“Free your mind, and the rest will follow…” ~~ En Vogue
Photo Courtesy of Soul Flower
Whether you’ve been practicing yoga for years or have just started your practice, many of us have a hard time turning off our “monkey minds” when we step onto our mats. Not sure what a “monkey mind” is? That’s when your mind acts like a monkey – jumping all over the place, from one thought to the next, in a very unsettled, indecisive and restless manner. Who wants that?
One of the benefits of a regular yoga practice is that it is extremely helpful in quieting and settling our minds. But accomplishing this is very hard for many of us, and I’ve seen it frustrate many yoga students, myself included. For example, I notice that when I’m unable to turn off my “monkey mind” in class, I am off balance, my breathing is erratic, and I get very negative and frustrated with myself. At the end of classes like that, I walk away feeling very disappointed, and I usually feel more stressed than I did before I walked in the door.
What about you? Have you ever had a practice where you were completely able to focus on the present moment? If yes, then I am willing to bet you felt amazing afterwards…calm, confident, rejuvenated. And have you ever had a practice where your mind was all over the place for most of the class, and you just couldn’t seem to concentrate AT ALL? How did you feel after a class like that? You probably felt very much like I mentioned above. Have that happen to you enough, and you’ll eventually feel the repercussions both mentally and physically. It’s amazing how that “monkey mind” can wreak havoc!
So what can you do? How can you get yourself to a point where you can turn off that “monkey mind” and stay focused on the here and now? Well, there is no one answer, as we are all different, and different things will work for some of us than for others. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
For me, who is constantly battling this issue, meditation and breathing exercises have really helped. It took me awhile to find the meditation techniques that resonated with me the most, as some seemed to make my “monkey mind” worse. I spent a lot of time talking to people who I knew had a solid meditation practice, I Googled a lot to learn everything I could, and I also downloaded a ton of free Podcasts to see if there were any I liked. I also attended a meditation workshop recently and was able to walk away with a nice toolbox of techniques that resonated well with me. When it came to breathing exercises, I again found that some seemed to agitate me more, while others were pretty good at calming me down and getting me focused. When I first began working on meditation and breathing exercises, I needed a guide, so the Podcasts and YouTube videos I found were great for me. But now that it’s been several months, I have actually ventured into guiding myself, and it’s been working rather well. I can definitely see that it’s become easier and easier for me to settle down, relax, and focus on the present. More and more, my “monkey mind” is becoming a thing of the past, which has freed me to concentrate on the things that matter and that I can actually do something about.
Maybe meditation and breathing exercises aren’t your bag of tea. That’s OK. But I encourage you to explore what works best for you in terms of helping to turn off that “monkey mind”. Start by practicing this on your yoga mat, if this is all new to you. For example, when we flow in our Sun Salutations, try to really focus on moving one breath with every movement, and see if you can make your inhales and exhales the same length, so that your flow is smooth and controlled. When you put all your focus into something like that, you have no choice but to be present in the moment. Or maybe, when you’re in a pose that you’re holding for several breath cycles, you take the time to notice which muscles you feel working, and then focus on breathing into those specific muscles. Again, that may be a nice way help you stay in the present moment.
We’ll be working on this in class this week. Hopefully, you’ll be able to step off your mat with a clear and present mind, a relaxed and rejuvenated body, and a smile inside and out.