I love when yoga philosophy makes a real difference in daily life. As yogis, we all have moments of transformation in the studio when an instruction will magically open the door to a deeper understanding of our bodies. As students of yoga, we learn about concepts like openness, practice, and surrender, but then all too often we go home and slip back into the kinds of ineffective patterns we’ve committed to move beyond. I mean, mastering headstand is great, but if I then turn around and go through my life with my head up my ass, what’s the point?
20 Apr 2013
Pratipaksha Bhavanam Bouquet
This has been the focus of my practice over the past few years—walking the talk, in my own way—and I measure my own personal growth in those moments when I’m able to actually apply the principles of yoga to create positive change. I’m practicing yoga in order to better practice my yoga, if that makes sense. When I focus on actions that help me to see myself clearly, with compassion and patience, I feel like I get that much closer to an authentic connection with the real me.
So you know, this was originally going to be a simple post about a floral arrangement, but the act of making said arrangement meant so much more to me than just the creation of a pretty bouquet; it was about taking positive action in a place of suffering. A couple of weeks ago, the twists and turns of life brought me to a place of great sadness. I was knocked down and left breathless. The intensity offered me no relief, and it became clear very early on that this would be the kind of show where I couldn’t just get up and leave the theatre. It’s only now, on the other side of the intensity, that I can identify all of the little steps I took to endure the suffering. One such example is this flower arrangement. I trekked into the city on my day off so I could go to the one place where I felt I might be able to cheer up: the floral market in Chelsea. I walked up and down 28th Street taking in the first blooms of spring. I spent a fortune on flowers knowing full well that they would only last a week, because I wanted to create something that would make me smile. For me, this is pratipaksha bhavanam—replacing negativity with a positive action—and it was a great example of using yoga to practice my yoga in a challenging place. I honestly didn’t care what the finished product would look like, I just knew how I wanted to feel when I was done.
My friend Anna told me a story once told by Patricia Walden about a difficult time she went through and how her teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar, helped her to take positive action. She told him that she found it difficult to get up out of her chair. He responded by encouraging her to try and move to a different chair. I love this story because it shows how even the simplest action can change our perspective. Sometimes all we need is to see ourselves, our suffering, and our impossible obstacles from a different angle. The more we can see and understand, the less permanent our pain feels. All of my attempts at taking positive action helped me to see my challenge as less of an obstacle to my life’s story and more as an important part of my life’s story. I read somewhere recently that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us. And unlike yoga class, where you can just get up and go the bathroom if the pose gets too intense, much of the intensity dished out by life is inescapable. You’re literally forced to bear it, and this is where pratipaksha bhavanam becomes a practical tool, encouraging us to be kind to ourselves when the only way out is through.
So whether your idea of pratipaksha bhavanam is a ridiculous feat of domestic art, or a dirty martini, or a headstand, all that matters is that it elevates and softens you when you might otherwise be tempted to sink and harden. You will know what the right action is for you. I think it’s important to trust that, at the very least, our yoga practice has given us the tools to better know ourselves and the wisdom to trust the Self we’ve come to know. For me, this little spring arrangement was the perfect reminder that taking positive action is life’s best medicine.
What a beautiful way to illustrate pratipaksha bhavanam! This term has been a useful tool ever since I learned of it in a year ago, but I had only considered it as a mantra and not a physical or tangible experience such as you’ve done with the bouquet. It has given me new ideas for how I can utilize pratipaksha as action and creation, not just thought.
Chrissy ~ Thank you for writing this and sharing something in such a very personal way. It really, really spoke to me – and I needed the reminder of how to turn something that I am struggling with in towards positive action and that action can take many different forms. I can go outside with our pups and look at the spring light or I can brush our donkeys and notice how happy that makes them, or I can put colored candles on the table to remind me of all the brightness that is within no matter what darkness may be lurking. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
thank you so much for sharing this. somehow flowers, especially the tedious, lovely, thought provoking and meticulous procedure of following all the steps to create a gorgeous bouquet helps to cultivate a proud smile of hope. starting from what colors and shapes your eye is drawn to at the market, the height of which you choose to cut the stems, the feeling of your hand on the shears as you make your first trim, the smell of the petals, the choice of the vase you will house the arrangement and the location in the home you will enjoy them from- each helps to reiterate why we are good enough and worth enough to change gears and make that frown a smile. it is with each step we can grow the seed of change from what was once negative to a positive bloom of hope. flowers are a double positive- because you get to enjoy the smile they bring to others as well. i will make this my choice more often. thanks always chrissy.
Chrissy, sometimes I really feel that you are giving voice and meaning to the same things I find myself blundering through. After a terrible week last week, without even thinking about why I was doing it, I filled my house with flowers. And the light shone in. LOVE YOU!!!
Beautiful post and clearly defines why we practice yoga. Hope everything’s ok with you. Much love
All is ok. Thanks so much for the love.
This post has little to do with this article, or maybe everything to do with it.
Sometimes in the online world you just seem to gravitate to a person, that’s the way it was for me to Chrissy. After re-reading an old July 2012 (the heart of a yoga teacher) post I better understand why.
Here I am in my 50s heading to YTT mainly to provide that kind of heart Chrissy always shows. I am passionate about yoga and was asked by a young man who is our Parks & Rec Director if I would start up a yoga program in my home town. This is major because there hasn’t been any yoga here (with a small significant exception mentioned later) forever. In fact until a year and a half ago there wasn’t any yoga for a 60 mile radius.
Now all of a sudden its become huge in a larger (70,000 pop) city about an hour from here. But the style is the P90x Hot Power yoga .. ½ breath in each pose and move on – style. High on the physical poor on letting the student ‘go inside’. So when I was asked to start a program immediately two things happened. I heard myself saying yes because I wanted to but also because if not me some fitness expert would introduce yoga as just another Zumba class. Secondly inside I said to myself ‘now I have to get training’.
I was lucky, when I was first introduced to yoga it was from a student fresh from the Grass Valley CA, ashram, she could only afford rent for a small room and therefore only taught one on one. I was so inflexible 5 years ago I don’t know if I would have came back to a second lesson if the only option were power flow. So twice a week we had the chance to explore the poses, theory, just everything – just like the lady in Chrissy’s article. Unfortunately she moved on but the seed had been planted.
When I start the program up in September I will be offering different classes, but I want one of them to be that soft easy explorative pace and if only one person shows up I’ll consider myself lucky!
You are such an inspiration and have taught me so much over the last two years. This particular lesson around replacing a negative thought with a positive action is one of me favorites. Love you!
Thank you Chrissy. I found myself wanting to read about you, so I found your website. I have your DVD and I love it. I love outdoor yoga DVD’s, I need to feel “like I am there”. At 53, life is hard right now – and this article was just what I needed. I know it will get better, God has a plan for me (job,apt.) – I miss my dogs, who can’t stay where I am due to the person’s allergies – but Church friends are coming through. I am getting ready to do your DVD. I hope you will make another one day – not only is the 20 minutes perfect, but you are a wonderful teacher, and I grab your DVD first 90% of the time. Thank you so much. Blessings, Tracy
Hi Tracy! Thank you so much for your comment. There are so many opportunities to practice yoga, but especially when Life is hard. I’m so thrilled you love the DVD. I just shot another one which is coming out next year. Sending you peace and love.
Wow, what a great and fresh passage on Sutra 2.33. I love what you wrote. So glad I found you, through Love By E. x
Thank you so much for your comment! It’s so nice to have you here.
Awww thank you. xx
Found you through some research on Pratipaksha Bhavana. I am in yoga teacher training and my assignment was to write an essay applying this principle in my life. I read many articles and I must say yours was the most insightful, relevant and meaningful so that I have a much better understanding of the principle. Thank you for that!
Thank you for your comment! I’m so touched! I’m so glad you found the piece helpful.
[…] of stilling my mind by actively entertaining a different kind of thought. This practice is called pratipaksha bhavanam, and it can be an invaluable tool in working towards equanimity of mind. As my friend Jenny puts […]