Words: Patty (Patwant) Wildasinn
The term “monkey mind” is mentioned in a vast array of traditions, from Buddhism, yoga, and therapy settings to 12 step self-help programmes. A monkey mind is one that is filled with racing thoughts in response to our internal stress level. It may feel like there are many active monkeys clamouring around in the head, all causing distraction and vying for attention at the same time. They may be happy, loud, bossy, adversarial, demanding, or seemingly quiet with occasional outbursts for no apparent reason. Everyone has monkeys running around in the mind to some degree! The ego drives the monkey’s chatter in its desire to be in control. Feelings of fear, inadequacy, insecurity, and doubt, to name a few, serve as fuel for the monkeys. Willpower and applied thought alone are not usually enough to tame the monkey mind. There are yogic solutions that may be applied to create calm and inner-peace through using breath, movement, and meditation practiced intentionally to shift from the head to the heart.
Our true spirit – who we really are – resides in the heart centre. The heart centre may also be referred to as the meditative, or neutral, mind. This heart-centred mind is developed and strengthened through yoga and meditation. Did you know that the actual aim of yoga is to direct the wavelengths of the mind? In Kundalini yoga, we speak of the mind being a full-body phenomenon, not just what takes place in the brain. The monkey mind, which permeates our being, throws up detours and distractions in an attempt to block connection to the heart centre, maintain the illusion of control, and keep the merry-goround spinning. Gaining a basic understanding of the cycle of addiction and how it applies to our ordinary, undisciplined thought process may help in identifying self-destructive patterns so that the mental clutter may be cleared to open the path to the heart.
The cycle of addiction was initially introduced to counselling and treatment practitioners in 1986 by Allen D. Flock. An adapted oversimplification is that the cycle moves through a loop of obsession, compulsion, and emotional and/or spiritual bankruptcy. The obsession is the thought process, the craving, the planning, and the justification of the using or drinking. The compulsion is the actual behaviour. In the addiction cycle this would be the actual use of the drug or the addictive behaviour. The emotional and spiritual bottom is experienced when intolerable feelings arise after the using, drinking, or addictive behaviour wears off. These may be described as guilt, shame, despair, regret, remorse, low selfworth, and more. The bankruptcy stage is a very uncomfortable place to be, so the mind jumps right back into obsession, planning how to relieve the emotional pain. It is a vicious cycle with no set time frame.
The monkey mind parallels the cycle of addiction. Once it attaches to a thought or feeling, projects into the future, or ruminates over the past, it can get stuck in an ongoing circle of obsession, compulsion, and emotion. Sometimes this circle loops and insight is gained, change is inserted and the cycle is released. More often the monkeys obsess and debate about what could have been done or said differently, and the scene plays out taking on a life of its own, creating the momentum and repetition of a vortex. The monkey mind feeds off attachment, very much like an addict when using, attempting to set limits for behaviour and then crossing the previously set boundaries. The cycle of attachment may manifest in many ways.
It is important to note that there are natural consequences to all actions. Consequences may be perceived as good or bad, positive or negative, but they are simply learning experiences. To some extent, life choices may be made in a way that engineers desired consequences and feelings. The monkey mind tends to target the unwanted consequences and screams louder in a highly charged emotional state. Some situations can be released with ease and others burrow in deep.
The monkey mind activates in attempt to try to manage stress, worry, anxiety, and resentment, whether real or perceived. The monkeys also spark the ego’s desire to be in control. For example, being consumed with trying to avoid anxiety can make worse the initial anxiety. The addictive cycle for anxiety would play out something along the lines of the obsession showing up as being worried about feeling anxious and thinking of ways to avoid and eliminate anxiety. The behaviour would manifest as implementing plans in hopes of not triggering anxiety. This behaviour may look like declining social invitations, not driving on busy roads, or refusing to confront a problem. Each failed attempt to control the internal or external experience of anxiety is accompanied by feelings of defeat.
The monkey mind resists any discomfort, and sooner or later returns to the internal chatter, initiating the cycle of obsession, compulsion, and emotional defeat. Substitute any personal struggles in place of the anxiety example and observe the ordinary reaction. Do you ever find your mind caught in the loop? Even binge-watching TV, instead of getting needed sleep, can be a cycle that is hard to break. The good news is that there is hope for change and opportunity to build new healthy habits. A small gap can be found between emotion and obsession, or feeling and thought, wherein the pattern may be interrupted.
The best place to crack the cycle is in emotional or spiritual bankruptcy, prior to jumping back into the heat of obsession. This little window provides a glimpse of clarity, an opening to the heart. Apply simple yoga techniques and tools to break unwanted patterns of thought, behaviour, and feeling.
In yoga, one of the tools available to all is the breath. The rate and rhythm of the breath is an accurate indicator of a person’s current emotional state. In Kundalini yoga, it is said that the mind follows the breath and the body follows the mind. Maintaining command of the breath can better direct the mind and the body. The application of breath techniques can be used in the moment to disrupt the cycle of the monkey mind and help to support new patterns. The intentional use of breath is like hitting the pause button to allow space for a reset in thought and action
THREE KUNDALAINI YOGA BREATH TECHNIQUES
Here are three recommended Kundalini yoga breath techniques to help tame the monkey mind. The first two come directly from the book ‘Yoga for Addiction Recovery, 8 Limbs, 10 Bodies, 12 Steps.’
Four Breaths Per Minute
By consciously slowing down the rate of breath, positive changes happen in the body and mind. For example, by slowing the breath rate down to eight cycles per minute, there is an increase in healing, stress relief, relaxation, and mental awareness. Slowing the breath down to four cycles per minute also increases mental function and sensitivity. The cycle of four breaths per minute can be performed by inhaling for five seconds, suspending the breath for five seconds, and exhaling for five seconds. Each breath should be complete and done with ease, moving between the nose and the navel. Begin with three minutes and slowly build up to eleven minutes.
In a seated meditation posture, press the tips of the thumbs and little fingers together. The other fingers touch each other on the same hand, but do not touch the opposite fingers, and are extended straight out between the navel and the heart centre with the arms comfortably relaxed at the sides. Eyes focus at the tip of the nose.
Inhale through the mouth with a long, deep, and powerful breath, and exhale through the nose. Then inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Continue this cycle for up to eleven minutes. It is recommended to do this breath meditation for ninety days. It balances the pituitary gland so that every little bit of information is not received and it calms inner tension.
Exercise to Clear and Build the Magnetic Field of the Heart Center
Sit in Easy Pose and interlace the fingers together at the heart centre with the palms facing down and thumb tips touching. The hands, lower arms, and elbows stay parallel to the ground. Begin sweeping the arms up to the third eye with a powerful inhale through the nose, and exhale powerfully through the nose bringing the arms down to the navel centre. Move the arms in front of the body between the brow point and the navel centre rapidly, with powerful breath through the nose, for one to three minutes. To end, inhale deeply with the hands at the level of the heart. Release the posture and relax the breath.
Yoga derives from philosophy and principles that support a happy, healthy, balanced lifestyle. In its many forms and styles, yoga provides a full scope of practices that can be applied to calm the body and mind in a way that is heart centred, practical, and personal. Keep in mind the techniques above are a starting point, a practice requiring repetition, not a quick fix. Try these yoga techniques to see what works best to tame your monkey mind.
Patty Wildasinn is a Level Two certified Kundalini Yoga teacher and author and has taught yoga to all levels and abilities for over 20 years. She enjoys working with seniors, kids with disabilities, people in chemical dependency rehabilitation centres, and those in recovery from addiction. Prior to teaching yoga, she worked professionally as a nationally certified addiction counsellor, and has spent over three decades helping others to discover their own success in navigating life’s challenges and addiction recovery. pattyyogable.com
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