Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pratipaksha Bhavana

This is a blogpost from *way* back when (circa 2008, see below)...a recent email from a new friend took me back to it... so I share it again this morning. I'll call it an encore!

Last week, I taught a class on pratipaksha bhavana, a method suggested by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras for working with negative mental states and overcoming paralysis by cultivating, acting on, or even just entertaining its opposite. It's been such a useful practice for me in every arena in my life and when my life or my heart is beset by fear or stagnancy, I always turn to it.

You see I am such a thinker (aka, obsessor). My mind will attach to one thing and pre-occupy itself with that one thought excessively. Having a healthy dose of the air element, I will run things over and over again in my mind yet also being who I am (in all my many splendoured facets) I tend however to keep working with it only in ONE way. Usually the first way it struck me. To the exclusion of all else.

Let's call this the Capricorn banging her head into the same brick wall syndrome. Yet never connecting that practice to the headache that follows. Yoga and meditation have been fabulous for helping me make that connection (my head thanks you) and Patanjali's method has been invaluable for helping me find a DOOR in the wall.

Whenever I am stuck or mired down - in my actual life or in my thoughts - I practice this now.
I contemplate, entertain, imagine, and YES sometimes even act out the opposite. Of what I'm feeling, what I'm thinking, what I'm believing, and what I'm doing. Have a read... 

Saturday Samskara

These days I've become a bit of homebody... It's not that I'm actively avoiding group socializing on the weekends but, with our cold and wet weather and adjusting back to my daily work routine, I've just been rather enjoying the regular date with my couch on Saturday night. An engrossing book, delicious meal, glass of red wine or steamy mug of hot chocolate and I'm all set! It's become an easy and even enjoyable pattern.

In Sanskrit, my Saturday night habit (or RUT) is called a samskara. Like a deep groove in the road, a samskara is a tendency/habit/path that we keep tracking into. It is easy, comfortable, and almost inevitable that no matter which way we steer, we will tend to fall right into it. There are only two ways to break out of a well dug samskara. First, we have to be aware of and acknowledge our tendency or habit AND second, we have to create a new pattern.

Happily approaching preparations for last Saturday's evening meal, I received a last minute invitation from a good friend offering a new possibility. Party. People I didn't know. All the way across town. She dangled enticing descriptions of the house, the people, all of the planned activities.... But you know, my first instinct was still to say no. The deeply entrenched pattern emerged.

However, some delicate, whispering voice inside my head said, why not? The voice got louder. Why not do something completely different, completely random, completely new? What my friend Diane offered was enticing and beguilingly so. It was outside my usual plans and so much so that I made a quick and intentional decision to open up to the possibility of something new.

Where did this choice take me?
Handmade pizzas cooked in a handmade outdoor pizza oven.
A decadent hour baking in a handmade outdoor sauna
An invigorating post-sweat swim in the winter sea (ME? I don't even swim in CHCH during the summer!?)
Bowl after bowl of decadent homemade ice cream
A rocking all night jam session (drums, guitars, piano, trumpet, and various creative uses for nearby cutlery, glassware, and/or pots and pans) in the warmth of heat pump and high energy fueled living room.


And these people do this almost every weekend?!?! Where have I been...?

Before any asana, before any finer detail of anatomical alignment, the very first principle of Anusara Yoga is Open to Grace. Feel the breath and open to the bigger picture. This means that I make the choice to take a pause and actively release my usual and oftentimes self-limiting ideas of who I am, what I think I can do, and where I think the ceiling is on the roof of possibility.

On the yoga mat this means I open up to the belief that maybe this pose is possible for me today. That maybe I can turn to my breath and follow it for just an extra count longer this time. That maybe if I just move and breathe and celebrate the glory of my existence in this body, this place, right at this very moment that all of the trouble I left behind at home may have a new perspective when I return.

And on last Saturday, this meant that when I left behind my couch, my book, my mug of hot chocolate, and simply showed up open and willing, I allowed myself to experience and enjoy one of the most fantastic and impromptu gatherings I have been to in a very long time.


  1. Beautiful reminder Katie! I am seeing a future theme since I just finished dancing through the brahmaviharas (1.33) and will now entertain the qualities of the heart in 1.22!

    Perfect! And PLEASE do write more often! Your beautiful soul has lots to offer!

    Love and blessings,

  2. thanks for reading olga and for your comment!
    my intention IS to write more. am coming out the other side of a long internal winter...but finding myself on the threshold with a lot to say! careful what you ask for :) love x

  3. Katie,

    I find myself struggling with the same rut. I also am finding Anusara yoga quite challenging because it helps me realize how many "I can't" statements run through my head. I think a lot of that comes from fear - fear of hurting myself in my practice, fear of trying new things, fear of the uncomfortable, etc. I will keep trying =)