Using the Sutras in Daily Life • Sutra 2.33: pratipaksha bhavan

We all get those physical signs of stress and anxiety. We might feel tired or have random aches and pains and can’t pinpoint the source. We stretch, we breathe, and we feel rejuvenated right afterwards. But after a few days the same aches and pains are back, and sometimes accompanied by new ones.

Stress shows up in the body, but it starts in the mind. If we don’t address it in our mind, our bodies will keep tensing until we do something about it. 

Stress is a catch-all word.  Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. It’s a feeling, and feelings tend to be very personal. So the little things that stress you out can be as individual as you are. 

I tend to be an obsessive thinker. I can remember times when obsessive thinking distracted me from work and studies, movies and conversations. I even told myself, “Hey, you’re sabotaging your own fun!” But then I returned to obsessing. 

And the stuff I obsess over is often ridiculous. Like “I let that 40% off coupon from CVS expire!” And that spirals into “see ya shoulda set an alarm to use it,” or “I can’t believe I forgot!” I can ruin my whole day this way.  

Enter Sutra 2.33: When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite, positive ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.

As it turns out, it is impossible to hold two thoughts in your head at once. That’s right, you may think you’re multitasking, but in fact, you are rapidly switching focus from one thought to another.

So when I catch myself obsessing, I’ll deliberately think of something pleasant, or something I actually accomplished that day, and I’ll repeat that to myself instead. 

Pratipaksha bhavana works for big and small regrets. This week, when I was upset that I didn’t save on those expensive Ghirardelli chips for cookies I was baking, I replaced it with the thought that I successfully made gluten-free cookies that were healthier.

Sometimes it works right away like a charm and sometimes it takes some effort to replace the aggravating thought, (wasted coupon — cookies!–wasted coupon!) I can do this all day so I tried to amp up the pleasant thinking a little. I thought about how many people enjoyed the cookies and how good they tasted. Guess what? That was so much more fun than obsessing over the coupon, and CVS is gonna send me another one in a couple of days anyway.

I definitely feel emotionally better the more I practice pratipaksha bhavana. But what I hadn’t expected is that the more I think about lighter things, the more I don’t feel achy or heavy. I literally feel lighter.

Test it out for yourself. Watch someone tell a story about something that makes them happy and see how their body moves with the energy of that emotion. Watch when someone is speaking about something unpleasant or upsetting. Then notice those things in yourself. Your body punctuates your emotions. What are you feeling? What patterns are you noticing in postures and movements? In breathing patterns? 

And it’s helpful to find out what upsets you. What patterns do you notice in your thoughts? In your emotions? When do those patterns show up?

And remember that it’s definitely a practice, as is all of Yoga. We’re human, after all, which is exactly what this sutra is acknowledging.

About the Author

Sarah McElwain

Sarah McElwain



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