Pratipaksa Bhavanam: The Opposite Game

It takes a while for me to catch myself in negative thoughts and bad habits.

For one, they seem to have a hold on me. That is, although they cause me some level of suffering, I actually like doing them. Or, if I don’t like it, I indulge nonetheless. So catching myself in this pattern first takes awareness, and then a willingness to do something about it. And this is why it takes me a while.  

There’s a yoga concept for this. It’s called pratipaksa bhavanam and it means cultivation of the opposite.  

“Upon being harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate counteracting thoughts.” Sutra II.33 

Sounds simple, right? It’s about getting in the habit of catching your negative thoughts and then playing the opposite game with them. And it can definitely feel like faking it at first. Eventually though, the opposite, positive thoughts become just as habitual as the negative ones. With just a little more time, the positive thoughts nudge the negative ones out of the way.  

Voila! With practice, you’ve changed the way you think. Specifically, with the practice of pratipaska bhavanam.  

I like to apply this concept not only to thoughts, but also to actions. An example: self-expression.  

I’ve been thinking about my habits of self-expression, both the ways in which I’m decent at expressing myself and the ways in which I fall short.  

My bad habit in terms of self-expression is keeping all my feelings to myself until one day they explode forth in an unflattering spew. When this happens, I’m out of control of myself. I talk fast and loudly (some might call it “going off”), I shake, I hold my breath. I go on and on and on until it’s all out.  

Yes, it’s good to get it out. Also yes, there’s a way to do it more maturely than this. There’s a better balance of emotional self-expression for me. 

To cultivate the opposite of my feelings volcano, I can communicate more gracefully and regularly. Things like journaling, talking to trusted friends, and my text therapy are all ways to do this, and are incredibly cathartic. I know that I have the bad habit, so I know I must make an effort to counter it. C’est la vie.