Yesterday I was attacked by a monkey! This horrible Super Villain was inside my brain. It had infiltrated my mind. What was I to do? What super hero would save me? I would save myself of course, using my yoga super powers.
What does it feel like when the Super Villain Monkey Brain has taken up residence in your mind? You may know the feeling well. It’s when your thoughts are so scattered, you’re mind so incessantly busy, that you just lose control over what is happening now. You’ll know when the villainous Monkey Brain has control when you misplace your keys (how did they get in the refrigerator?), you missed your exit on the freeway (how did I miss the same exit I’ve taken to work for five years straight?) or you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about a report not due until Friday. That’s right, Monkey Brain has invaded your mind and has control!
From Pantanjuli’s Yoga Sutras we learn that the Monkey Brain is called Chitta Vritti, which literally translates from Sanskrit as the whirling of the mind stuff or mind chatter. Just like a monkey hopping from tree to tree, your mind is chattering away at you. The mind’s constant nagging and berating does not allow you to focus on the now. How can you take back control of your mind from these vrittis? Meditation, asana and pranayama of course!
The Chitta Vrittis will continue to whirl, chitter chatter and annoy, until you stop, take a deep inhale and purposely notice them. By stopping and turning to face the villain, naming and banishing him from your head, you will take control of your mind.
Now that you have recognized and confronted the villainous Monkey Brain, how can you banish him from your mind? Let’s take a single example: you just can’t seem to fall asleep at night (or maybe you wake up at 3 a.m.) Thoughts and worries are running through your brain and you just can’t make them stop! Here’s what you do:
- Place your left hand over your belly and your right hand over your heart, BREATHE IN DEEPLY. Inflate your belly, taking the breath deeper by inflating your chest fully.
- Hold your breath for a couple of heartbeats.
- Exhale by deflating your chest and then your belly. Use your hands as a guide. Notice how the breath sounds and feels like a wave flowing in and out of your body.
- Continue to breathe extensively in and out, creating the sound of the ocean with your breath and the wavelike motion with your belly and chest.
- If thoughts come into your mind, recognize them for what they are; vrittis that have come to haunt you. Call them by name and then watch them as they flow out of your body with your exhale.
Soon the Monkey Brain will loose control and you will drift off to sleep naturally. Similarly, if you are in your car driving to work, turn off the radio and breathe. Use this time for you, for peace and quiet and meditation. You’ll be calm and refreshed and ready for work or ready to enjoy your kids when they climb into your car acting like the monkey you just banished from your brain!
While pranayama (yes that’s what the ocean breath you just practiced is) and meditation are great ways to take control of your vrittis, asana (physical poses) will also help dispel this menace. Although all asana practice helps control those fly away thoughts, a few poses in particular bring you so far into your body that your mind seems detached and present at the same time. Try Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana) with Eagle (Garudasana) arms.
Cow Face With Eagle Arms
- Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose), bending your knees, put the soles of your feet on the floor.
- Slide your right foot under the left knee to the outside of the left hip.
- Cross your left leg over the right, stacking the left knee on top of the right, and bring the left foot to the outside of the right hip.
- Align the heels equidistant from the hips. Take a big inhale and ensure that you are sitting evenly on the sit bones.
- Stretch your arms straight forward, and spread your shoulder blades wide across your back.
- Cross your arms in front of your torso (make an “X”) so that the left arm is over the right.
- Bend your elbows, cozying your left elbow into the crook of your right elbow, and raise the forearms perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands should be facing each other.
- Press the left hand to the left and the right hand to the right, so your palms face each other. The thumb of your left hand should pass in front of the little finger of the right. Press the palms together as much as you are able.
- Lift your elbows up, and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling.
- Close your eyes and begin an upward movement with your arms while inhaling. When you reach the top of your ability to move, begin and exhale.
- While exhaling move your arms down to their fullest extent. Aligning your movement to your breath inhale up and exhale down through several breaths.
- Release and repeat on the other side for both arms and legs.
Open your eyes and notice that the Villainous Monkey Brain has been banished from your mind!