The Guest Blog: Pratipaksha Bhavanam Bouquet By Chrissy Carter

I love it 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?

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 flower 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.

Pratipaksha bhavanam is such an ingenious little tool because positive action is unique to each individual, and indeed to each moment at hand. While I loved making this arrangement and was able to enjoy it for a few days, I felt equally supported by Ben and Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie, my dearest friends who held the space for me to just be, and the healthy amount of tequila I imbibed.

Did I practice any pranayama? If you count the long exhales I took to summon the energy to inhale, then yes. Did I practice any asana? No. Frankly that was the last thing I wanted to do, because I knew it would bring me uncomfortably close to my experience. And so I just drank margaritas and made floral arrangements and here I am today, out of the storm and better for it.

While pratipaksha bhavanam seems like a simple tool, it doesn’t always feel obvious or accessible in a place of suffering. I find it much easier to either wallow in my pain or beat myself up for not feeling better. Taking action means taking responsibility for oneself—for one’s well being. To take care of myself, especially when the tide is against me, is an act of love and the greatest thing my yoga practice has ever taught me.

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.

To read more of Chrissy Carter’s work, click here. To see her facebook page, click here and to follow her on Twitter, use this handle @yogachrissy

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3 comments

  1. This was just what I needed to read tonight. Wise. Simple. Resonant. Thank you!

  2. Hi Chrissy–

    Thanks for bringing this critical concept back into the conversation.

    It brings up a question for me. Flower-arranging is innocuous; in NYC, it may be the closest direct contact we can get to making art with nature. It is also fundamentally uplifting and requiring a delicate, light focus. Its ultimate pointlessness, outside aesthetics, is part of its huge gift in a time of crisis.

    Martinis, tequila and co., however, seem like a different kind of diversion altogether– not entirely innocuous. I definitely drink wine, and have reached for it at as a balm, so this is absolutely not a critique from afar. But it is so well known that alcohol is damaging to the body and spirit, and is in the end a (stealthily) destructive strategy, even if one is a far cry from alcoholism or dependency.

    So how do we include the various things you named in your article under one single umbrella? Should we make a distinction between those things that do no harm (internally) and those that can? I am not saying this in reference to any external morality systems, only the basic facts of the matter, and the state we leave ourselves and each other in in the end.

    I would love to know more about what you or others think about this. I really appreciate your words to the community here!

    With heart,
    SARA

  3. Dear Sara,

    Thank you so much for asking this question, and for offering it with so much heart.

    I’m not sure I have the “right” answer. I think it’s the motivation behind an action that moves us either forward or backwards. And sometimes I think we have to go backwards before we can go forward. In the midst of the tragedy I experienced, the steps I took to heal came from a raw place – I could only manage what I could manage. And while actions like meditation, yoga, and self-care were vital to my heart’s healing, there was no way I could’ve accessed them in those first few moments. I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was paralyzed and heartbroken and the margaritas were the impetus for me to just leave my house. For me, margaritas and Ben&Jerry’s softened me enough to be able to look at my experience, and from there (and with much support from family and friends), I took another step – another action that moved me towards a place of healing. Some steps were clearly more productive than others, but I believe it’s all relative: margaritas, as a path in and of themselves, weren’t going to get me anywhere, but their initial affect on me was a good first attempt at trying to move forward. And that’s how it went, one step followed by another, each with the motivation to get me through the storm.

    I’m on vacation in France right now and we’ve been driving through Provence without any real agenda other than to enjoy ourselves. There’s no concrete path, and we’re getting lost, making lefts when we should’ve made rights. On a journey with no set destination and with the sole purpose of trying to enjoy ourselves, perhaps we’re not actually lost at all. For me, this is the same spirit as pratipaksha bhavanam. The only goal is to replace a negative with a positive. Sometimes, in the maze of Life, when you’ve found yourself at a dead end, you have to put the car in reverse before you can turn around. You have to make a left before you can make a right. If the motivation behind each action is to do the best you can do with what you have in any given moment, then I don’t think there’s a wrong action . . . I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer because everyone’s path is different. We have to trust that we’re taking the right action at the right time for us.

    Thanks again for bringing up such a good point and for sharing it with compassion.

    My very best,
    Chrissy

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