Ahimsa and the Technique of Pratipaksha Bhavanam


The Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali’s, written over 2000 years ago, is widely considered the first and foremost definition of yoga.  It consists of 4 books – Contemplation, Practice, Accomplishments, and Absoluteness, which have been an invaluable guide or Bible (scriptures) in many areas, to Yogi’s from all cultures, in many different situations while pursuing their own path of study and practice in Yoga. For the purpose of this essay the focus is on Book 2 or Sahara Padas – Portion on Practice. In Book II; Sutra’s 28-34, Patanjali’s gives practical ideas on Yoga its theory and practice and divides it into eight stages, or limbs, each of which is necessary for the attainment of a happy and peaceful life. These are the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga yoga, each of which is equal to and necessary for the success of the other.

According to the first two limbs of the Eight Limbs, Yama and Niyama focuses on behavior toward ourselves and others. How do we behave toward others and the world around us? And what is our attitude about ourselves?  In yoga, the Yama’s are our attitudes toward people or things outside of ourselves, universal principles; and the attitude we adopt toward ourselves, personal observances are called niyama’s.  These words have many meanings.  Yama can mean restraints and/or disciplines in attitude or behavior patterns and the relationships an individual has with the outside world. 

There are five Yama’s the first of which is Ahimsa.  Ahimsa is not causing pain, not just in a physical way but even by words and thoughts, you can cause pain. It is more than just a lack of violence.  It means kindness, being friendly, thoughtful, considerate and compassionate of other people, animals and things around you as well as yourself in every situation.  In regards to teaching Ahimsa in a yoga practice, to cultivate both feelings of compassion toward yourself and others (which develop the intention of Ahimsa), and skillful action (which enables us to act is less harmful ways). It is being mindful of the students in your class, their injuries or stress levels and how you can work with them to restore their mind, body and spirit to a state of balance, self care, and compassion towards themselves and others around them.

When we practice yoga, we do it in a non-violent way. Restorative practices and mindful, heart opening meditations, can encourage students to care for themselves and their bodies.  This helps them to forget the rush, stress and aggression in the outside world, and bring them back to their true nature.  The results of the restorative practices, student’s feelings of Ahimsa, kindness, friendliness and peace can then be taken back into the world and to others in their surroundings.  Active flow and alignment classes exert stamina in the alignment and flow of the class, and help many to access a deeper place within them from which they can then reflect during meditation or savasana.  Here students are able to let go and be in the present, relaxed for a period of time to open the body to the results and good feelings that occur at this time from the physical practice.  Again, students walk away with a better attitude and openness toward others around them. 

When our mind just cannot let go of the worries of the day, in business, family or life in general and we are disturbed by negative thoughts, the technique of Pratipaksha Bhavanam in Sutra’s 2.33 and 2.34, states opposite or positive ones should be thought of.  This control helps to obstruct those thoughts we do not want. If a thought of hatred comes up about something, or someone, or in relation to a responsibility you need to take care of, consciously you bring up a thought of love, or at the very least removing yourself from the environment.  Create a safe space or positive atmosphere by reading something inspiring, or being with people we love or are special to us.

Another way to control negative thoughts and their outcome is to think of the consequences if you react to a situation negatively.  What will be the after effects?  Reconsider what will happen to yourself or the people you are having the negative thoughts about. Try to see the situation from another perspective. We can bring pain or misery to someone by our conduct and actions either directly or indirectly, even by approving of a third party exerting our anger on another by bad mouthing or spreading hurtful gossip.  The practice of Pratipaksha Bhavanam is seeing negative situations in the opposite way, this being positive and will cultivate a balanced mind. Take another view and reframe your perspective on the situation.  It can only make life easier and the path to a positive yogic lifestyle attainable.

Paula J – Newton, MA