Cultivating the opposite view

Vitarkabadhane Pratipaksabhavanam
In the face of negativity, one should cultivate the opposite view.

Vitarka- unwholesome deliberations, doubt or uncertainty
badhane- suffering, negativity
pratipaska- the opposite side, a different view
bhavanam- manifesting, creating, becoming

(Feuerstein pg. 82)

This sutra is taken from Patanjali's Sadhana Pada, the second chapter in the Yoga Sutras.  Written some 2500 years ago, the Yoga Sutras are 196 aphorisms encompassing all aspects of life, from guidelines for the way we interact with the world, the yamas, to union with the source of consciousness and freedom from the fluctuation of the mind, or samadhi. Sadhana connotes a means of realization (Feuerstein pg. 247) and in this chapter Patanjali describes the nature of practice, or abhyasa.

When we are in a negative pattern our view becomes narrow and one sided. When in a conflict with another person, we sometimes become so focused on our version of the issue that we lose the ability to see the other person's point of view. Or, if we feel a sense of sadness or anger we become immersed in the emotion which consumes our energy. We can't simply override the pattern and decide to feel good or happy, we have to create space around it and actually look into the source of our negativity.

The yoga practice offers insight into how to create a sense of spaciousness around a stuck pattern and establish a new pattern by expanding our viewpoint. The goal of asana, or the practice of yoga postures, could be described as the process of becoming physically unstuck; essentially more flexible and able to move with ease through physical balance . For example, in Virabhadrasana 1 you bend your front knee which brings your weight forward to your front leg. You counter this movement by grounding your back foot and activating your back leg, so the weight becomes more evenly distributed between both legs. You might become aware of incongruities in your body due to your activities or the way you habitually hold your structure. One leg might be stronger or more flexible than the other, or one hip more mobile. By working to balance the work of your legs you minimize the incongruence and space is found in your hips and length in your calves. There is the sense of moving back even as you go forward.

Shunryu Suzuki wrote: "Our way is not always to go in one direction. Sometimes we go east; sometimes we go west. To go one mile to the west means to go back one mile to the east." (Suzuki pg. 112).  This process creates a sense of balance or moving in two or more directions. Our attention broadens and we become aware of the range of possibilities for expansion within a simple asana. This balancing also creates a sense of stability; externally, by the balance of front and back leg and internally, the balancing of energies vitalizes the organs and systems of the body and creates a sense of ease or calmness of mind.

Pranayama or breathing practice is possibly the easiest way to experience a change in pattern or pratipaksa, because the breath is so malleable and intimately tied to our emotional state.  Pranayama means to control or effect the flow of breath so we first become aware of our natural breathing; the emphasis on inhale or exhale. We might observe that our breath is shallow or shaky, which could be linked to our mental/emotional state. After the initial observation of our natural tendencies, we consciously change the pattern in various ways to balance the movements of inhale and exhale, effecting our nervous system and overall being.

In Iyengar's translation of the Yoga Sutras (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) he writes at length about pratipaksa bhavanam:

"The internal measuring and balancing process which we call paksa pratipaksa is in some respects the key to why yoga practice actually works, why it has mechanical power to revolutionize our whole being. It is why asana is not gymnastics, why pranayama is not deep breathing, why dhyana is not self-induced trance, why yama is not just morality. In asana for example, the pose first brings inner balance and harmony, but in the end it is merely the outer expression of the inner harmony... when man becomes unbalanced, he seeks to change not himself but his environment, in order to create the illusion that he is enjoying health and harmony. The student of yoga learns to balance himself internally at every level by observation of paksa and pratipaska... Because he is stable, he can adapt to outside changes. The flexibility we gain in asana is the living symbol of the suppleness we gain in relation to life's problems and challenges." (Iyengar pg. 139)

The word Yoga means to yoke, or bring together. It is often translated as union. Through the yogic practices we can realize or experience non-duality or a state of unity- our connectedness to all things. When our viewpoint is narrow, or we become stuck in our ways, we feel divided or cut off from a deeper place in ourselves and from connection with others. Study of the Yoga Sutras combined with asana, pranayama and seated meditation practice can change this narrowing pattern and expand our awareness with the reminder that there are many waysto see every situation.