Cultivating Counteracting thoughts of Love: The Practice of Pratipaksa-bhavana
Sutra II.34 states the following: Negative thoughts are violence, etc. They may be personally performed, performed on one’s behalf by another, or authorized by oneself. They may be triggered by greed, anger, or delusion; and they may be slight, moderate, or extreme in intensity. One should cultivate counteracting thoughts, namely, that the end results or negative thoughts are ongoing suffering and ignorance.
This happens to be one of the longest sutras in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras book. Even 5000 years ago, the scientists who studied the human body through physical, psychological and energetic exercises knew what an adverse affect negative self-talk or berating from others had on us! Yet, we all do it every day and most of us aren’t aware that it happens. When we are aware, many of us feel it’s fine. It feels so natural. But why? Why would beating yourself up verbally be ok?
I use this sutra with a lot of my students. Many of the reasons people work one-on-one with a yoga teacher are linked to negative self-talk. Cultivating counteractive thoughts is challenging for a lot of students because they first have to become aware of the level of negative thoughts they are exposing themselves to. Another roadblock to cultivating counteractive thoughts is that it often feels very unnatural. They are very uncomfortable with speaking to themselves in a kind and loving tone. That is very interesting to me since the majority of times, all of the corrective behavior and correlating positive talk is done in one’s own mind. Very seldom do I ask someone to speak their mantra out loud. Even when they say it to themselves and not another soul hears the positive affirmations, it’s still hard - and that is unfortunate!
I have identified and put into practice a few steps to help my students get over their negative self-talk habit. The following is our process:
1. Identify the negative self-talk. When you are going about your day, pay attention to yourself - your routines and thought processes. Notice what happens when the day goes “off it’s hinges”. Be present as much as possible to how you speak to yourself in different life situations.
2. Identify patterns of negative self-talk. So, after you have observed yourself for a few days, what do you learn? What can you pick out? Do you see patterns in the way you treat yourself? Are you harsh as you get ready in the morning? Do you pick yourself apart and report to your brain the things you don’t like about your body, face, hair, etc? Are you harsh when you are alone in your car? Or when you lie in bed at night?
3. Once you’ve identified some specific times you engage in negative self-talk, be as present as possible to that particular part of your day. Work to be fully observant and catch the negative pattern when it starts. Choosing only one time to fully work on your new pattern is
important. In order to succeed, your goal is to use a small area, find success, and then use the skills you’ve developed in other areas of your thought processes.
4. Change your talk! Have a few positive or neutral phrases ready in your arsenal to replace what was being said. It will most likely feel weird, foreign or fake. Who cares! Do it anyway. The repetitive nature of the counteracting thoughts will eventually feel as natural and normal as the original, FICTIONAL negative thoughts.
5. Practice positive affirmations associated with your identified area in your practice as well as in your day. Adding a mantra to your daily practice is an incredibly effective way to work it into your everyday life. Repeating your loving self-talk in a safe place (your practice) every day allows it to sink into your whole being. Every cell begins to absorb, believe and benefit from loving, affirmative talk. I’ve seen it first hand, and it is a beautiful transformation to witness!
As you get more comfortable treating yourself with love and respect, it will become more natural and you will feel the cumulative effect in your body, mind and spirit!