For exclusive access to all our stories, including sequences, teacher tips, video classes, and more, join Outside+ today.
In this five-part series, author Bhava Ram explores the insight the film American Sniper offers into the yoga of war, the mind of a veteran, and the practices crucial to finding the next mission.
Following the breath and cultivating single-pointed concentration are essential elements of yoga practice and help promote healing and empowerment. Modern science now affirms that through the ancient practice of Pratipaksha Bhavana, or the cultivation of positive emotions, from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we have the capacity to alter our inner chemistry.
The Benefits of Pratipaksha Bhavana
Allowing yourself to be governed by anger, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty creates an inner chemistry of fight-or-flight, with adrenaline and cortisol coursing through your veins. This diminishes your immune system, weakens your capacity to metabolize, and creates emotional stress. The cultivation of positive emotions such as acceptance, compassion, gratitude, loving-kindness, and forgiveness shifts your inner chemistry toward the rest-and-restore state. It creates a balancing and healing inner alchemy with epinephrine, oxytocin, anandamide, and other neurochemicals that promote healing and wholeness.
When working with veterans in class or private sessions, I seek to facilitate the transition from the fight-or-flight syndrome to the rest-and-restore state. Five practices make up the cornerstones of my teaching: The first is the Silent “I AM” Mantra. The second is Mindful Breathing tied to the mantra. The third is the addition of Mindful Motion. Here is the fourth:
- During practice, invite students to silently repeat “I Am” with the flow of the breath as noted in the first of these posts.
- As you begin to enter the more restorative supine poses toward the end of class, have students hug their knees and ask themselves what positive emotion would most serve them in life right now. The answer always arises quickly.
- Next have them use it as a silent mantra, repeating it to themselves. For example, “I am courage, peace, compassion,” etc.
With consistent practice, hyper-vigilance and stress begin to soften and healing takes hold.
Bhava Ram is founder of the Warriors for Healing Foundation, in partnership with Yoga Journal LIVE!, Give Back Yoga, and Connected Warriors. He is also author of the highly acclaimed memoir, Warrior Pose, How Yoga Literally Saved My Life, which is scheduled to be released as a feature film in 2016.