Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Paradigm Shift / Pratipaksha Bhavana

When I was new to yoga, I loved reading Yoga Journal every month.  I subscribed to it, and was stoked when I was able to get a reduced rate as part of my liability insurance once I became a teacher.

The last few years, though - eh.

Part of it is almost certainly that I've allowed time to diminish my interest in to the capital-Y Yoga practice - reading the sutras, learning more about the history and diving deeper into the non-asana parts of the practice.  I expected to be knee-deep in it forever, but when I took a shift toward kids yoga and prenatal yoga years ago, that became less a part of my teaching and therefore I let it slip as part of my personal practice.

The other part of it is that the magazine has largely let itself turn into Glamour with a side of yoga. Every issue it seems like there are more and more pages - not just advertisements, mind you, which come with the territory, but actual magazine content - that's nothing but product placement.  The clothes you have to have, the meditation cushion you need.  Every single cover - every single cover - has been reduced to "8 poses to cultivate inner peace!"  "10 poses to strengthen your core!"  "The 4 poses you need to beat the winter blues!"

Yes, yoga poses are amazing and helpful and can do all those things.  But...come on.  It's not a magic bullet or a magic cure.  Yoga should be better than that, and the magazine's continual quick-fix implications feel gross.

Anyway - getting off my high horse, let me take a moment to actually give props to YogaJournal - or to a teacher quoted in an interview with them, at least.  It's been a long time since I've turned to the Yoga Sutras for help and guidance, but I've been thinking about them more lately, and this week was reminded of sutra 2.33.  My favorite interpretation is from Nischala Joy Devi from her lovely book The Secret Power of Yoga.

"When presented with disquieting thoughts and feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude.  This is pratipaksha bhavana."

Like a lot in the yoga sutras, it sounds so ridiculously simple.  Having negative thoughts?  Think happy thoughts!  Yay!  All better!

The key word here is cultivate.  The presence of that word indicates an acknowledgement that this is not always so simple.  To cultivate is to try, to foster, to encourage, to seek, or - my favorite definition, from Merriam-Webster: "to improve by labor, care, or study."

My favorite example of this physically is the idea of countering fatigue and exhaustion by doing something as simple as ten jumping jacks.  Just try not to change your energy level after that - you can't help it!  The key is to get yourself up to standing and doing those jumping jacks in the first place to spark the change in your energy level.

As hard as it can be to get your body to move when it's tired, it's all the harder (for me, at least) to get the mind to move when it's stuck on negative thoughts and perceptions.  Whether it's a person whose actions or words have you hurt or angry or a simple case of a negative mood, the mind usually wants to stay in that negative space.  My mother-in-law always refers to the law of inertia (usually in a physical context), and for me that totally applies to a bad mood.  My mind in a whiney space wants to stay in a whiney space.

Tiffany Russo, the yoga teacher quoted in YogaJournal, explains this sutra further: "Patanjali said it's taking a negative and making it a positive.  I think it's also that moment when you can pause and choose to make a shift.  That's yoga - if you can pay attention enough to pause, you have a strong sense of your foundation, and you can blossom and grow from there."

This strikes a chord with me, and makes me think of one of my all-time favorite books My Stroke of Insight, where brain scientist Jill Bolte-Taylor details the stroke she suffered and how much more she learned about the power of our brains as a result.  She teaches us that we have so much power in how we interpret events and thoughts.

We can make a choice to focus on the negative or to focus on the positive.  We can make a choice to step back, take a breath, take a pause, and re-evaluate any given situation from a different perspective.  It's simple, but simple doesn't mean it's easy.  As we say at Karma Kids - that's why we call it a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect.

So - well done, YogaJournal.  Amidst your all-too-typical front cover promises that all my life's problems will be fixed with your "7 poses to find quiet amidst chaos," I feel so much more connected to the true work and benefits of yoga.  More of that, please!

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