Everybody Upside Down in Yoga & Life
May 3, 2016
Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive]
ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
–Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.33
Pratipaksha means opposite and Bhavanam means contemplation or meditation. My friend and amazing yoga teacher Erika Halweil used to chant this sutra often years ago in class. It always resonated with me. How simple, I would think. And yet, 15 years later, I continue to allow myself to be disturbed by the words and actions of others, affecting my own peace of mind. As we enter into a new year, it seems like the perfect time to work on this sutra. Nothing is more precious than a quiet mind, my Sanskrit teacher Manorama used to say (and probably still does :)) It is not the world’s fault that we are annoyed, angry, or irritated. It is not the slow cashier, the Sunday driver, the arrogant ex-spouse, the needy older parent, the willful child, the person with body odor and too-loud breath next to you in Yoga class. It is you, or me, allowing ourselves to be disturbed, allowing our minds to be distracted and pulled out and identified with the small self. ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ said Gandhi. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” said Martin Luther King Jr (and the Buddha). A perfect example of Pratipaksha Bhavanam right there. I wonder if Mr. King was familiar with the Yoga Sutras?
It comes down, again and again and again to practice. We can read these quotes, we can agree that the sutra sounds like a good idea, but without putting this idea into practice, we will inevitably find ourselves cursing the yoga student with the too-loud breath for disturbing our peace of mind. The Sanskrit word for practice is Abhyasa. Patanjali has another sutra which tells us the following:
Sutra 1.12: Abhyasa-vairagyabyam tan-nirodhah
—Consistent practice with nonattachment will stop the mind from fluctuating
So we now have a way to practice. It cannot be just one day, one time, one situation. As with our asana practice, it must be consistent to have some real and lasting effect.
This month, when you come to your mat, sit well, close your eyes, what comes up? What negative or disturbing thought pops up, for you, again and again? Catch it. Notice it. Take a breath in and smile. Now take a breath out as you think the opposite. Try it. Put it into practice. Now try this. Come to the wall and find downward facing dog with your hands about 4-6 inches away from the wall. Step in with one leg about ½ way and pause. Soften your skin and open to the abundance and beauty all around you. Now, spread your fingers well and claw at the floor with your hands, pulling your arms and hands isometrically towards each other and engaging the muscles of the arms. Commit yourself and imagine that your arms are like your legs, your hands like your feet. Soften your upper back ever so slightly so that you feel a connection of your hands to your shoulder blades, plugging your arm bones into their sockets. Lift the leg that you did not step in and pause. Bend the bottom leg as you keep the top leg straight and strong. Now, start hopping. Open to that bigger energy and float up into Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana- downward facing Tree pose!). Find the wall with your feet. Yippee! You are upside down.
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