Updated: Nov 24, 2017
Baptized at birth in the waters of busyness, our lives as human beings are an unending cycle of hurrying, rushing, doing, consuming and producing rather than simply being.
Giving ourselves almost no time to rest and regroup from life on the go, we receive stress and sickness in exchange for all the energy we exert to achieve society's standards of success.
Too often, self care – conscious actions to sustain physical, mental and emotional health – is seen as a luxury that only the most privileged can afford. In a capitalist world where time is money, any moment spent partaking in acts of self-preservation is deemed a poor investment on which we’re likely to see no return.
Only when our energy is completely exhausted and a physical, mental or spiritual crisis sets in do we slow down or take pause.
While there are countless activities we can engage in to care for ourselves, resting remains one of the core elements of any self-care practice. Periods of rest are the natural order of the world we live in. Wildlife hibernates during winter. Farm fields lay fallow after fall’s final harvest. The sun sets each day. And yet, consciously creating opportunities to relax, reconnect and re-center is still seen as going against the societal grain.
Relationships, finances, professional projects, personal responsibilities — our everyday obligations are like a sequence of vigorous yoga poses practiced back to back with no breaks in between. Even when we're struggling to maintain our composure, instead of taking pause, we push on, hoping no one notices we're having a hard time staying balanced and grounded, that the steadiness and ease (sthirasukha) with which we hope to navigate life is nowhere to be found.
We begin and end each day tired and tapped out. Lacking life force energy (prana), we are powerless and vulnerable, more easily controlled by systems and messages that tell us that the more we give and do, the more we'll have and the better we'll feel.
The yogic principle of pratikriyasana — counterposes — revels in the radical notion that we must wield the weapons of rest and relaxation to help us win our battle for moksha (liberation).
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — audre lorde
Pratikriyasana is the praxis of self-care, the practical application of the idea that conscious and intentional engagement in regular rituals of renewal and restoration is revolutionary. And at the core of revolutionary thought and action is the concept of countering, fighting against social norms that center and celebrate the excessive labor that is costing us our health and our lives.
In yoga, a counterpose is an asana practiced immediately following a main posture that is simpler than, and neutralizes any negative effects of, the main pose. Postures like Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Garbasana (Child's Pose) and Savasana (Corpse Pose) are all examples of poses that can calm, cool and ground the mind/body after a more challenging asana. Incorporating these resting phases into our vinyasa krama encourages us to reflect on our experience of the main posture and readies us for the next event in our sequence.
The meaning of the term asana itself emphasizes the true purpose of yogic exercises. More accurately and poetically translated as "the seat of the soul", an asana is a means for helping us relieve tension and stress and remove energetic blockages to bring us to a place of repose where our bodies, minds and spirits can be revitalized and our energy reserves replenished.
Counterposes evoke a state of inner stillness and restfulness in which we can realize the power, peace, purpose and divinity within. Caring for ourselves also means resting spiritually, surrendering to Divine will (ishvara pranidhana, one of the five niyamas, or spiritual observances) and having faith that the Divine has, can and will take care of us.
Be still, and know that I am God. — psalm 46:10
With postures, pranayama (conscious breathing), meditation, mantra, mudra and bhakti (devotional worship of the Divine), we connect and unite with the Creator, learning a most important life lesson: to trust that the Divine is constantly transforming our minds, bodies and souls to bring us ever closer to personal and collective liberation.
Our yoga sadhana is rebellious by nature: in a world that overvalues constant activity, practicing being rather than doing is pushing back, countering the narrative that our worth is attached to our work.
A counterpose is a means of self preservation, a method for restoring our energy, a means for saving our spiritual currency to be spent in another moment, a mechanism for holding energy back in the present moment in order to have more prana to enrich a future experience.
When we prioritize contemplative practices and healing arts, we counter and oppose the notion that we must earn the right to rest. When we welcome the principle of pratikriyasana into our lives, we are reminded that bliss is our birthright, and freedom our inheritance.