A Yogic Technique for Managing Anxiety: Pratipaksa

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A Yogic Technique for Managing Anxiety: Pratipaksa

hot yoga teacher certification courseBy Virginia Iversen 

The practice of Yoga offers us many tools and techniques for managing anxiety. The Yogic technique of pratipaksa comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is the practice of becoming aware of injurious thoughts and choosing healthier, more uplifting thoughts. In today’s contemporary vernacular this is also know as choosing a “downstream thought” that creates happiness within you, instead of an “upstream thought” that causes pain, guilt or anxiety. It may be as simple as noticing the beauty of the full moon on a snowy evening, instead of a driveway that still needs to be shoveled. In other words, focusing on the glass that is half-full instead of half-empty.

This practice can have a profoundly healing effect on Yogis and Yoginis who may be struggling with self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that create fear and anxiety within. As we continue to gently pull our minds away from repetitive thoughts that create anxious feelings and focus our minds instead on positive, true and uplifting thoughts, we are literally restructuring the synaptic connections in our brains. The neuroplasticity of our brains allows us to indelibly change our thinking patterns with diligent awareness and effort. When we change our negative thinking patterns and beliefs about ourselves and the world at large, we will also change our behaviors, which will, in time, change our karma.

In Yogic terms, negative and/or diminishing thoughts are known as “aklishtas.” Aklishtas are negative thought patterns that discourage you from reaching your full potential. Aklishtas also obscure your ability to see your own inner divinity and the love and possibilities that surround you. If you constantly engage in self-denigrating thoughts and pessimistic thinking, you are much less likely to create a life of abundance, love and well-being for yourself. Thoughts which are uplifting and inspiring are known in the Yoga Sutras as “klishtas.” These thoughts help to inspire us, generate confidence, serenity and well-being. Many positive affirmations are klishtas. Thoughts such as, “every failure brings me closer to success” and “good things are bound to happen” help to inspire us and encourage us as we journey through life.

The practice of pratipaksa is not just about substituting a positive thought in place of the opposite negative thought or belief, it is also about choosing life-affirming thoughts that soothe, nourish and uplift us. You must believe the thought to be true or able to become true, and you must find the thought nourishing. If the upstream thought that you choose does not soothe your spirit or your mind feels it is untrue, the practice will not be as effective. To ease anxiety, gently pull your attention away from disquieting thoughts and focus your mind on a positive thought, even if it is a simple as appreciating the luminous light of the full moon.

© Copyright 2012 – Virginia Iversen – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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6 responses to “A Yogic Technique for Managing Anxiety: Pratipaksa”

  1. Kaya says:

    I appreciate your effort to outline the underlying philosophical principles of yoga… however, there are some confusion in your sanskrit definition… it may be a typo, or that you learned it incorrectly from a teacher… and I know as practitioners of yoga, we all seek to value & uphold this beautiful, powerful tradition, that many may benefit. Sanskrit is the key to unlock the secrets of yoga… so if you’ll allow, a clarifying point…

    Regarding your 3rd paragraph –
    Kli?ta (Patanjali Yoga S?tras 1.5) is a sanskrit word which means: worrysome, distressful, painful, obscured, tormented and afflicted. Encapsulated in the word painful, from the yogic perspective is also pleasurable – because yoga says all pleasure is ultimately painful – so pleasure is included in Kli?ta. Akli?ta = the opposite of kli?ta and is defined as non-painful or neutral. Note again, pleasure falls under the kli?ta category. In sanskrit, an “a” sound at the beginning of a word negates that word (gives it the opposite meaning). For example, ananda = limitation, so aananda = limitless.

    Regarding what I perceive to be overall point –
    I think what you say is digestable & real use for the regular student of yoga, as they attempt to apply yogic principles to their minds & lives. And it should be noted that ultimately the fact is, that yoga says ALL v?ttis (mental modifications) – be they painful or neutral or “positive or negative” – must be resolved, so the mind is settled. At this point, positive & negative become meaningless categories, as one is spontaneously immersed in BEING which there is no separation, no category, no preference.

    The practice of cultivating the opposite (sutra 2.33 that you outline here in the discussion of pratipak?a-bh?vanam) is for one with a disturbed mind (everyone!) who is not quite yet able to just resolve ALL thoughts. It is a stepping stone for the purpose of cultivating a clear, objective, easeful mind so that one can eventually – through other yogic practices – resolve all mental modifications… it’s not really a “thought” practice not of “positive thoughts” or affirmations, but of cultivating an overall bh?vana (state of being) – your example of contemplating the full moon is a great one – something that cultivates a neutralizing bh?vana.

    As a next step, so one can learn “what” one can cultivate in the mind to live a yogic life, the yoga tradition gives guidelines for right (dharmic) thinking / being / acting… including the 20 Values laid out by Krishna in the Bhagavad G?ta… I highly recommend the book “The Value of the Values” by Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

    with Respect & Devotion to Yoga,

  2. Kaya says:

    oops – I see this program doesn’t allow transliteration of Sanskrit. My apologies that some of the sanskrit words will be a little unreadable.

  3. Masud Parvez says:

    The Yogic technique of pratipaksa are very helpful for managing anxiety. Yoga practice have a profoundly healing effect on Yogis and Yoginis.

  4. Marry Wilson says:

    To ease anxiety, gently pull your attention away from disquieting thoughts and focus your mind on a positive thought, and for this issue yoga can help you.

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