Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras For Modern Times: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Those Thoughts

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:32-34- Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books and self surrender. When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana. When negative thoughts or acts such as violence are caused to be done or even approved of, whether incited by greed, anger or infatuation, whether indulged in with mild, medium or extreme intensity, they are based on ignorance and bring certain pain. Reflecting thus is also pratipaksha Bhavanam.

P.S. I have seen the word “bhavana” with and without an “m”. You can ask Google about that or your local Sanskirt scholar.

Defining the Sutra

Patanjali lists the Niyamas which will be discussed in later verses. He then talks about Pratipaksha Bhavana. Patanjali is again giving us a simple tool to help deal with our thoughts. The Yogis were realistic.

The second book of the Sutras is for the average Yoga student. Pratipaksha Bhavanam is an easy technique that slowly gets the mind out of the gutter and keeps you out of prison. When using Pratipaksha Bhavanam you can either mentally or physically put yourself in a more agreeable situation until your thoughts shift.

Modern Day Application

Ways to Use Pratipaksha Bhavanam or shift your energy.

  • Go to a Yoga class

  • Read inspiring or spiritual books

  • Hang out with positive beings

  • Listen to uplifting or positive music

  • Go for a walk

  • Chant, sing, dance

  • Create a shrine or soothing environment in your home

  • Contemplate the positive things in your life

  • Find the silver lining in your cloud.

  • Think about what would happen if you kept to that path

Pratipaksha Bhavanam is to keep us from doing things that will cause long term damage and take us off our spiritual path. It is a short term solution. The final result of Yoga is to be like glass or a crystal. Crystals and glass can appear to take on the images or colors of things around them but chemically they remain unaltered.

For example, a Yogi who has made herself like a crystal, does not have good or bad Yoga practices. Whatever happens, happens. It does not effect their emotions around their practice. If they can’t bind in Marichyasana today, they are not upset by it.  They may seek solutions, do research and try to figure it out but the event does not color them.

On the flip side,  for many, if they cannot do a pose that they were able to do previously, they get angry, frustrated, and sad. They start to question themselves and their ability to do the practice. They label the practice as bad or difficult. This is where a practice like pratipaksha bhavanam is helpful. When the frustration arises around not binding and the thought, “I am a failure”  comes up, it can be replaced with “I have worked really hard. I have come a long way. ”

The act of contemplating what may happen to you if you continue down a path is also pratipaksha bhavanam.  When I hurt my hamstring, and I was tempted to try a pose I knew I had no business doing, I would think about Ashtanga teacher Kino MacGregor’s  message on hamstring attachment injuries. At a workshop, Kino said, that if we have a hamstring attachment injury, every time we feel pain in the attachment to add 6 more weeks to our healing. I know people who have had hamstring injures, seriously, for like 5 years. I was not going to be one of those people. I am happy to report that I am not.


Why It Is Important

Most people come to Yoga to make their lives better not worse. Patanjali warns us that, if we don’t do something to find our chill, our ignorance will result in more pain. Using the Yoga example from above, if you stay angry or frustrated about not binding in a pose, you may push too hard to get the bind and cause an injury.  You may start to hate your practice or quit practicing all together. You may take the frustration out on your loved ones or let it hurt your work performance. A thought can take you further away from being that “unmessable with” crystal Yogi and closer to just being a hot mess Yogi.

Have you ever seen “Fear of 13”? It is a documentary about this guy who spent 23 years on death row due to one stupid decision he made when he was afraid. Its a great story but don’t be that guy.


Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail [email protected]