*I recently listened to an episode called Mental Chatter on Dr. Errin Weisman's Doctor Me First Podcast. In it, she described modern coaching techniques to deal with negative mental chatter. As I listened, all I could think of was how similar this was to the yoga concept of Pratipaksha Bhavana. This was my inspiration to update my blog from September 2015 and share it with you here today.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, II-33*
Your thoughts are powerful. Your thoughts are linked to your breath and emotions. For example, what happens to your breath when you think of something that makes you feel angry or upset? Generally, your breath quickens and becomes shallow. Your heart races and blood pressure rises. Your stress response kicks in. But, what if you had a technique to intercept this entire process? This technique is pratipaksha bhavana. Pratipaksha bhavana invites you to intercept disturbing thoughts at the outset. Instead of spiraling down a staircase of negative thoughts, introduce positive thoughts as soon as you can. You don't need to push away the negative thoughts. All you do is introduce positive thoughts, and then negative ones slip away on their own.
According to yoga, it's human nature to think negative thoughts. Modern science backs this up with something called "negativity bias." Negativity bias means that your brain keeps negative thoughts at the forefront as a survival mechanism. It's the way your mind thinks it's protecting you. Negativity bias was necessary in the hunter-gatherer days. You wanted to remember where you last saw the lion when you were out hunting, so as to avoid going back to that spot. It was a matter of life and death. These days, however, it's often not life or death thoughts that stay at the forefront of your mind. It may feel like life or death, but it's actually not. It may be rush hour traffic, an arguement with your spouse, or a disagreement at work. And so, you have this tool, pratipaksha bhavana, that you can use to intercept those negative thoughts.
Pratipaksha bhavana requires continuous effort and patience. But, with regular practice, pratipaksha bhavana becomes easier. Your negative thoughts can become a trigger to bring in positive ones. As you practice this, you may realize the role your thoughts play in maintaining your peace of mind. And then, you may find that you want to guard your thoughts with utmost effort. This becomes an act of self-care and love.
It can be helpful to practice pratipaksha bhavana daily. Set aside 5 minutes each day where you sit and observe your thoughts. When you notice a negative thought arise, repeat an affirmation such as "I am peace" or "I am love." Affirmations are great ways to introduce positive thoughts. You can think of one on your own, or use a favorite inspiring quote. It can be helpful to choose a short and simple affirmation. If you practice this for a few minutes daily, then it'll be more readily available to you in times of need.
So, give it a try and leave a comment letting me know any challenges or benefits you find!
*The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the one of the oldest texts on yoga practice