So, the 'chattering monkeys' as they are known! Even in the days of Pattanjali writing the Yoga Sutras over 2000 years ago, the problems of the mind were evident. Flip forward 2000 years to what we live like today and I think Pattanjali and the ancient Gurus might have spontaneously combusted at the stress we put ourselves under! In Pattanjali's texts these interrupting thoughts were called 'fluctuations of the mind', appearing like gentle ripples on a calm, flat pool. Nowadays they can seem more like a tsunami, the silence in our heads being constantly drowned out by them!
Following one of our classes this week, a student asked what to do about the irritating thoughts interrupting her practice, making her concentration wander. In Yoga speak, the question is how to tame these 'pesky chattering monkeys' who invade our head space! You don't have to be a Yogi to recognise this type of invasion. Here's my reply to her, which might help you too, hopefully....
The first, best advice I can give is not to beat yourself up about it all! If you do, you will only be adding more stress and even more diatribe in your head. Creating a constant battlefield is not the solution. What I have found very useful is finding a technique that, rather than adding to the stress, becomes fun and makes light of it. This could be wrapping the thoughts in a bubble as they try to take your attention or maybe see them as little clouds rolling in.
Try actually focussing directly on them, rather than trying to avoid them...look them in the eye so to speak. See them just as a thought, words coming together, sentences lining up, rather than what they are saying. Whether you're in practice on the mat or trying to work on a project let your attention go towards the distraction ...seems against the grain, but a little like a demanding child, if you respond the demand disappears quicker! So see the thoughts arrive in your head, then gently prick the bubble and see it pop. Sometimes I imagine using the flat of my hand to slide the line of words 'off centre stage' right and left. Or you could find a phrase to say to them like 'Not now monkey', in a gentle, but firm voice ( rather like I did with my kids haha!). I'm watching Wimbledon at the moment and another visualisation might be 'batting' them away far into the distance and out of sight or what about visualising a 'Pacman' eating them?! Make it fun, take the 'angst' out of it. It's going to happen, so deal with it and don't dwell. Let your concentration go back quickly to where it should be.
In Yoga draw your attention back to your practice, particularly to the teacher's voice and even more particularly to your body. Choose a point of your body to really focus on - hips, shoulders, an area that you can really attach to the physical sensation of. You will wander back and forth, but that's what Yoga is about. It's learning to engage with what is happening here and now in the present. Some days you will be very present, others you'll be all over the place, just like in life! Knowing you can only be on the mat, does help. Accepting that other things just have to wait will come with practice and then this will roll into your daily life. However, because we are real people the problem will never fully go away. Accept that too.
What I haven't mentioned is our Breath. Pranayama/Breath Control Practice is one of our Superpowers! That is why we start each practice with 10 minutes of Pranayama. Again, this is not solely for Yogis - everyone can learn to use this wonderful tool. ( See the link to the video below!) When we begin to control our Breath, really focus on what we are engaged in, when we have to lengthen, smooth, direct, count, it becomes impossible for those chattering monkeys to break in! Use your various breath practices off the mat too. If you like add a Mudra (Hand Seal) specifically for concentration, getting the energetic body to connect as well - extra armour! Monday's class at Pop Up was about the All Rounder - 360 Breath. If we can learn to use the whole of our torso in this Pranayama, we not only learn to deal with stress, calming and quietening our minds in the process, but we also gain the upper hand against respiratory problems - a formidable weapon against Covid!
Everyone can try this 10 minute video on the 360 Breath on MBYs You Tube channel - It starts on our motorbike trip through France, so don't think you've got the wrong one!
Having said all this, sometimes the mat is where we resolve daily problems too, just by seeing them from a different angle through the viewpoint of our Asanas (Poses). We realise that by using our energy in another way we might get around them rather than think of them as a brick wall! I'm no expert in it, but why not try a little meditation? The Pranayama/ Breath practice is sufficient to start with as you learn to concentrate, then maybe move onto guided meditations. There are plenty of podcasts to follow and find what works for you. The super side-benefit is that, not only will you learn to switch off, but you will learn to switch on to the feeling of being present.
Whatever method you choose to try to tame those pesky little monkeys, always go back to my first piece of advice - be patient with yourself. Life is hard enough!
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