Principles which run contrary to yama and niyama are to be countered with the knowledge of discrimination.
When the mind is disturbed by passions one should practice pondering over their opposites.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
When we are overcome by emotions and are unable to control the disturbances in the mind the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offer us a solution. Cultivating the opposite emotion to what is present is called Pratipaksha Bhavana. This is an amazing tool to cultivate a temperament that can overcome anger, lying, dullness, anxiety and much more with the right knowledge and awareness.
Paksha means to take one side. Pratipaksha means to take the opposite side. Bhavana means feeling, affecting or manifesting.
We are able to overcome a negative trait within ourselves by developing a positive state in its place.
Perhaps we are feeling anxious because we have a presentation coming up, we are about to open our tax bill or are in a situation where we desire to impress someone. When we can step back from this emotion and observe it we can create space to change our perspective. After identifying the feeling we can then choose to create a different, more positive response. We can turn the anxiety into excitement. Because the energy of excitement and anxiety are both high this can be an easy way to re frame the situation. We can turn the anxiety into a feeling of purpose, that we are wishing the best for ourselves and know that when we are relaxed we are in a calm and creative mindset. With repetition it becomes easier to switch our response as new pathways are created in the brain.
In the context of the Yoga Sutras Patanjali is guiding us to adhere to the Yamas and Niyama (ethical social and personal codes) by applying Pratipaksha Bhavana when obstacles present themselves in our lives. We are in essence being compassionate to ourselves. We recognise the minds habitual reaction to a situation, without getting angry or irritated by it we just let it go and put our energy into feeling calm and at ease instead. Just as if we are with a friend and they are confiding their troubles with us we can encourage them to see things clearly with a relaxed state of mind. Effectively Patanjali is teaching us how to counsel ourselves, becoming our own therapist. Creating inner harmony.
Aggression – Friendliness
Jealousy – Appreciation
Restlessness – Contentment
When we are not able to observe our mind it is easy for us with the ups and downs that life offers to become a bundle of emotions. In that state we are so overwhelmed by our feelings that we can not see things clearly. If we feel strong hate or dislike towards someone we can switch our mind to loving or caring about them. We do not have to like a person to love them. There may be aspects of people who are close to us’ personality that we don’t like. Still we can extend love and compassion towards them. Every individual’s personality is shaped by their past karmas and environment. These are observable just as our mind is. With this understanding we can see that we all have an innate pure nature.
Developing the attitude of friendliness even if you don’t have interaction with the person you felt aggressive towards that person is no longer an enemy in the mind. The person become an ordinary, neutral person in your mind. Through practising Pratipaksha Bhavana a negative trait develops into a positive trait.
We integrate this into our life by trying. Even if we try and don’t succeed at first at least we have made a conscious effort to rewire our brain and attitude to a positive and kind intention.
Right understanding, dispassion, discrimination, detachment and sattwa. These are the yogic principles that we draw on when we apply this to our lives. Having the right understanding that we can observe our mind and change our reactions. Being dispassionate when strong emotions boil up. Being discriminative to our thoughts and feelings, to be able to see what is valid or invalid. Detaching from the emotional charge that we place on situations and people in our lives, letting go of cravings for what we don’t have. Practising sattwa, purity, to make a compassionate effort to live our lives with ethics and integrity.
We have choice in how we react to situation in life. When we realise this and practice cultivating the opposite to our negative ingrained response we are in a position of empowerment.