Yoga To Counteract Negative Self-Talk: The Practice of Pratipaksa-bhavana

Today in the West, we mostly think of yoga as an exercise system that moves us through positions we put our bodies in to create more flexibility. Often people tell me they can’t “do yoga” because they are not flexible. I am so excited to have begun blogging for Cardinal Point to dispel these false beliefs one article at a time! Yoga is a system of living. It is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional and has eight parts or limbs spelled out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali book to assist us in living healthier. My plan for blogging is to dissect the Sutras one at a time to deepen your knowledge and understanding of what yoga is and how it can make your life healthier! The topic of this first blog is, in my opinion, one of the biggest gifts yoga can give us. The idea that we are not a slave to our thoughts. We can identify and master our thinking patterns to assist us in our journey to health. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, please read on! If you have questions or are intrigued upon completion of this article, please reach out to me! I’d love to talk more. Namaste’

Sutra II.34 states the following: Negative thoughts are violence, etc. They may be personally performed, performed on one’s behalf by another, or authorized by oneself; they may be triggered by greed, anger, or delusion; and they may be slight, moderate, or extreme in intensity. One should cultivate counteracting thoughts, namely, that the end results of negative thoughts are ongoing suffering and ignorance.

 This happens to be one of the longest sutras in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras book. Even 5000 years ago, the scientists who were studying the human body through physical, psychological and energetic exercises could tell what an adverse affect negative self-talk or negative language from another had on us! Yet, we all do it, everyday and most of us aren’t really aware that it happens. When we are aware, many of us feel it’s fine. It feels so natural. But why? Why would beating yourself up verbally by ok, or natural? Why would giving someone else in your life permission to talk down to you be ok?

I use this sutra with a lot of my students. Many of the reasons people end up working with a one-on-one yoga teacher are linked partly to negative self-talk. Cultivating counteracting thoughts is challenging for a lot of my students because they first have to become aware of the level of negative thoughts they are exposing themselves to. Another road-block to cultivating counteracting thoughts is that it feels very unnatural for a number of people. They are very uncomfortable speaking to themselves in a kind, loving tone. It’s interesting to me since the majority of times, all of the corrective behavior and correlating positive talk are done in one’s own mind. Very seldom do I ask someone to speak their mantra out loud. Even when they say it to themselves and not another breathing soul hears the positive affirmations it’s still hard! It’s unfortunate!


I have identified and put into practice a few steps to help some of my students get over their negative self-talk habit. The following is our process.

  1. Identify the negative self-talk. When you are going about your day, pay more attention to yourself. Pay attention to your routines, your thought processes. Notice what happens when the day goes “off it’s hinges”. Be present as much as possible to how you speak to yourself in many different life situations. Feel your body! What happens in your physical body when you are talking down to yourself?
  2. Identify patterns of negative self-talk. So, after you have observed yourself for a few days, what do you learn. What can you pick out? Do you see patterns in the way you treat yourself? Are you harsh as you get ready in the morning? Do you pick yourself apart and report to your own brain the things you don’t like about your body, your face, your hair, etc? Are you harsh when you are alone in your car? Or when you lie in bed at night?
  3. Once you’ve identified some specific times you engage in negative self-talk, be as present as possible to that particular part of your day. Work to be fully observant and catch the negative pattern when it starts. Choosing only one time to fully work on your new pattern is important. In order to succeed, our goal is to use a small area, find success, and then use the skills you’ve begun to develop in other areas of your thought processes.
  4. Change your talk! Have one or two positive or neutral phrases ready in your arsenal to replace what was being said. It will most likely feel weird, foreign or fake. Who cares! Do it anyway. The repetitive nature of the counteracting thoughts will eventually feel as natural and normal as the original, FICTIONAL negative thoughts.
  5. Practice positive affirmations associated with your identified area in your practice as well as in your day. Adding mantra into your daily practice is an incredibly effective way to work it into your everyday life. The repetition of repeating your loving self-talk in a safe place (your practice) every day allows it to sink in to your whole being. Every cell begins to absorb, believe and benefit from loving, affirmative talk. I’ve seen it first hand and it is a beautiful transformation to witness!



As you get more and more used to treating yourself with love and respect, it will get more natural and you will feel the cumulative affect in your body, mind and spirit! And remember that you don’t have to take this journey alone. Finding people you trust and letting them help you is a lovely practice as well. 


Want to Learn More?  I’m having a public class for those of you wanting to use Yoga to counteract negative thought patterns and to cultivate self-love.  Class begins December 1 at Cardinal Point.  CLICK HERE for details.