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Personality types and Behavioural styles in Yoga and Ayurveda

The Yoga perspective on personality is somewhat similar to Jung's


perspective in that both consider that part of the nature of humans is to be
constantly developing, growing, and moving toward a balanced and
complete level of development. Hence our present personality is determined
both by who and what we have been and also by the person we hope to
become. In other words humans are not merely shaped by past events but
that they also progress beyond their past. So where does personality type'
fit in Agni-Someeyam' ?
Though the agni-soma' model can lend itself to a typological approach,
strictly speaking, Yoga does not lay emphasis on personality typing. Yoga is
more process oriented than trait or type oriented. Yet it is possible to identify
some systems of personality or behavioural typing within the Vedic/Yogic
framework. There are various methods that classify people based on
threefold, fivefold, sevenfold and nine fold approaches. Most famous among
these is the threefold typology. There are at least two methods of a threefold
classification of temperaments. One is the Samkhya-Yoga classification based
on the trigunas , while the other is the Ayurvedic classification based on the
tridoshas .
The Ayurvedic concept of the three doshas is an alternative theory that had
gained precedence in later times. In the Tridosha' model a third force called
Vayu' (wind) is also taken into account apart from Agni and Soma , thus
leading to three forces. As one would anticipate these three systemic forces
have their individual equivalents within the mind-body too: the three
humours- Vata, Pitta and Kapha . Here too health is a state of equilibrium
between the three humours. Ill-health is the result of disequilibrium. However
the main difference between the tridosha' and the agni-someeyam' schools
of medicine is that the agni-someeyam' school of thought maintains that
there are only two main counterbalancing forces- agni and soma . Vayu is
merely treated as a yogavahi or aggravating force, not a causal force.
Another noteworthy point is the meaning of the term dosha' . Dosha '
literally means, that which darkens or spoils'. The tridoshas are also the
causative factors for illness or abnormality as much as they are
representative of healthy states too. The three humors ( tridoshas ) which
are in balance in a healthy individual become causative forces in the disease
process when the balance is disturbed. Similarly the functioning of Agni' and
Soma' too has two sides to it. Optimally Agni and Soma are
counterbalanced. This leads to healthy or optimal behavior. When the
balance of Agni-Soma is lost at a particular level, the imbalance could result
in problems in one's cognitive-emotional behavioural style. But in the first
place how does one come to have a characteristic cognitive-emotional
behavioural style? How are these behavioural styles related to personality?

The various levels of Agni-Soma' functioning as fixations' resulting in


personality types or behavioural styles
Personality types or rather behavioural styles can be regarded as fixations'
upon one of the seven or nine levels of Agni-Soma' functioning. The
fixations', are a result of a self-image' around which the psychological
personality develops. The self-image' in turn is based on certain
predominant schemas which introduce a systematic bias into information
processing. T he self-image' gets more fixated by identifying more with a
particular way of functioning which then becomes a behavioural pattern.
Generally speaking while we complete one basic cycle by the time we reach
adulthood, most of us get fixated at one level more than the other levels. It is
also possible that we could be fixated at more than one level, with varying
degrees of fixation at each level. Getting fixated at one of these levels of
functioning means getting fixated emotionally (soma), cognitively (agni) and
behaviourally (agni-soma'), since emotion, cognition and behavior go hand
in hand. So the consequent behaviour is repeated habitually. Over a period of
time this results in a pattern of deeply embedded psychological
characteristics that are expressed automatically in almost every area of
functioning. The particular pattern can be regarded as a personality type if
one wishes to approach it that way. From a typological point of view, there
are two general types- Agni and Soma . Then there are the seven or nine
specific subtypes if one wishes to use them as types or subtypes.
While there may be nothing wrong in having a particular level of functioning
as a behavioural style or type as long as it is well integrated, the problem
quite often is that people generally get stuck with the un-integrated aspects
of the type or behavioural style that their consciousness is fixated upon
under the influence of the predominant schemas. Quite often it is possible to
easily identify the un-integrated level of functioning since the behavioural
pattern itself is self-evident to some extent. The lesser obvious pattern
however, is that if one is developmentally stuck with a particular level of
agni functioning, the corresponding level of soma functioning also gets stuck
to a considerable extent, and vice versa. Thus the dominant aspect of agnisoma' for that level is more obvious while the other is less obvious. It takes
more insight to bring the lesser obvious side of the agni-soma level at which
one is stuck. It is also possible to share the weaknesses of the other levels of
functioning within the general type. Thus un-integrated intrapersonal agni
and un-integrated interpersonal agni will both share some similarities though
careful exploration will reveal the exact level of agni where the problem is.
The various levels of Agni-Soma' functioning as groups of competencies or
skills that can be mastered with practice

While admitting that the agni-soma' model can lend itself to a typological
approach, sufficient emphasis has to be laid that yoga is more process
oriented than trait or type oriented. Except for psychologically or emotionally
disordered people, for the vast majority it is useful to approach the seven
levels as competencies or skills that one needs to develop for a more
fulfilling life. One of the awareness building exercises can include inventories
of the seven areas of competencies that can be useful in assessing oneself
(this author has developed two versions of agni-soma' inventories, one for
leadership and management purposes and another for general use).
One thing that was originally common to all the four great systems (
Samkhya-Yoga, Jaina and Buddhist ) is that they were uncompromisingly
pragmatic and that there was a heavy (if not absolute) reliance on human
effort ( purushardha ). Most schools of yoga (especially Vedantic, Buddhist
and Patanjali yoga) favour the view that individuals can change over a period
of time. The basic premise of some schools of yoga especially
advaitic/vedantic, is that ignorance or attributional bias is the source of most
problems. Change in one's predominant schema, or removal of the
corresponding klesa ( attributional affliction ) , can result in behavioral
change, though this is not easy.
Insight, awareness, repeated efforts and continuous practice ( abhyasa ) can
achieve the desired behavioural change. After repeated efforts the desired
behavioural change comes effortlessly. Yet to reach such a state of effortless
awareness requires lot of practice. Abhyasa is the continuous practice of
coaching the self towards the desired goal, whether spiritual or mundane.
While acknowledging certain practical limitations imposed by nature,
genetics etc the Agni-Soma ' model of behavioural change, as developed by
this author, maintains that change is possible to a reasonable extent. Beyond
a certain level behavioural change is still possible though it requires
committed efforts and in-depth work on the predominant schemas.
In conclusion a few observations can be made. Although Yoga shares parts of
Jungian and Psychosocial approaches too in its overall view, at a process
level the change strategies of Yoga (and to some extent the techniques too)
overlap so much with Cognitive Behaviour therapy that if Yoga had to align
itself with only one major contemporary school of individual psychotherapy,
it would be cognitive-behaviour therapy. Apart from these schools of thought,
specifically the Agni-Soma' concept itself shares common ground with
Bowen Family Systems Theory too in its initial conceptualization of life as a
balance between the counterbalancing forces of intellect and emotion.
Please refer the article Emotions and Anxiety, Family Systems and Brain
functioning: A natural systems theory of human behavior by this author for
more on Bowen theory. The various levels of Agni-Soma' functioning and the
techniques used for behavioural change within the framework of AgniSoma' model have been elaborated in other articles by the same author.