Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
- Beverly Sills
I just finished the first 100 hours of my second 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Yoga for the Special Child. Many of our students at 5KY love to take classes with us after we’ve attended a teacher training with YSC because we come back filled with new inspiration.
This time is no different, especially because I have not taken this program for a long time. I am uncovering forgotten and incomplete ideas that had surfaced when I took my first teacher training.
This is similar to the way we approach the Yoga Sutras. The Sutras are meant to be read again and again because your understanding of them develops more each time. Life brings pleasures and pains and the meaning of the Sutras becomes clearer as you confront these challenges.
And so although I have read the Sutras and studied with my teacher many times, certain things are becoming clearer to me as I go deeper. As my teacher says very often, “there will be no shortcuts on the path of yoga.” We will need determination and perseverance to reach the goal.
One of the concepts we discussed in the TT was pratipaksa bhavana (pronounced prat-ee-pak-sha bha-va-na). Pratipaksa bhavana literally means manifestation of or meditation upon the opposite thought. The Sutra this is introduced in (2.33) says that when we are “disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of.”
We have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter.
This is a very powerful Sutra and concept, as it indicates we have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter. What is the virtue we need to develop to practice pratipaksa bhavana? Determination.
One of the participants in the teacher training mentioned that this Sutra comes within the group of Sutras discussing the Yamas and Niyamas (the “dos and don’ts” of Raja Yoga). She drew a relationship between pratipaksa bhavana and the first two limbs of Raja Yoga that I had never noticed before.
She suggested that when we fall short of our goals - to live righteously and love unconditionally - it is not helpful to dwell in bad feelings about our misapplication of these principles into our life. Sutra 2.33 is placed within the discussion of the Yamas and Niyamas to remind us of a tool we can cultivate when faced with disappointment in our own behavior.
Say I have violent thoughts or said violent words (lack of ahimsa), lie to someone (lack of satya), take credit for something that isn’t mine (lack of asteya), overeat (lack of brahmacarya), or hang onto a situation that isn’t good for me (lack of aparigraha). In other words, if I fail to practice the Yamas.
Or maybe I have trouble keeping my space clean (lack of saucha), feel discontent about life’s circumstances (lack of santosha), lash out when hurt (lack of tapah), don’t make time for self-improvement (lack of svadhyaya), or can’t let go of control (lack of Ishvara pranidhana). And I fail to practice the Niyamas.
Instead of thinking “wow, I’m a really violent, lying, thieving, gluttonous, greedy person. I can’t believe I’m so impure, malcontent, reactive, lazy, and controlling,” we should think opposite, positive thoughts instead.
Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies.
When we dwell in these negative thoughts, we only increase our tendency to express them. Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies. So we have the power to change them by our will and determination.
So instead, when we fail to meet our goal, let’s think things like “I am trying. Look! I just noticed that I wasn’t following the Yamas and Niyamas. That is really hard to do. I must be making progress. Next time I will do even better. I am proud that I’m trying to make positive changes in my mind and my life.”
Eventually, you might try challenging yourself to think, “What?! That’s not true. I may have slipped up this time but I’m doing my best. I really am a peaceful, truthful, respectful, moderate, and generous person. I am pure, content, accepting, thoughtful, and surrender myself to my place in the universe. I’m going to keep learning, applying, and refining my understanding of these universal principles to get better and better every day.”
I will offer one more piece of advice from my incredible teacher, Sonia Sumar. She suggested that if we are confronted by a negative thought (and let’s get real, we all have intrusive thoughts sometimes) to “sit it down” in front of you and have a conversation with it.
Question it. “Where do you come from? Why do you always come up in this situation? Why do I feel this way when so-and-so does that? Why have I not resolved these feelings yet?” (Notice that all of these questions are about myself and not "the other.") It’s not psychoanalysis we’re doing. We are letting these thoughts come to the surface to let them go through our yoga and meditation practice.
Once we have an idea of where these thoughts come from, it’s so much easier to figure out what the opposite, positive thought is. Then, we just work on affirming the positive ones and letting go of the negative ones.
That is the real work of determination. It is not stuffing challenging thoughts down or hiding them from ourselves. It is allowing challenges to surface and then having the guts to confront and transform them.
With everything we are facing right now, transforming the challenges in front of us is absolutely essential. This is how our yoga moves off our mat and into the world.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
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