A large part of the transformation that happens in yoga practice takes place mentally. We are often confronted with obstacles, most of them presenting themselves as physical challenges, but the challenge really comes from how we mentally approach these situations. Over time, our minds create pretty rigid thought patterns than snap into action when faced with difficult circumstances. AKA, how we ‘automatically’ react. Unfortunately a lot of these thought patterns can have negative tendencies. How often have you thought, “I can’t do this?” Or, “I’m not good enough.” These thoughts or tendencies can be physical, cognitive, or emotional and can vary greatly from person to person.
The good news is that you have a chance to erase some of the damage that might have incurred over the years of repeating any one of these self-deprecating thoughts.
Introducing : Tapahs. This idea comes from Patanjali’s sutras and can be defined as “purification through heat; fire of change through which practitioners expose themselves as a means to shift identity towards true self and away from ego-construct.” In other words, it is to allow yourself to be vulnerable, with a willingness to change, even if it means you might encounter some discomfort along the way.
Now its important not to get this term confused with himsa. Himsa translates to unnecessary harm. While we want to make sure to never consciously harm ourselves, this discomfort that you might experience by ‘putting yourself through the flames’ is just a reconstruction, or a disintegration of old tendencies that the ego loves to hold onto. The ego can sometimes create beliefs that aren’t true in order to keep you in wanting. To keep needing something else to feel complete… that you aren’t enough. But you are. And it might take some shifting of mind patterns to get you to realize that.
How, you might ask, does one go about changing such rigid patterns? Luckily, Patanjali offers a few options.
Pratipaksha bhavanam, in two words. Lets break it down.
Pratipaksha means the opposite side, while bhavanam means causing to be, or manifesting. The two together offer insight on how to literally change your mind.
So we’ve established that there are thought patterns that need to be changed. (and we all have them, whether or not we’d like to admit it.) The next step is catching yourself in the act, and having the willingness to change. Pratipaksha suggests to simply do the opposite. If you’re thinking some negative thought about yourself or your life… do the opposite. Replace it with a positive one. If you have a negative habit of overindulging… do the opposite, refrain from indulgence. It seems too simple to be true, but it really is that simple! Just do the opposite.
Ok, for the second method of using pratipaksha bhavanam, it can be translated in sutra 2.34 as “also reflecting on the truth that thoughts or actions which cause harm, whether done or approved of, whether incited by greed, anger or confusion, mild or intense are based on ignorance and result in pain.”
So if you want to take back the control in your life, bring back the happiness and move towards a less confrontational existence, start by tracing the source of your thoughts. Patanjali describes this ignorance as avidya, or ignorance of the true self.
Know that you are already a boundless, eternal, divine being… but perhaps you have just forgotten.
Test yourself next time you’re in a predicament where you might automatically respond negatively, either out loud, or just in your head. See if you can catch that pesky thought and replace with one that stems from your ‘authentic self.’ The Self that operates out of love, and harmony.