By: Allison English, Certified Forrest Yoga Instructor
At least a few times per week (sometimes per day) I am asked – “ How can I do what you are asking when my mind is racing a mile a minute with other tasks?” This same question could come from your employee, from your friend, or from your spouse. For me, this question comes from my students – my yoga students – and it is an apt one for what we are practicing. Everyone wants to know how to turn his or her thoughts off and get to the yoga poses…the only problem being that if you are alive, your mind is thinking.
Consider it this way, just as a closet is meant to house clothing and a file cabinet your organized information, the mind supposed to think. That is its job – its very nature. This next part may come as a surprise. I’m suggesting that rather than trying to stop your mind from thinking and creating a whole lot of internal resistance, make a shift along the following lines. The same way you would clean out your closet, donate old clothing or reorganize your shelving (or better yet have M2O do it for you!), you have to maintain your mind. It’s not the thoughts that are the problem, it’s the attachment to those thoughts that gets you caught in their web. So in the same way you need to get rid of that old sweater gathering dust balls in the back of the closet, it’s time to go through the mind and teach it how to refocus with clarity on a single task at hand. Yoga and meditation are two amazing ways to do just this: they create an environment for thoughts to arise and for a new behavior pattern of single focus to be practiced.
Try the following simple yoga and meditation exercises on for size to clean out your Mental Closet:
- Sit down at the beginning of your day in a comfortable upright position. Sit on pillows if your hips or back are tight. Simply and silently feel the movement of your breath without changing it. Whenever a thought comes up or you get pulled away from the breath, just come back – no hullabaloo, no drama – start feeling the breath no matter how many times you get distracted. Start small – 2-3 minutes of sitting – and work your way up to 10 minutes. This simple meditation on the breath allows you to build your mental focus muscle.
- If you find you are a more physical being, and more in touch with movement, play with the following yoga postures to build your mental clarity. Sit down with both legs stretched straight out ahead of you. Drape your torso over the legs and track the feeling of the body in this position. When you get stuck on one feeling or something else entirely, bring your mind back to feeling this simple position while breathing calmly. After a minute or two, swap the position of the body for another forward bend. Place the bottoms of the feet together, open the knees wide and then fold forward. Repeat the mind exercise of coming back to feeling the position as a way of redirecting the mind.
- If you find that you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because the mind is racing with thoughts that you are attached to, pick up a small pad of paper. As you lie down to go to sleep, start writing any thought that comes into your head on the list. Keep writing until the thoughts slow and stop. Include on your list tasks or ideas that rise to the surface of your mind when you are trying to fall asleep. Gradually after just a few minutes of writing thoughts down in a list, the mind will begin to quiet enough to fall asleep. Then enjoy your zzz’s and repeat the next evening.
The beauty of taking a yoga class or practicing a guided meditation is that you are training your mind every single moment of the class every time you do it. You must train the mind muscle as much as the abdominal muscles! These simple exercises get you going on the path of that training. And when you need some back up, call on one of my yoga classes to help you with a tune-up! I’ll see you on the mat soon.