II.33 वितर्कबाधने प्रतिपक्षभावनम्

vitarka-bādhane pratipakṣa-bhāvanam
“On [experiencing] the harassment of thoughts, embody the opposite.”

Having introduced the yamas (ethical observances) and niyamas (inner disciplines), Patañjali addresses failure: specifically, failure to follow the great vow that the yamas and niyamas represent. These are the times of oppressing or opposing thoughts (vitarka-bādhane), of counter, destructive behavior. Vitarka is “thought”; bādhane is an abstract noun derived from bādh, “to oppress, oppose, disturb.” The phrase is set in the locative case (which refers to location) and thus means something like, “when finding oneself in the place of harassment of thoughts.”

The observances and disciplines are more than ideas to be debated–they must be lived. It is in the living that they reveal themselves. In this living, then, one may know oneself to have acted violently or aggressively (for example)–to oneself or to others. What next? Pratipakṣa-bhāvanam, says Patañjali. Pratipakṣa means the other side (prati-, “opposite,” + pakṣa, “side”). Bhāvanam, a beautiful and important word in the Yoga Sūtras (see I.28), derives from the verb bhū, “to be,” and could be variously translated as “becoming, realizing, feeling, embodying.” It is more than intellectual conceptualization. Bhāvanam is the living of the idea.

So, in a most common-sense way, Patañjali tells us to think the opposite of the unwanted thought, to do the opposite of the unwanted behavior. Be non-violent. Act kindly. One cannot argue with this. There is a folksy wisdom to it: Fake it till you make it.

It is even possible that we underestimate the efficacy of “taking the opposite action.” Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has studied how the shapes we take in our body affect the chemistry of our brains. “We know that our minds change our bodies. Is it also true that our bodies change our minds?” she asks in her 2012 very-worth-watching Ted talk. Cuddy and her partner Dana Carney set up an experiment in which participants either adopted a “power pose”–such as legs wide, arms uplifted–or a smaller, deferential shape–chest dropped, perhaps legs crossed. The scientists took saliva samples before and after participants assumed these shapes, and they tested for and compared levels of testosterone (the dominance hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone). They found that after assuming the big, spreading poses, participants had raised testosterone levels and lowered cortisol. The opposite was true of the participants who had assumed smaller, narrower poses.

Cuddy’s research acknowledges what many of us experience in yoga āsana practice: a lessening of anxiety, a boost in confidence. Creating space in the body helps us find space in our head. It shifts our perspective and regulates our mood in manifold ways. B.K.S. Iyengar was known to say, “If you lift your armpit-chest, you cannot be depressed.” A bold claim–one that I have found it to be an effective guide in working with my own body-mind-spirit. I will often turn to a backbending practice if my mood has sunk low. Does it entirely remove my depression? Perhaps not. But it shifts the mood. Lets some light in.

Traditionally, commentators have emphasized this “do the opposite” or “contemplate the opposite” aspect of pratipakṣa-bhāvanam. Some modern commentators–like B.K.S. Iyengar, Bernard Bouanchaud, and Rohit Mehta, have pointed to an additional meaning. It is important, they say, to bring awareness to the negative states one is experiencing: “Work back to their source,” recommends Bouanchaud. “Explore the nature of the distraction,” suggests Rohit Mehta.

B.K.S. Iyengar, likewise, says to examine both sides, a process he calls pakṣa pratipakṣa. Just as in āsana  practice, we might contemplate the actions on the right side of the body and compare to the left side, developing sensitivity to these differences, so observing our behaviors, emotions, thought patterns, we develop discernment. We bring presence to our psyche. If I have become violent or angry, what is the root of that? What must I trace or discover–what must I uncover–to recover my calm and kindliness?

When I can bring compassionate attention to my own “other-sidedness,” to the painful and conflicting feelings of doubt, fear, disappointment–not to seek to alter them, but to name them, know them, hear them–that presence, that love, works its own power. This bhāvana–loving kindness and discriminating discernment–can bring remarkable change.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
— 1 Corinthians, 13:12-13


“Each āsana acts and reacts in its own way, cultivating health on a physical level, helping the organic systems (such as the lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, intestines and cells) to function rhythmically at a physiological level, which effects changes in the senses, mind and intellect at a mental level. While practising the āsana, the sādhaka must carefully and minutely observe and adjust the position of the muscles, muscle fibres and cells, measuring lightness or heaviness, pakṣa or pratipakṣa, as required for the performance of a healthy and well balanced āsana. … The internal measuring and balancing process which we call pakṣa pratipakṣa is in some respects the key to why yoga practice actually works, why it has mechanical power to revolutionize our whole being. It is why āsana is not gymnastics, why prāṇāyāma is not deep breathing, why dhyāna is not self-induced trance.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.33

“This method does not lead us to suppress contradictory impulses, but to work back to their source, so we can understand them better, analyze them, foresee their negative effects, and start again on a healthier basis.” —Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.33

“Patañjali does not say that when the mind is distracted it should be forcibly brought back to the point from where it was distracted. He says that one must inquire into the nature of the opposite. Here he suggests that one must explore the nature of the distraction. The term used is pratipakṣa-bhāvanam. One of the meanings of the Sanskrit word bhāvanam is observation or investigation.” —Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on II.33

•How do you cultivate the qualities of yama and niyama in your life? How do you relate to yourself when you are having counter thoughts and feelings, when you are feeling chaotic?
•Does body sensitivity developed in āsana and prāṇāyāma practice affect your awareness of your emotions and your mind?
•What does it mean to you to “work back to the source” of your behaviors and motivation? Is this useful?


masculine noun in compound

belief, thought (from vi-, “distinct,” + tark, “to think”)


neuter noun, 7th case singular, “on”

harassment, opposition (from bādh, “to oppress, harass, disturb”)


masculine noun in compound

opposite side (from prati-, “in opposition to” + pakṣa, “side, flank, wing”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

feeling, realizing, cultivating, becoming, embodying (from bhū, “to be”)

4 thoughts on “II.33 वितर्कबाधने प्रतिपक्षभावनम्

  1. Hello Julia I really enjoy your posts and thought that this one was especially inspirational. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and hard work in posting these invaluable insights into the Sutras. Warm Regards, Sylvia

    Sent from my iPad


  2. This was wonderful! I enjoyed the Ted talk that you linked as well. Thank you for this writing. I am so grateful to be a part of this. I miss you at sutra study at the institute in NY. Hope you are doing well.

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