One of the most profound moments in my yoga journey was during my first yoga teacher training in India.
A mere ten minutes later as my eyes snapped open I had an alarming thought …
‘That’s MY OWN VOICE I can hear inside my head and it won’t stop narrating everything!’
If you have never consciously experienced the power of the ‘voices inside your head’, try Emil’s 10-minute observation… simply sit with your eyes closed and listen.
If you’re anything like me, this is how the first 10 seconds will go …
“Ok, I’m closing my eyes”
“My hips hurt from sitting cross-legged like this”
“It must have been 10 minutes by now!”“I bet everyone else is finding this easy”
“I wonder what we’re having for lunch”
Exhausting right? Maybe you can relate?
Enter The Monkey Mind
This phenomenon is referred to in yoga as Chitta Vritti or the ‘Monkey Mind’.
It describes the tendency of the mind to fluctuate between different thoughts and feelings, often in a cyclical way like a never-ending loop.
Traditionally the sole purpose of the yoga practice is to still the incessant fluctuations of the mind in order to find clarity and peace.
The second of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras states simply:
“Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha” – Sutra 2:1
(Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind)
This article will outline a variety of practices to help tame the chaos and bring you toward a state of inner quiet.
Keep reading for:
- Monkey Mind meaning
- Why Is Chitta Vritti so prevalent in our modern world?
- Meditation techniques to calm the Monkey Mind
- Mindfulness techniques to calm the Monkey Mind
- Lifestyle tips to calm the Monkey Mind
Monkey Mind Meaning
Conjure up the image of a mischievous monkey swinging from tree to tree, chattering incoherently, playfighting with his siblings, unable to stay still, and you have a good idea of the energy of chitta vritti!
Just like the mischievous monkey, the mind has an innate ability to shift focus without missing a beat.
It is the reason that one moment you’re focusing on your alignment in downward dog and the next you’re reliving a conversation you had at work.
This ‘monkey mind’ is the reason that we often feel as if we can’t ‘switch off’ and relax.
In reality, we know that we can’t actually ‘switch off’ the mind (more on that later) but by recognizing and learning to control our intrusive thoughts, we can create more space to be present and find peace in the beauty of each moment.
Learning and practicing techniques to control chitta vritti is an important step towards meditation.
Over time, the act of sitting in meditation illuminates the challenges that arise when we practice being still, eventually leading to a state of inner peace and profound clarity.
Why Is Chitta Vritti So Prevalent In Our Modern World?
Looking back at the history of yoga we know that yogis lived largely monastic lives cut off from society.
Their sole job was to study the scriptures and to meditate.
Our modern lives, and therefore, our ‘yoga’ is dramatically different.
We have jobs and homes to run. We live in communities, have romantic relationships, and bear children.
With all our modern responsibilities, it is safe to say that we do not have the ability to sit in meditation for eight hours a day when many of us struggle to fit in a regular yoga practice!
In our modern societies, we wear many ‘hats’ so it is understandable that our mind moves from task to task quickly.
Add in societal and familial pressures, plus the very real issue of being glued to screens for much of the day and bombarded with information.
It is no wonder our minds can feel pretty scattered.
This is why meditation is so hard but so necessary to quieten the chaos!
Meditation techniques to calm the Monkey Mind
There is a huge misconception in the yoga world that in order to meditate we need to ‘blank the mind’.
Attempting to ‘block out’ thoughts and feelings is impossible and a sure way to drive yourself crazy! What we are aiming for instead is to become a silent observer to our thoughts.
Here is a powerful meditation that will help you become a witness to your own thoughts:
- Find a quiet place and take a comfortable seat, using props to support your body as needed
- Close your eyes or maintain a soft gaze if this is more comfortable, take three cleansing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Visualize yourself entering a room filled with people. You hear snippets of conversation as you walk through the room towards a quiet little annex where a comfortable chair awaits, right at the back of the room.
- Take your place in this comfortable seat and allow it to envelop you. If it is helpful, you can visualize the size of the seat, its color, it’s texture.
- From your vantage point, you see a pair of sheer curtains in front of you. Reach forward and draw these curtains creating your own inner chamber from which to observe the silhouettes and muffled voices as the party goes on ahead
- Sit deeper into the recesses of your seat and begin to focus on Ajna chakra (third eye centre) between and behind your eyes. Visualize yourself taking a seat behind your physical eyes.
- Now simply watch your thoughts through the veil of curtains, aware of them but not becoming involved.
- If you notice your mind attaching onto a particular thought and running away with it, creating ideas, stories, and opinions, simply return to your seat, draw the veil of curtains over your eyes, and begin again
The act of catching your mind in the act of chitta vritti and guiding it back to one point of focus (in this case Ajna chakra), is the practice of Dharana (concentration) and the path towards Dhyana (true meditation).
Mindfulness techniques to calm the Monkey Mind
Mindfulness practices are designed to bring you fully into the present moment, building awareness of your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Here are some mindfulness techniques to help calm the monkey mind:
- Yoga Nidra / Body Scanning: A practice in concentration. During a body scan you will move your attention from body part to body part and from sensation to sensation. Yoga Nidra requires a great deal of mental concentration. As it is usually delivered at a fairly fast pace, often, racing thoughts are less likely to happen. You can find a great Yoga Nidra script here – Yoga Nidra Script For Deep Rest And Relaxation.
- Focusing On Your Breath: Either lying down or seated, simply bring your attention to your breath. Observe the quality of each inhale and exhale, its length and depth. Notice where you are breathing, belly, chest, collarbone. When your mind inevitably starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to your breath and begin again.
- Detailed Observation: Take time to gaze upon something in nature; a flower, a tree, the feeling of the earth beneath your feet, the ocean waves, and become immersed in the details. If your mind starts to wander to a different topic, close your eyes for a moment and then open them, challenging yourself to find a new quality.
- Practice Radical Acceptance: Instead of trying to push thoughts and feelings away, practice acceptance without judgment. It is important to remember that all thoughts and feelings are valid and needed for a full human experience. There is no need to forcefully push anything away.
Lifestyle tips to calm the Monkey Mind
- Try Compartmentalizing: Even if you ‘can’ multitask, understand that this is a surefire way to encourage a monkey mind! Try focusing fully on one task at a time and giving your full attention and notice the ripple effect this has on your meditation/mindfulness practices.
- Journaling: Journaling is a wonderful exercise that will help you ‘brain dump’ your thoughts and feelings onto paper so that you can let go of the cycle of rumination. Journalling allows you to clear out the cobwebs so you can think with more clarity.
- Earthing / Walking Meditation: One of my favorite practices is to go barefoot in nature and connect to Mother Earth. Mindful and slow barefoot walking serves as a reminder that it is often the simplest things that bring joy, not the endless ‘to-do’ lists.
The Importance Of Regular Practice
Just like all aspects of the yoga practice, quieting the monkey mind requires practice and patience.
Just like a muscle, the mind needs to be trained with consistency. The benefits are that over time, you may find yourself less reactive and more calm.
It is beneficial to set aside a regular time each day for your meditation / mindfulness practices. Even 10 minutes a day can reap huge rewards for your mental well-being.
TIP: For many people, practicing first thing in the morning or right before bed is ideal
Above all, be kind and patient with yourself.
For many people, working to master the fluctuations of the mind is the most challenging part of the yoga journey… it is also the most rewarding.