Practise What You Want to Strengthen
“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” --Napoleon Hill
"Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast." ~ William Shakespeare
As I've grown older, I've become more and more interested in how we evolve and change, even as we age. Scads of research studies show that our brains are "plastic" and so we evolve, learn and grow to the end of our days. It's the opposite of the old idea that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." And it means there's hope for warding off the slings and arrows that plague us as we meander, stride or charge through the days of our lives.
Perhaps you struggle with persistent pain, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure or some other ailment.
Take pain, for example. With persistent pain, your brain and nervous system become superbly brilliant at producing pain. Neurons that send danger signals to the brain increase in number and intensity, more areas of the brain light up to produce pain, and pain starts to appear where there's never been injury to the body. "Neurons that fire together, wire together," and this wiring increases the strength of your brain's connection to producing pain. Pain is your brain's attempt to protect you, and unfortunately with persistent pain where an acute injury has healed, there's no need for it. Your brain has created a pattern that is held deeply within your tissues, thoughts, emotions and nervous system. Movement may feel dangerous, even if it's not.
So what do you need? What do you need to change direction and move toward a life with less pain, or less anxiety, or less depression? And more joy?
The ancient yogic practice of "Pratipaksha Bhavana" as outlined in the Yoga Sutras, offers a clue. Pratipaksha Bhavana means "visiting the opposite," and it's a practice designed to bring awareness to a different state of being. It's not so much "positive thinking," as it is a tool for reassessing and expanding awareness. If negative thoughts are plaguing you, you can explore the opposite. Challenge the negative thoughts by bringing to mind some positive ones. How do the negative thoughts make you feel? How do you feel after exploring the positive ones? Examining both sides can help us to find the middle path, with more equanimity and ease.
Since the nervous system has become hypervigilant with persistent pain, practising the opposite is helpful for this ailment too. Practices for chronic pain include
What do you need to explore and practise to evolve and grow with more freedom and less pain?
1. First, contemplate what you need. What do you want to change?
2. Ask yourself: What do I want to learn? What do I want to unlearn? Want to take up running? Quit smoking? Practise yoga every day? Live each day more fully? What do you need to do to move forward on that path? Set goals.
3. Develop a growth mindset. Understand that you can change. Absorb this understanding however you can. Find a teacher if you need one.
4. Challenge yourself with baby steps. Don't try to eat a whole elephant in one bite. Whatever issue you're dealing with didn't happen overnight. It will take practice and perseverance to change it, or to develop a new healthy habit.
5. Find a buddy who will check in with you to help keep you on track. Even the most highly motivated people have down days. A buddy can support you when you're down (or feeling lazy) and help keep you motivated.
5. Practise the opposite (pratipaksha bhavana) of what you are practising right now.
It may not be as easy to learn and change and grow as it was when we were children, but the fact that it's possible means that there is hope.
May hope find you and cherish your growth.
Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.