By Jaymie Meyer, CWP, ERYT-500
The holidays are fast approaching and are often stressful. So I’d like to share a practical, creative tool from the Yoga Sutras that I have found extremely helpful for responding to stress in a positive way.
The Yoga Sutras consist of 196 aphorisms compiled by the sage Patangali in the 2nd century BCE. Their essential meaning speaks to the nature of the mind, our lifestyle, values, use of the body, prana (breath) and our senses. The goal? Self-realization.
Over the ages, there have been many outstanding translations of the sutras. For this essay, I’m using Edwin F. Bryant’s 2009 translation to discuss sutra 2.33, Pratipaksha Bhavana. Whenever I say that at home, my husband says, “Bless you!” It’s tricky to pronounce; so let’s call it PB for short.
Upon being harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate counteracting thoughts.
On first reading, this seems like an obvious bit of advice. Yet I’m sure we all recognize how easy it is get stuck in negativity. Frankly, with the challenges in today’s world, even the most balanced and mindful person will face challenges and thoughts.
Fact: What we think day-to-day literally creates grooves in our brain.
More on that in a moment.
PB teaches that the key to minimizing negative thoughts is to recognize them as they arise, whether they be critical, self-deprecating, violent, angry or any combination of the above. Then, with awareness, counteract those thoughts by inviting their opposite into our consciousness. In this way, we begin to replace negative habits with healthier ones.
An apt analogy that Bryant uses for this process is “weeding a garden” because, as one practices PB, uninvited thoughts (weeds) are less likely to grow or take root in our consciousness.
In fact, modern science is proving just this. In the 2007 book The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge discusses the work of UCLA psychiatrist Jeffrey M. Schwartz, who successfully developed a plasticity-based treatment that helps people overcome not only everyday worries, but compulsive behaviors, jealousy and issues of self-esteem. The key components of his talk therapy include
- Recognizing first the negative thoughts, behaviors and feelings, and,
- Refocusing energy onto more positive thoughts, activities or emotions.
Using brain scans, Schwartz has proven that this approach actually “grows” new brain circuits. Change isn’t instantaneous, but eventually the new circuit becomes more dominant than the old, and unhealthy patterns are weakened. Schwartz explains, “With this treatment, we don’t so much ‘break’ bad habits as replace bad behaviors with better ones.”
Sounds a lot like Pratipaksha Bhavanah, doesn’t it?
Another important aspect of PB is not only awareness of negative thoughts as they arise but also examining the effects of negative actions. This is useful and powerful and is relative to all aspects of our lives.
Here are a few practical examples of PB:
- Understanding that a diet high in saturated fat, sugar and/or processed products often leads to allergies, diabetes, arthritis and other diseases, we consciously choose healthy, whole and nutritious foods.
- Feeling frazzled in a world which seems to be moving faster and faster, we choose to unplug from technology for a period of time each day, or one day a week, and use that time to deepen our connections to people, animals or nature.
- Recognizing that violence and fear exist in the world, we choose to cultivate the opposite qualities of peace and courage and know that by choosing to develop these qualities we can counter the negative consequences of hatred and hostility.
It takes time to change habits, because they are literally etched into the brain! So start small and set yourself up for success.
In fact, using PB is a great way to begin the New Year. Forget resolutions, which often focus on deprivation. They are bound to fail. Rather, make an intention to replace old habits with new, positive ones and notice how quickly you re-groove.
This article originally appeared, in slightly modified form, in Jaymie’s Resilience for Life® newsletter.
Image by WhatDaveSees, via Flickr
Jaymie Meyer, CWP, ERYT-500, is a wellness educator with certifications in stress management, bereavement counseling, yoga therapy and Ayurveda. She is also a Reiki Master. Her company, Resilience for Life®, has been delivering wellness programs for over 9 years at work sites and educational institutions including the National Institutes for Health (NIH), Coby Electronics Corporation, Columbia University, IBM, Jewish Guild for the Blind and Martha Stewart Living. She is an on-going faculty member at Yogaville’s Integral Yoga Academy, teaching the Stress Management TT each summer. In February, she will be participating in the YogaHub’s 2nd Virtual World Yoga Conference. To coincide with the conference, Jaymie will be releasing a full length CD on breathing practices that help individuals increase energize and reduce stress. She is a member of NWI, NSA, IYTA and IAYT. Website: www.resilienceforlife.com