I was fortunate to be able to dine with some of my oldest friends recently. We discussed a modern book that was providing guidance for our children. As we talked about it, I realized that one aspect of the book was a teaching the same lesson as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which reads: “When afflicted by a negative thought, cultivate the opposite.”
This is a gorgeous teaching and practice from a book written about 1600 years ago. It is so obvious and yet so potent to remember on the path of mindfulness and evolution. As a child with an active imagination and wild dreams, my mother taught me this. I was lucky to learn to work with my mind at an early age. I remember the force that I had to use to actually make the beautiful thoughts win. The practice became more skillful over time, carving a valuable path as I grew up. I still work with the practice as an adult, as it can be so easy to go down paths that delude you of the truth. Often it can be difficult to recognize, or it turns up in a relationship.
Then the inner wrestling match begins again, working with thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes jumping straight for a positive thought is impossible. For example, if one of your parents passes away unexpectedly, you might experience loss, grief, anger and sadness. Perhaps as the initial emotions have space to be, you might nd the next step away from grief is the only place you can go. Instead of being angry at life, you wrap yourself around the glimmer of an idea that this is part of the cycle. Then, over time you will nd the positive peaceful thoughts and deep bliss of abiding in the cycle of life. This practice, known as “pratipaksha bhavana,” does not usually happen in a flip of a switch.
Now, you might wonder why this is in a yoga column? What comes to your mind when you see and hear yoga? Bending, sweat, therapy, mats, breathing, strengthening and stretching, sure. Yet, “pratipaksha bhavana” too, is yoga.
Actually, the main objective of the teachings of the Patanjali is to get out of this world of suffering, moving beyond isolation, or transcendence. If I were living in the time these teachings were written and had access to them, I would likely want to get out of life as well. Can you imagine going to a watch gladiators tear each other apart for entertainment?
In modern times, many of us are seeking a deeper way to integrate the physical and meta-physical, to bring the evolving trajectory of spiritual potential into our relationships, communities and to the world. Although we turn to the old teachings as a map, we see them shifting to t the modern people and their goals. My own offering of yoga is to integrate spiritual and physical life. To that end, I blend these teachings into the physical practice as a means to get a deeper embodiment a shift, an up-leveling of the way that you are in this world.
Yoga then and the yoga now have such different faces, yet there are these amazing nuggets that have stood the test of time.