We have all seen the cartoon images of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, so it makes sense for us to have some inner voices as we work through situations, but why does it seem like there is SO much chatter up there?!
Our conscious mind is taking care of critical thought, negative or positive self-talk, and our general “thinking” mind. Our id is up there, self-serving, pleasure-seeking…the “devil” on the shoulder. We also have the super-ego, who is very aware of right and wrong and has a strong moral compass; our “angel”. The ego is the space in the middle, making decisions after taking both the id and super-ego into consideration. In Yoga, we call this whole big mess of wants, needs and the judgements between them our “Monkey Mind”.
We feel we excel at multi-tasking because we can walk, check our texts, talk to a friend, and make eye contact with that cute individual sitting in the food court all while carrying a purse, aforementioned phone, 3 shopping bags, and enjoy a smoothie. However, the human brain can only truly focus on one thing at a time. Since we spend most of our time doing more than one thing at a time, we think we are multi-tasking. Instead, we are just doing a series of mundane tasks without much thought. So, yes, we can do those automatic things while walking past the food court in the mall, but we are going through the actions without being mindful.
Mindfulness is what we practice when we stop in our tracks, take a look at what we are doing, and focus all of our attention to that precise moment in time. Sometimes we are having just way too much fun to stop and enjoy it and before we know it we are asking “where did the summer go?!” At other times we are struggling with less pleasant emotions, and who wants to focus on those? We may be feeling lonely, sad, and totally isolated, or angry, frustrated, and disgusted. If we could just stop in any of these given situations and see it from an outsiders view, we would realize that these are emotions are simply reactions to something else that is happening. Being mindful allows us to look at the WHY for our emotions, and once we know why we feel a certain way, we can then practice selecting more positive reactions over negative ones.
Now that we know who our monkey is, we can start building a relationship with them. The natural state of the human mind is to be active, but we can practice mindfulness every day and begin to train our mind to be more still, peaceful, and ready to make sensible decisions. The key is to practice a little at a time every day, so that when things are totally bugging you out, your monkey will already be trained and ready for a “Mindful Check-In”. Try it now:
Take one full inhalation and hold it for a count of three then slowly release that breath through the nose and while you do, picture everything around you slowing to a stop. Repeat your breath, focusing on finding your heartbeat and trying to slow the breath down and smoothing it out. Focusing on only the sound of your breath and your heartbeat at that exact moment in time. Realize that you will have thoughts bubble up, but do not entertain them; think of only the breath. Try and increase your inhalation length and to extend the exhalation to be double the length of the inhalation: think nothing except “inhale 1….2…3…4…. exhale 1…2…3…4….5…6…7…8…” Repeat for a few minutes, then slowly bring your breath back to normal and notice how you feel.
The next time you are faced with a situation that is stressing you out or causing you anger, try this technique to slow things down and check in with your breath. Generally speaking, calm people do not make poor choices, so when you are in an argument or under pressure, you are quite possibly making decisions or saying things you usually would not say or do. Taking a “3 Minute Mindful Time-Out” like this is a healthy way to begin to handle the little issues life throws our way.
Read more from Sacha on her personal blog, My Yoga Life.