Shifting Your Perspective (Incessantly Talking Woman)
By Geoffrey Nimmer, January, 2009
A few years back, I went into Manhattan to take a few Yoga classes. In one of the classes the teacher presented the Yoga Sutra 2-33, “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavana.”
In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda translates this Sutra, “… when disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.” Continuing, he offers, “Patanjali gives us a very nice clue on how to control the mind and obstruct those thoughts we don’t want. The best way he says is to invite opposite thoughts. If the thought of hatred is in the mind, we can try to bring the thought of love. So, although the hatred comes to the surface, we can keep it from coming out or staying long by changing the environment.”
During that class it started to snow. Big, fluffy light snow, falling steadily. I didn’t think much of it, other than how beautiful and soft it made everything. I continued thinking it was beautiful while I waited for the Jitney. The snow was really accumulating though, and was beginning to wreak havoc with Manhattan traffic. The bus was an hour late and–by the time I got on–totally full. I was tempted to curse the snow, but instead, I practiced the Sutra and kept thinking it was beautiful and fun.
That beautiful snow turned the 2 hour bus ride into a 6 hour ordeal. (No exaggeration.) I was seated across the aisle from a woman who started talking to her seatmate the moment she sat down and continued talking for 6 hours. (Again, no exaggeration.)
She was obviously nervous and it seemed to me that perhaps she was trying to take her mind off the driving conditions. I was amazed that– that very morning– I was taught something that would be perfect to practice. And practice, and practice, and practice. And practice.
At one point, I realized I had named her “Incessantly Talking Woman,” and I admit that I was having all kinds of negative thoughts about her. “Please shut up” was one of the kinder ones. “Close your word hole,” was not part of the lexicon at the time, but had it been, well,…, you get the picture. Instead, I kept trying to think positive thoughts about her.
I can’t say it was easy, but something about the technique was definitely beginning to take hold. When I found myself squirming in my seat at the sound of her voice, I ‘d try to sympathize with how nervous she must have been, and how talking might be her way of dealing with the unpleasant situation.
I practiced shifting my perspective. And practiced, and practiced, and practiced. And practiced… like so much of Yoga, it may not come naturally, but we need only to practice.
The concept of practicing can apply to the physical as well as the emotional or spiritual. For instance, we practice warrior poses to become physically stronger. But we are also practicing being strong enough to take a stance. From that strength comes the ability to recognize other points of view. When we are strong and secure, we are able to shift our perspective, and at least entertain another viewpoint.
A great way to shift your perspective physically is to practice inversions: stand on your hands, or your head, balance on your shoulders. Even adho mukha svanasana, (Downward facing dog) can give you a different view of the world.
Inversions offer many physical benefits as well as teaching us to look at things in a different way. They help with digestion and circulation, including strengthening of the lungs and the heart. They stimulate the pituitary, pineal and thyroid glands, all of which are important in maintaining health and vitality.
Remember that going upside down might not come naturally. So practice, practice and practice. And practice. In our goal-oriented society, even the idea of practicing can be/require a shift in perspective. Define your intention, but at the same time let go of the outcome and just practice.
I told the story of my bus ride to one of my classes and commented on how amazed I was that my Yoga teacher had given me such a useful idea to practice. After class, one of my students pointed out to me that the real teacher that day had been “Incessantly Talking Woman.” Indeed, she had been. And then, again, so was this student. Yet another perspective, another beautiful day of practice.