“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” -Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, II-33
This is one of my favorite instructions from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Our thoughts are powerful. Our thoughts are intimately linked to our breath and our emotions. This can be easily observed in our daily lives – what happens to our breath when a thought arises in our mind that leads us to feel angry or upset? Generally, our breath quickens and becomes shallow. Our heart races and our blood pressure rises. Our stress response kicks in. But, what if we had a technique that could intercept this entire process? Well, we do, and that technique is called pratipaksha bhavana.
Pratipaksha bhavana says let’s intercept our disturbing thoughts by introducing positive thoughts in their place. Instead of spiraling down a staircase of negative thoughts, intercept them at the very first step. Pratipaksha bhavana says let’s not forcefully push away the negative thoughts or add fuel to the fire by judging ourselves for having those thoughts in the first place. It is our human nature that negative thoughts will arise. This will occur; the key is to not dwell in those negative thoughts. With gentleness and ease, pratipaksha bhavana teaches us to make the conscious effort to introduce positive thoughts and then just allow those negative thoughts to fall away naturally.
The practice of pratipaksha bhavana is lifelong. It requires continuous effort and patience. Realizing the role of our thoughts in maintaining our peace of mind, we observe and guard our thoughts with utmost effort. It can be helpful to practice pratipaksha bhavana in our daily meditation. When we sit for meditation, we watch our thoughts arise and slip away. We practice observing our thoughts as an unattached witness. We may have a mantra or an affirmation, such as “I am peace,” or “I am love,” as those positive thoughts that we introduce whenever we find our mind getting stuck on a particular negative or even neutral thought in our meditation. When we allow ourselves to practice this in a controlled setting such as our daily meditation, then these tools become more readily available to us during times of need.
So, go ahead and give it a try. All you have to lose is those negative thoughts, and what you have to gain is positive thoughts, smiles, and renewed energy!
So much peace to you, my dear friend.