Opposites in Practice

Open Awareness Yoga

I’m starting up a new in-person class here in Portland in December so lately I’ve been thinking about the process of Open Awareness Yoga, which has evolved quite a bit since we started practicing online together. 

Yoga is such a vast discipline. Which are the parts that most influence my practice now and how do I organize them to best serve a class of new people?

It’s almost embarrassing how simple most of what I come up with is.  

Yoga, just do it

Yoga is most useful when you do it. It doesn’t have to involve a rubber mat and a solid block of time or any other special setup.

Your practice is the awareness you have when you realize you’re getting dysregulated or worked up. It’s then the deep breath you take to reset. It’s noticing your neck is hurting and doing the shoulder shrugs that help you out. It’s finding a corner to take a forward fold when your hips are getting tight.

It’s a lifestyle, but not in an annoying I-have-to-change-everything way.  

Pratipaksha Bhavana

Pratipaksha bhavana is Sanskrit for cultivating the opposite. The Sutras (2.33) teach about pratipaksha bhavana specifically related to thoughts: when plagued with negative thoughts, cultivate the opposite. That is, think the opposite thought, which is presumably a positive one.

I find this an incredibly useful concept in general, as a starting point for practice. Using the examples above, you notice you’re getting anxious so you pause and take a deep breath (a calming thing, the opposite.) You notice tight neck muscles so you loosen them up with shoulder shrugs somatics (the opposite). Your hips get tight so you stretch them out (the opposite).

Like I said, the concept is really simple. Your time in class helps you figure out your own mix of opposites, so the application becomes just as easy.  

Needed: Space for reflection

Of course, in order to learn your own mix of opposites, you need to have space in class to reflect on your before and after. If you’re flowing quickly through a lot of movements it feels great and serves a wonderful purpose, but for me I’m not left with an understanding of which movements are most useful to me, as part of my daily opposite needs. 

Even as a teacher the complicated (and fun) choreography of some vinyasa flow classes feels impossible to duplicate when I’m alone, at home, without someone guiding me through it. And the technique isn’t terribly useful when I’m at the grocery store getting stressed out. Have you ever seen someone doing a chaturanga-up dog-down dog as their kid throws a tantrum in the candy aisle? 

Like I said, yoga is a vast discipline.  There are as many ways to practice as there are practitioners, and different ways to practice depending on your context and what you want and need.

Two Takeaways

Some things I hope you’re learning when you practice with me are cultivating your sensory awareness so you notice what you need sooner, and practical applications of the techniques—your yoga tools for your daily living tool belt. Your own mix opposites.