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Monkey Mind

I have been teaching a lot of the quieter yoga styles lately, which means more space in between poses to just sit in the silence. And for some, myself included, this can be a thousand times harder than doing ninety minutes of power yoga in a searing hot room.

Why is this? Why is the stillness so much more difficult than flowing through a challenging sequence? I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years, and I still find seated meditation far more difficult than the most physically strenuous classes. Why? Because movement is a blessed distraction from thinking. That’s why I love yoga—the moving meditation takes me out of my thinking (often highly self-critical) mind and into my body. But when I just sit quietly, the chattering monkey in my head often talks nonstop.

Almost everyone I know has a case of the monkey mind. In yoga, this refers to the endless, repetitive loops of inner monologue and thoughts that bounce around our head. For many of us, we are so used to this constant chatter that we accept it as normal. And when we sit in stillness, like hanging out in pigeon pose in yin class, or laying over a bolster in restorative yoga, or simply sitting in meditation, our brains can go totally crazy. After fifteen years of yoga, I am still not very "good" at meditation. Stillness is the greatest challenge to my overly analytical mind.


During a long run recently, a friend admitted to me that her monkey mind is really mean. Mine often is too. Mean to myself, mostly ("I can't believe I did that. I am such an idiot"), but sometimes to other people too (“That jerk, doesn’t he know what a turn signal is?”) And no wonder. If we are unkind to ourselves, chances are we will be unkind to others. We are walking fountains of judgment, spilling over onto everyone around us.


One of the eight limbs of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is pratyahara, a withdrawal or non-attachment to external stimuli and our own reactions to them. This doesn’t mean we can never be attached to anything, but in my mind it means not attaching value or judgment to things that really don’t matter. Letting go. And this can also lead to some important self-reflection. Why do I always react that way? Why am I

so irritated by this? In an hour, will this even matter?

So this week, take a moment to listen to your monkey mind. Really listen. What does he or she say? What are the endless loops, the deep repetitive grooves of thought, emotion and behaviour, the samskaras that have created who you are? Then do this: inhale what you want to keep (samskaras are not always negative, after all), and exhale anything that doesn’t serve you. You are not defined by that monkey. Rewrite your patterns. Breathe in, breathe out, repeat.

So what are you telling yourself each day? What are your samskaras? And are these patterns creating the person that you want to be?

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