Taming the Monkey Mind with Yoga

The Frantic Activity of the Monkey Mind
The Frantic Activity of the Monkey Mind. Caiaimage/Martin Barraud/OJD+/Getty Images

The idea of the monkey mind comes from Buddhism. The term has been adopted by yogis to describe a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. The monkey mind can not exist in the present moment, but rather is constantly distracted by the thoughts that pass through.

The yoga practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation are methods that we can use to train the mind to focus on the present.

This is desirable because the monkey mind is in an agitated state. It dreads something that may occur in the future or fixates on something that happened in the past. It jumps around, resting briefly on one of the many thoughts that pop up before moving on to something else. Learning to recognize this tendency and disengage from it helps us be calmer, less stressed, and more productive.

When you do an asana practice, you become entirely focused on what your body is doing. It can be all-consuming in such a way that you only realize later that several minutes have passed in which you haven't engaged in a thought. This break from the mind's activity is one of asana's great revelations. Pranayama can work in a similar way. When all your attention is focused on your breath, there is no room for background chatter. This leads us to meditation, in which we learn to sustain this state of mental tranquility.

These practices are helpful because they (first) show us an alternative to the frenetic activity in the mind that we may not have been aware of before and (second) give us outlets through which to access this more peaceful state. In fact, this ability to quirt the mind might even be the whole purpose of yoga, according to the ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The oft-quoted second sutra, yoga chitta vritti nirodha, is translated as "yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind."

Continue Reading