One of the Buddha’s foundational teachings is that life contains suffering. You could just as easily say that life contains negativity, as it is one of the more insidious disguises suffering wears. Acute or chronic, psychological and emotional negativity can be a regular experience in your life that creates a dampening field on your subtle body.
Negativity can make you feel heavy, dark, and gloomy; feel emotionally reactive and defensive; and view the world through a mixed filter of fear, anger, and paranoia. Since your mind and body are so deeply intertwined, mental and emotional negativity also has a physical counterpart: tense muscles, shallow breathing, increased blood pressure, elevated levels of adrenalin and cortisol—all the tell-tale signs of the stress response hard at work.
Negative energy is a toxin to your system. And while you can often endure negativity in your mind and body for prolonged periods (even to the point of it becoming a fundamental trait of your personality), negativity ultimately does you no good. Therefore, becoming and staying free from negative emotions and energy is an important strategy on your journey of holistic well-being. To begin the healing process, you will need to clear negative energy from your system in order to allow positive energy to thrive.
Before identifying tools of clearing negative energy from your mind and body, it’s important to explore the sources of negativity in your life and why you can be so easily trapped by negative influences.
Sources of Negativity
Any negative experience begins in consciousness—meaning, that it all starts with an evaluation. Some form of psychological or emotional need is not met and when that happens, the mind perceives the experience as falling short of its preconceived expectations. Therefore, any negative experience is essentially a negative interpretation of what has taken place. In reality, any experience has a neutral meaning; it’s neither good nor bad in any absolute sense. It’s only your subjective and constructed understanding of the event that gives it a positive or negative evaluation.
Another factor that complicates negative experiences is what’s known as the negativity bias. The negativity bias is the tendency of your nervous system to preferentially look for negative experiences (the bad news) over positive ones (the good news). As counterintuitive as this seems, the negativity bias is the byproduct of millions of years of evolution; it’s a survival mechanism that taught you to favorably look for danger because by doing so you could anticipate a threat and take preemptive steps to fight or flee, thus guaranteeing your survival. Those early hunter-gatherers who weren’t inclined to be on the lookout for danger didn’t live long enough to pass that trait on to us. Unfortunately, the negativity bias is still very much a part of your brain and nervous system, and although life-threatening situations are relatively rare now, you may still look for and cling to the negative, often resulting in a pessimistic, distrustful, and cynical attitude toward life.
Now that you see where negativity arises and why you’re neurologically wired to seek it out, let’s take a look at six pathways for negative energy cleansing from your mind and body.
1. Make Meditation a Regular Part of Your Life
Spending time in the stillness of meditation has a profoundly healing effect on the mind and helping to restore your entire system to balance and positivity. It does this in three crucial ways.
- First, meditation is the antidote to the stress response that’s driven by excessive bad energy. Muscle tension is released, blood pressure and respiration are lowered, stress hormones are minimized, and the fight-or-flight reactivity is down-regulated through meditation.
- Second, meditation helps you to witness your thoughts rather than being caught up in an interpretation or evaluation. By witnessing your thoughts as they come and go, you interrupt their stream before a negative interpretation is able to take root in your mental garden.
- Third, by repeatedly entering into the field of pure consciousness, the negative evaluations in your awareness are washed away, releasing their hold on you. Like rinsing a dirty cloth in a stream, the negative mental impressions are eventually lifted, returning the cloth to an immaculate state.
2. Practice Pranayama Exercises
Yogic breathing exercises are a powerful way of negative energy cleansing in both mind and body. While any of the classic yogic breathing exercises will be beneficial in helping to clear negative energy blockages, two techniques in particular, Bhastrika (The Bellows Breath) and its cousin Kapalabhati (Shining Breath), are very helpful in mobilizing and flushing the bad energy out of your system.
Bhastrika Breathing is an invigorating breath that energizes the body and generates an internal heat that can be thought of as a way to incinerate the negativity stuck in our body.
Kapalabhati Breathing can be used as a technique to expel the ashes of the burnt-up negative charge from your system.
3. Get Out into Nature
Nature therapy is a powerful tool to scrub the negative energy from your mind and body. The purity of nature often creates a “system reboot” that helps uninstall negativity from your mental hard drive. When embracing the beauty and majesty of a mountain range, an old growth forest, the ocean, or a midnight star field, it becomes very difficult for negative energy blocks to maintain its hold on your awareness.
4. Move Your Body
Negative energy loves inertia and lethargy. Like a black hole collapsing in on itself, the negative mindset wants to suck you down into oblivion. One surefire way to break out of the downward spiral is to get up and move your body. Whether by performing some yoga asanas such as Sun Salutations, going for a brisk walk or run, or another form energetic movement, vigorously moving your body helps purge negativity from your system on several levels.
- First, it activates your subtle energetic system where negative impressions often get stuck. When the power is flowing without interference, the negativity begins to break up.
- Second, with an increase in respiration and circulation, toxins (such as residual stress hormones) get flushed out through deeper breathing and sweat.
- Third, during energetic physical activity, your body’s need for increased oxygen overrides any negative subtext that might try to drag you down; in other words, it’s hard to stay focused on the negative when your heart rate and breathing are at a higher pace.
5. Go Complaint-Free
Complaining is one of the ways negative energy sustains itself in a perpetual motion cycle. When you’re focused on negative emotions, you complain about things more, you pay more attention to what irritates you, which makes you feel more negative, and you complain again. It’s a never-ending feedback loop of griping and grievances.
The simple truth is this: complaining really doesn’t solve anything. If you have constructive advice for how something can be improved, great. If not, you’re only adding another layer to the surplus of negativity in the world. Chronic complaining is really a symptom of a close relative of negativity, self-pity. It keeps you locked in a perpetual state of “poor me” and not having to take responsibility for your interpretations or how you’re feeling.
When you commit to going complaint-free for a day or two, or even a week, it has a profound effect on the free-floating negativity you harbor in your consciousness. Negativity feeds on complaints and gripes and when you stop complaining, you begin to starve your negativity of sustenance. Absolving from complaining does two important things for you:
- It reframes your mindset. You stop seeing everything out there as “wrong.” Instead, you see it as a neutral event that you assign meaning to.
- It empowers you to be conscious interpreters of your reality. Whereas complaining implies that you must find a way to change the outer world; you can recognize that when you can’t change the external world, which is often the case, you can change your interpretation to the situation and free yourself from its negative influence over you.
6. Smile Often
Although you may think of smiling as a simply sentimental or aesthetic activity, there is true magic in your smile. You know that a smile is contagious to others, but because every cell of your body is eavesdropping on every other cell, a smile isn’t localized just to your face. Every time you smile, a unique cocktail of neuropeptides are released that help to fight off the effects of stress, lower blood pressure, and act as an overall mood-lifter. Naturally, these effects make it difficult to sustain a negative mood. Consider the face of a chronically negative person. It’s not likely they often beam a great smile. Indeed, it’s likely the exact opposite; a frown, scowl, or perhaps even a glare, but not a smile.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
When you smile, you do more than simply turn your frown upside down, you create a specific mind-body event that radically shifts your mood away from the negative. Yogi guru Paramahansa Yogananda was fond of saying, “Be a smile millionaire.” Remember that smiles cost nothing, and by giving them away, you enrich not only the lives of others, but yours as well.
Using these tools, you can loosen and ultimately release the grip negativity has over you. With time and regular practice, you may also begin to modify the neural pathways that sustain the negativity bias in favor of looking for more positivity in life. And when the darkness of negativity no longer overshadows your awareness, not only will you feel healthier and happier, but you will regularly see the world for the incredible miracle it is.
Originally Published: chopra.com