Practicing Yoga, Quieting the Monkey Mind
“When the mind is steady, we can see a little truth. When the mind is disturbed, we can’t see anything.” Swami Kripalu
Before I started practicing yoga, my mind would run in different directions at once, thoughts pulling one way, then another, making it hard to concentrate, hard to focus, hard to stay in the moment or even recognize the moment that I was missing.
But then I stepped onto my mat and began my asana practice, and something about the movement of my body on my mat helped me find my way into stillness in each pose.
It was as if there was an undisturbed pool of water waiting for me to discover within myself, if only I could slow my thoughts down enough and stop racing from one thing to another.
The poses–even when we were just sitting, even if we were simply lying in Savasana–helped me begin to look inward, past the monkey-mind and racing thoughts to the stillness within.
It was the breath, I think, and learning to follow the breath–to become aware of each inhalation and exhalation, to mindfully draw in a breath and mindfully release it–that helped me find my way into repose, into stillness, into a state of observation where I could watch myself and see my thoughts and feelings arise and let them go (without chasing them or resisting them) and simply stay in the pose.
Observing without criticism.
Observing without judgment.
That’s what yoga has helped me learn to do.
And the benefits–of being able to stay in a difficult moment without exploding in anger or frustration or breaking down in despair–have proven life-enhancing.
How do we learn to observe thoughts and feelings as they arise and then let them go without criticism, without judgment?
And how does our asana practice help us learn to move into stillness and stay in the moment, to just sit and watch and become the observer, the witness?
Practice Journal: Sit in a comfortable position and follow your breath for a few minutes. Notice what happens in the theater of your mind. Can you sit in stillness? Or do your thoughts leap and jump about like little monkeys, pulling you one way, then another? Can you notice your thoughts? Can you find a way to allow the thoughts to slow down? Can you notice when you cross the line between thinking and feeling, and between feeling and observing? After two or three minutes, open your journal and write about what it feels like to sit in stillness and observe whatever arises out of your mind, your heart.