Fitness Magazine

Transforming Unhelpful Core Beliefs

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Beth

Transforming Unhelpful Core Beliefs

Egg by Melina Meza

Oh, the crazy things we believed as children. My friend Laurie fell off a swing while hanging upside down. She fractured her sternum, spent weeks with a taped chest, and for years believed she would never grow breasts. I believed that in order to get married, I would have to go door to door in my neighborhood to find a husband. One of my son’s childhood friends would not eat bread crusts because a neighbor told her they were baked worms.

Beliefs can be defined as thoughts we hold to be true even though we don’t have proof. When proof appears, beliefs become knowledge. Fortunately for Laurie, my son’s friend, and me, time and knowledge proved our childhood beliefs false. Even so, the emotional attachments to some beliefs defy knowledge and can have an impact on our lives as we age. Laurie did grow breasts but the emotional attachment to that accident left her uncomfortable inverting or hanging upside down in aerial yoga class.

Some core beliefs we hold are helpful and productive but others are not. For example, I believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I know this is not true but the emotional attachment to that belief results in responses like "Thanks, I got this," when unsolicited offers of help come my way. I can trace it back to watching the women in my family seemingly "do it all," alone. The key word here, as you may have guessed, is “seemingly.” The women in my family could have used help but I never saw them ask for it. Why? I can guess but I don’t know. They’ve passed on and I can’t ask them. But I’m left dealing with an emotional attachment to that belief (fear of dependency), which still impacts my behavior and quite possibly my emotional health.

It’s our emotional attachments to these core beliefs and our reactions to them that cause distress and discomfort. However, once we become aware of a counter-productive core belief and recognize the emotional attachment, we can take steps to transform it.One helpful way of promoting healthy thinking comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: pratipaksha bhavanam. Joseph LePage, Director, Integrative Yoga Therapy, says that pratipaksha bhavanam is the “redirection of negative thoughts to positive ones.” Another interpretation comes from Gary Kraftsow’s American Viniyoga Institute:
Patanjali says if you have negative thinking that comes from anger, greed, or delusion, whether you’re actively in it or just thinking about it, the fruit will be unending suffering and ignorance. Therefore, “Pratipaksha bhavanam:” Take another view, reframe your perspective on the situation. Sutra [2.34]
To practice pratipaksha bhavanam, we need to recognize that one or more core beliefs may be impacting the balance of our lives in a counter-productive way. Next we can select a positive thought, intention, or resolve, and find ways to use it. We can write it down and tape it to the fridge or bathroom mirror so it’s visible every day. We can repeat it often, silently or out loud, as we move through our yoga practice, and we can keep it mentally handy every time we find that counter-productive core belief rising in the mind. Over time and with practice, the emotional attachment will gradually lose its charge and its power, enabling us to transform an unhealthy reaction into a positive, productive response.
Here are a few counter-productive core beliefs and suggested bhavanas to transform them:
Core Belief/Bhavana (Positive Resolve)

  1. I can’t trust anybody/I trust myself
  2. I’ll never be happy/I enjoy my life; I’m content
  3. I’m too different/I am unique – how cool is that!
  4. I don’t belong/I attract the right friends
  5. I’m too old to (add your words here)/ I’m young at heart and I can (add your words here)
  6. I’m too (fat, skinny, ugly etc.)/I love and accept my body
In my case, I need two bhavanas.
  1. I ask for help when I need it.
  2. I accept help when it is offered.
This practice requires discipline, patience, and consistency but the juice will be worth the squeeze because as we reduce emotional attachments to counter-productive core beliefs, we can better manage our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

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