Category Archives: Yoga

Pratipaksa Bhavana: Turning Negative Thoughts Around

yin yang rocks sand“If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are: you are probably a dog.” – Jack Kornfield

In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2 Pada 33 states: “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksa Bhavnam: When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” In his discussion of this pada, Sri Swami Satchidananda gives the example of replacing the thought of hate with love. This allows negative thoughts to come to the surface but helps to train us not to ruminate too heavily upon them. He expands on this idea, saying if this is not possible, we can surround ourselves with those we love, in effect helping us to forget the negativity that is burdening the mind. He says we can also attempt to to thwart the negative thought by stopping to think what the ultimate outcome would be if we let it take control.

I’ve been thinking about this principle a lot lately as the quiet of winter sets in and my internal dialogue is amplified. “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksa Bhavnam: When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” It’s not as easy as it seems. While we can’t always invoke the inverse thought to settle the mind, we can at least change our focus to something better. What makes you smile no matter what? I personally can not think about the silly antics of my niece and nephew without grinning ear to ear and chuckling a little to myself. This is not an act of disconnecting from the harder realities, but rather a prioritization of a more valued connection to take me out of a destructive negative spiral. When we invoke feelings of love, others feel our love, causing a cascade of positivity. This not only helps us, but creates a bigger, more global opportunity to uplift those around us. Replacing a negative with a positive – even if it’s just in our minds – is a small step, but one we can strive for every day.

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Endings and New Beginnings

lotus lightAs we say goodbye to 2015 and usher in the new year, we are presented with an opportunity to reflect on the past and evaluate how we’d like to move forward in the future. While many of us approach the new year with optimism, quite often as the minutia of our day-to-day lives takes over, we lose focus of our resolutions, falling back into old, comfortable patterns.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Book 1, Pada 28), he discusses mantrum, “that which keeps the mind steady and produces the proper effect.” The idea is that constant repetition, or japa, of one specific word/goal/desire/action will create a habit, until eventually we “imbibe the qualities” of the thing we repeat.

Pada 32 reads, Tat Pratisedhartham Eka Tattva Bhyasah, “The practice of concentration on a single subject [or the use of one technique] is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.” In his discussion of this Pada, Sri Swami Satchidananda enforces that we must keep digging, or working at our goal, even if we encounter obstacles. Steadying the mind on the single object of our attention allows us to give it our full focus and power. This is not to say  obsess, but to stay on one track, so the bigger meaning and ultimate transformation can be revealed.

The idea that concentration is a practice rings very true for me. It requires that we are deliberate in our efforts. To simplify does not necessarily mean or goal is simple, but rather it is pure and undisrupted by distraction, fear and doubt.

He sums it up beautifully saying, “Stick to one thing and forge ahead with that. Why do you want to have this one-pointed concentration? To make the mind clear so you can transcend it. You are not going to cling to the object but just use it as a ladder to climb up. Once you have reached the roof you leave the ladder behind.”

So in thinking of New Years resolutions, perhaps this year we can all choose to focus on one thing that is really tugging at our hearts, and let this year be a practice in concentration on our ability to see it through.

 

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A Breath-Based Fall Meditation Practice

“The lung is the source of inspiration – it creates the open space, the emptiness within which new ideas and emotions take shape.” – Harriet Beinfield & Efram Korngold, Between Heaven and Earth

fall forestIn Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Lung organ system governs the reception, movement, and expiration of qi, the circulating force behind the entire function of our bodies. Through the inhale we bring in the pure qi and release the impure through the exhale. This involuntary, repetitive action acts both as a cleansing process and a means of establishing the rhythm by which the body flows. The Lung’s yang partner, the Large Intestine, aids the process by evaluating what nutrients are of value to the body, and what can be eliminated.

This process of discernment, purification, and release has both physical and emotional implications. When the Lung qi is weak, we are most susceptible to sadness or grief, however, grief consumes the lung qi, creating a cyclical pattern of emotional injury. When the lung qi is strong, every new inhale contains boundless possibility and every exhale is an opportunity to release and move on from the past. Every cycle of inspiration, dissemination, and expiration allows us the opportunity to escape from the limitations of our thoughts and to truly exist in the moment.

To honor the spirit of the season, I offer you this simple, breath-based meditation.

The Set-Up

To begin your practice, lie down on your back with a rolled up blanket or bolster underneath your knees. Let the legs roll to a position where they feel comfortable. If the neck is uncomfortable or the chin is jutting toward the ceiling, place an additional folded blanked underneath your head.

Rotate the arms so that the palms and inner arms are facing the ceiling and the chest feels broad and open. If the shoulders are hunched away from the floor, draw each shoulder blade slightly inward and downward until you feel the chest broaden.

The Practice

Once the body is comfortable, take one hand to the chest, one hand to the belly. Close the eyes softly. Relax the facial muscles completely. Let the bones feel heavy against the floor. Let the muscles soften around the bones. Feel the rise and fall of the chest and abdomen as you breath in and out.

Observe the rhythm of the breath and where it is moving. Notice when you inhale if you tend to fill the chest, or the belly, or both. Notice when you exhale where you deflate. Notice the thoughts as they wander in. With the breath as your template – momentary and impermanent – see if you can invite the thoughts to pass through just as fluidly as they enter.

Start to deliberately slow the breath down, making each inhale and each exhale as soft and long and smooth as you can. Try to match the length of the inhale and exhale, never gasping for breath, but letting the flow be even and steady.

Start to move the breath with more intention. Filling up completely, breath in through the nose, down into the chest, then the upper belly, the mid-belly, the low belly, all the way down to pelvic floor. Exhale just as deliberately, emptying first the low belly, then the mid-belly, the upper belly, the chest, and all the way out the mouth. Every inhale a rebound of the exhale. Every exhale a rebound of the inhale.

Imagine something you would like to create more space for in your life. Simple, genuine, true. When you inhale, imagine how it will feel when this desire begins to manifest. Invite that sensation in, in through the nose, the chest, the upper belly, mid-belly, low belly, all the way down to the pelvic floor.

Choose something you’ve been holding on to that is no longer relevant to your present. When you exhale, release it out through the low belly, mid-belly, upper belly, chest, and throat.

Create a word, or mantra, for the thing you wish to bring in and the thing you wish to release. Repeat these words in your mind with each inhale and each exhale, opening up to the future by releasing the past.

Stay with the technique for as long as you are comfortable. When you feel ready, let the breath fall back into it’s natural rhythm. Feel the body completely relaxed, light with possibility, unencumbered by the mundane. Be with this feeling.

The Exit

Start to deepen the breath, reconnecting with your physical body. Notice the weight of your bones. Notice your fingers and your toes. Notice sensation on the skin.

Stretch the arms up and overhead and take a full body stretch like you are just waking up to a brand new day. Bend the knees and roll gently over on to your right hand side. Pause. Then press yourself up to sit.

Join the palms together at the center of the chest. Touch your thumbs to your sternum, tapping into that inner oasis of quiet, simplicity, and clarity. Then bow your chin to your chest, bowing toward the wisdom of your intuition, your heart’s voice, your wise advisor with all the right answers to all of your most important questions. The farthest we ever need to look is within.

Namaste.

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