stress-relief and meditation.

These symbols are rooted in deep ancient traditions in both spiritual and ritual practices.  Mandalas appear in the Rig Veda but are also used in Hindu religions, particularly Buddhism.  It is said by Tibetan Buddhists that a mandala consists of five “excellencies”:
The teacher • The message • The audience • The site • The time.

A mandala is designed to offer a visual balance of elements that symbolize harmony and unity. A mandala is a sacred geometric figure that is said to represent the universe.  When used in a spiritual practice, the mandala is said to help absorb the mind in meditation. As a practitioner mentally enters the mandala and proceeds to its center, they are symbolically led through the universe and into the essence of reality.

As you may have noticed, a mandala can come in an innumerable variety of designs, patterns and colors. If you look closely, you’ll see the mandala represented in so many aspects of your own life – the concentric circles in the patterns of nature, and even the circles of life, friends and family.

Carl Jung, a famed Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, said that a mandala symbolizes “a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness.” It is “a synthesis of distinctive elements in a unified scheme representing the basic nature of existence.” Jung used the mandala for his own personal growth and wrote extensively about his experiences and use of the mandala.  In Jungian therapy, which includes acknowledgment and the conscious integration of the  collective unconscious, the spontaneous drawings of mandalas is required.  Jung wrote about this in 1938:

In 1938, I had the opportunity, in the monastery of Bhutia Busty, near Darjeeling, of talking with a Lamaic rimpoche, Lingdam Gomchen by name, about the khilkoror mandala. He explained it as a dmigs-pa (pronounced ”migpa”), a mental image which can be built up only by a fully instructed lama through the power of imagination. He said that no mandala is like any other, they are all individually different. Also, he said, the mandalas to be found in monasteries and temples were of no particular significance because they were external representations only. The true mandala is always an inner image, which is gradually built up through (active) imagination, at such times when psychic equilibrium is disturbed or when a thought cannot be found and must be sought for, because it is not contained in holy doctrine. (C.G.Jung – Psychology and Alchemy, Princeton University Press, 1993, paragraph 123.)

It seems to me beyond question that these Eastern symbols originated in dreams and visions, and were not invented by some Mahayana church father. (Psychology and Alchemy, Paragraph 124.)

It is not without importance for us to appreciate the high value set upon the mandala, for it accords very well with the paramount significance of individual mandala symbols which are characterized by the same qualities of a – so to speak – “metaphysical” nature. Unless everything deceives us, they signify nothing less than a specific centre of the personality not to be identified with the ego. (Psychology and Alchemy, Paragraph 126.)

Mandala Yoga is a practice of moving through a vinyasa flow sequence making a circle of 360 degrees around the mat.  As in creating a mandala from sand or pen, the goal is absorption in the task and a freeing of mental space to connect with our true nature.

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