We are currently in the midst of the Holiday Season and for many of us and our culture in general, this is a time of excess: more social activity, spending a lot more money than we usually do, excessive eating and often eating things that are more sugary or rich than what we are used to. It is easy to feel very out of balance this month, on many levels. This is true for our minds as well as our bodies. In our bodies, when we overeat and eat foods with a lot of toxicity, we feel bloated, lethargic and nauseous. It is the same with our minds: when we are tuned into thoughts that are anxious, negative or toxic in any way, we can get depressed, impatient and angry. We need something to bring us back into balance: on the level of the digestive system that could be fasting or a cleanse, and certainly on the mental side we would think of meditation as a remedy for imbalance or excessive, unwanted thoughts.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gives us a specific technique to rebalance ourselves, and we can use it in our practice and in truly every aspect of our lives. It is such a valuable technique. Any guesses as to what it is? The Sanskrit term is Pratipaksha Bhavana. Sutra 2.33 reads, “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of.” One translation of pratipaksha bhavana is “moving to the other side of the mansion,” so it’s similar to what we might do with a baby or a young child who is screaming and crying and can’t get un-fixated. We take the child into another room, changing up the environment and providing a different stimulus than whatever it was that produced the upset. That is something I have experienced often with my own kids, and even with myself. We all do this, and here is a holiday example: if we are having a discussion with a family member during a holiday gathering and something they say triggers us, knocking us back into the dark side of our samskara, our habitual negative patterns, one of the quickest ways to snap out of the cycle of reactivity is simply to walk away and focus on something else; we may excuse ourselves to go and wash dishes, or better yet, we may say, “OK, I am feeling a little sluggish after that meal and I need a constitutional,” and we go for a walk outside, getting rebalanced and re-grounded in our bodies and in the fresh air.
This is what we are doing in our yoga practice. We are training our minds and our bodies, little by little, to run on a more positive track. Whatever challenge we come in with, be it worry, poor self-image, distractibility or any other negativity, we get on our mat and replace those thoughts and feelings with qualities more like peace, stability, compassion and the thought, “I can do it. I can do this posture, today, right now,” and we come out seeing life in a different way, perceiving ourselves differently. We get grounded in who we really are, and we balance the scales of our experience adding enough positive to temporarily and gradually more permanently cancel out the negative. We want a fix that's quick, but we also want a fix that will stick.
So in today’s practice, let’s rebalance, let’s move to the other side of the mansion by following pratipaksha bhavana, through focusing on the steadiness of our breath instead of our racing thoughts, focusing on our drsti or gazing point instead of the movement around us, and experimenting with our bodies, putting them into unfamiliar positions that open us up to a more positive perspective.