“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of”. This instruction from the Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit breaks down as Prati- other, opposite; Paksha- wing, half; Bhavana- dwelling, mansion, being.
I love the visual image of walking into a different wing of your mansion; a place more peaceful and calm than the wing you are dwelling in now. With lots of practice we can use this tool to shift moments of negativity and change our thoughts and thought patterns.
Generally there is a sliding scale of how badly negativity can really hook us. The trick about Pratipaksha Bhavana is that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Some thoughts arise out of a deep wound or series of experiences that manifest as a reactive habit of regularly churning out negative thoughts. Negative thoughts can have a way of unreeling like a movie that we play over and over for minutes, hours, days, weeks or a lifetime. Defaulting to the pull of negative thoughts can become an ingrained part of our personality. Negativity can work like a pesky uninvited visitor who barges into your beautiful mansion, eats your food, wrecks the furniture and smokes in your bedroom…and never leaves. I’ve had that chronic visitor in my life… I even gave her a name- “Lucy the Looser”! Lucy was a composite of all my fears, attachments, ego identifications and preconceived ideas that kept me from seeing clearly when life presented its self to me over and over again.
In my version of Pratipaksha Bhavana, I worked to bring my mind out of it’s looping reel, into the present moment and nip these thoughts in the bud by escorting Lucy to the door, sending her off to rehab (again) and locking it. I worked to understand that I am not my thoughts. I worked to know that I could choose to dwell in a mansion of serenity and calm and that this is my natural home. I also learned that I don’t need to spend countless hours validating and justifying my dark thoughts or rooting out the deeper sources of my pain. I just needed to choose to shift my attention away from this churning “thought storm” and diffuse its power over me in the moment. From this place of calm, it is much easier to make better choices or solve problems.
Walking from darkness to light is a choice that we all can make if we have the courage to put one foot in front of the other, stepping away from these thoughts, thereby diluting them and not giving them a chance to catch hold and continue to wind up within us. We work to not struggle so much by resisting our thoughts, but gently restraining them, not offering them attention and subtly changing them by replacing or substituting them with positive thoughts. Over time, with practice, the thoughts that return again and again come back in more and more subtle ways, the seeds of negativity becoming smaller and smaller- replaced with positive ways of moving through our life while thoughts arise- as they always do- in more graceful and peaceful ways. We learn to disassociate ourselves from our thoughts in order to be more present in each moment, seeing more clearly what is unfolding before us.
On the mat we can use this tool to stop the mind from judging our performance, our body image, our lack of progress or perfection. Today while you practice, imagine your movements from posture to posture or even alignment to alignment as passing from a dark room to one filled with light. Remind your self that the cultivation of a healthy response to life happens in the brightest chambers of your own heart.