Take, for example, the release of one of the
molecules of emotion: dopamine consolidates neuronal connections responsible for
the behaviors that lead us to accomplish
our goal. We experience a hit of feeling
good from dopamine because it is involved
in reward pathways. This is helpful when
we are trying to replace negative mental
tapes with positive ones. For example, if I
catch myself making a negative judgment
about someone I feel has wronged me, I
can replace that thought with a positive
statement. Every time I manage to do this,
I experience a shot of dopamine because I
have made good on my decision to stop allowing this belief about how that person
treated me to keep affecting me negatively.
In this case, the reward comes as a result of
my following through on my meta-inten-tion to change my mental tapes.
The practice of recognizing the thoughts
that cause suffering and feelings of alienation from others and replacing them with
thoughts or attitudes that engender feelings of harmony and connectedness is what
Patanjali calls pratipaksha bhavana—the
process of using discriminative awareness
to restore balance and reduce suffering.
It is this ability to form meta-intentions,
or big-picture decisions that impact our
behavior, that is distinctive about human
psychology and rationality. Such executive
mental functions take place in the cerebral
cortex, the part of the brain responsible for
long-term planning and goal setting.
Neurons fire in response to experiences
(thoughts, stimuli, et cetera) and the neu-
ronal connections between neurons in dif-
ferent parts of the brain grow stronger and
thicker each time the neural pathway is
activated. Long-term potentiation (LTP) is
the term given to the strengthening of con-
nections between neurons. The stronger
the connection between neurons, the more
difficult it becomes to break thought, and
hence behavioral patterns. Unsurprisingly,
our behavioral propensities contribute
not only to our experience of the world,
but also our experience and conception of
ourselves; we become identified with ways
of thinking and behaving and mistakenly
think that this is who we are.
The good news is that we can shortcut
neuronal connections and thus rewire our
brain, and thereby our self-conception. By
changing our mental tapes and choosing
new thoughts and beliefs, we can use the
brain’s inherent architecture and formal
capacities to recreate ourselves.
Long-term depression (LDP) is the process
whereby the brain unlearns associations
and disconnects neurons. Given this, using affirmations to create positive feelings
in the body/mind continuum may well be
smart, self-interested, and forward-think-ing. Just like asana, or meditation, using affirmations is a practice. We must keep doing it in a sustained manner in order to see
positive effects manifest in our lives over
time. Since it involves rewiring the brain
and the mental tapes running in the brain,
an affirmation isn’t a quick fix; rather it’s
a tool to help you become more empowered, better able to attain your goals, and
ultimately a happier, more fulfilled person.
Who can argue with that?
Dearbhla Kelly is Los Angeles-based writer and yoga
teacher, she leads workshops and retreats worldwide.
FIVE WAYS TO USE AFFIRMATIONS
Repeat as a mantra – You can say it while driving, in line at the grocery store, waiting in line
for customer service, you can even use a japa mala to count the repetitions.
Breathing meditation – Silently repeat the affirmation as you inhale; as you exhale, know that
you are releasing residual energetic patterns that cause suffering in your life.
Prevention is better than cure! – Before you go into a situation that you know may be
stressful practice saying your affirmation several times so that you feel fortified in your resolve.
Pratipaksha Bhavana – When you notice a destructive thought process starting (and you’ll
often become aware of how you feel before you notice the thought), congratulate yourself for
noticing and then switch gears by repeating your affirmation as many times as necessary until
you feel better.
Yoga Nidra – Before beginning your Yoga Nidra meditation, repeat your affirmation three times
and then set it free, trusting that it will be fully integrated during your full-body meditation.