I consider myself a positive person. I love life and am incredibly grateful for the abundance in it. Yet, when I take a backseat through meditation or my yoga practice and really observe my thinking patterns, it is shocking to me how many are negative. Like most people (and Americans specifically, it seems), the majority of my negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs: I’m not good enough, not pretty enough, not successful enough, not rich enough, not tall enough, not thin enough, etc. Sound familiar? Unless you are on high doses of Prozac, these thoughts probably sound unfortunately common.
Negativity acts like a poison. It is multi-systemic, affecting our views of ourselves, our perception of the world around us, and in turn, the energy that we put into the world. The worst part being that most of the time, we are not aware that any of this is happening. The negativity doesn’t even have to stem from our own thinking. If you have ever had a negative friend or driven on the streets of Los Angeles, you know that bad energy is contagious and can spread like an infectious disease.
Yet unlike an actual disease of which we have no power, we can control our thoughts. Yoga is, in effect, mind control. The second yoga sutra defines yoga as the quieting of the movements of the mind. By stilling the mind, we can observe and ultimately change our thoughts. Just as we can slow the breath down in order to hone the physical movements in our asana practice, we slow the mind down in order to become aware of the mind’s patterns and eventually, shift them.
We begin by sitting quietly. Even a few minutes a day makes a huge impact. Once we get quiet, we are better able to notice tendencies and patterns in our thinking; we become aware. Awareness is extraordinarily powerful. It is half the battle. Once we are aware of something, we then have the power to change it. Negative thoughts will never fully disappear. Humans are analytic beings and our ego, which functions out of the primitive brain, helps us survive in the world. But with awareness we have a choice to either engage in the negative thinking or let it float by like a passing storm cloud.
Yoga is a gradual lifelong process. It is not like a light switch you can just flip on and ta-da, suddenly you’re Pollyanna. Consider this more like a dimmer switch, gradually illuminating the shadow self. Know that there will be days when the darkness seems to prevail and you are just “in it” and that is okay, too. Getting down on yourself for feeling low only perpetuates that energy. However, when possible and you catch that sweet space before your next thought, choose light.