Over the summer, I read a number of inspiring books. One I particularly enjoyed is The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi, who offers a unique and insightful interpretation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
As I have been preparing for the fall session of yoga classes, I keep coming back to Deviâ€™s thoughts on Sutra 2.33, which reads: “When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.”
In Sutra 2:33, Patanjali advises us to shift the energies in our lives by changing our attitudes rather than hoping to change our situations or the people who cause us to feel unhappy. The simple yet challenging practice of Pratipaksha Bhavana dovetails perfectly with my intention to explore Uttanita as a unifying theme for the fall session of classes.
Similar to Pratipaksha Bhavana, Uttanita means to be â€œwide openâ€ and to see things from another perspective. Both Uttanita and Pratipaksha Bhavana inspire us to look for the light that is absent in the darkness and the goodness that resides in the essence of every person, opportunity and experience we are presented with.
Nischala Joy Devi adds: â€œWith clarity we realize that changing the situation may not be possible; rather we see that changing our attitude allows peace to bloom.” Allowing â€œpeace to bloomâ€ is one the of big reasons I come to my yoga mat to practice. Sometimes, however, the feeling of peace can be elusive. Often, this is because I can find myself sowing seeds of discontent instead of peace as I grapple with a particularly challenging yoga posture. Other times I may feel tired or distracted.
The fact is that practicing yoga postures is hard. There, I said it! Often we do variations or adaptations of yoga poses because the â€œfull expressionâ€ is beyond our capacity. When we bump up against our edge in these harder poses it is easy to be critical of ourselves and our efforts. We may experience dissatisfaction or frustration instead of peace. Yet, when we change our ways of seeing – we sow the seeds for changing our very being!
Pratipaksha Bhavana tells us that we have a choice. We may not be able to change our tight hips or reluctant hamstrings, but we can change how we feel about them. Instead of becoming frustrated or critical, we can cultivate respect. We can respect our efforts because our best effort is enough. We can honor ourselves for showing up on the mat and meeting the challenge of doing something that is difficult.
Our hamstrings may not be wide open but our hearts can be! When we feel critical, we can cultivate respect. When we feel fear, we can cultivate courage. When we feel anger, we can cultivate love.
Devi says that, “Pratipaksha Bhavana is a simple and direct way of keeping our minds calm and our hearts open.â€ Here is where Pratipaksha Bhavana can help us find peace.
Iâ€™m excited to get back to classes after the summer break and begin our explorations of Pratipaksha Bhavana and Uttanita. I do hope you will join me when classes begin September 9.