How to Focus during Yoga when your Brain gives you the Middle Finger.
Usually when I practice asana—the physical aspect of yoga—I can slip into that beautiful state of presence, connection, and bliss, and just flow on my mat.
But every now and then, my brain gives me the middle finger and rambles away, pulling out all sorts of stuff from its closet.
No matter how dedicated we are to our personal yoga practice, sometimes our brain’s noise gets in the way. This phenomenon is called chitta vritti, which loosely means mind chatter, or even better—monkey mind. This doesn’t mean the class was a failure, nor does it mean you’re “bad” at yoga (you can’t be bad at yoga!).
It just means you’re having trouble reining your thoughts in on that particular day. Maybe you had a stressful commute, maybe you missed your daily mediation practice, or maybe you just have a lot going on.
This is an actual, though slightly-hyperbolized, account of my brain’s chatter during a recent yoga class—because even yoga teachers sometimes have trouble quieting their minds:
“Thank goodness you got here early and can just lay down on this mat. How does the girl next to you have the energy to do handstands? Maybe you should try to do a handstand? Or a plank—I mean, you’ve been sitting down all day so you should probably do something besides lay here like a potato. That’s why she has better abs than you do.
Yes, I know that’s not the point of yoga. But the floor really is nice. I hope we stay here the whole class. Yoga is about listening to our bodies and connecting with ourselves. The floor is a good place to do that. You do you, girl. You have my permission.”
“Ugh fine, let’s come to hands and knees like the instructor says. You’re always so obedient. Yum—cat/cow really is blissful. I’m glad we got off the floor. Why is your back so sore? You’re getting older you know. Sh*t’s breaking down.
Hey, you’re practicing yoga, quit using me. Breathe in, breathe out, and bye for now!”
“Look at you—you haven’t been thinking at all! You are becoming much better at this. You’re going to be a great yogi and a glowy person. Oops…that’s your ego. Your ego’s not supposed to be here. Get back to your breath. Focus on each body part as it moves, and be in the moment. Focus on your spine stretching and twisting. This feels incredible.
See, I’m a good brain. I’m helping you out.”
“No yucky thoughts on the mat. No yucky thoughts on the mat. No yucky thoughts on the mat.
Just breathe them out. You have got to control me better! There’s a lot going on in here.”
“You are strong and centered. You’re kicking butt, but in a way that’s not at all competitive or egotistic, but just really deep in your practice. This is why you love yoga. Everyone should do yoga. How can you get your students to feel this way in the classes you teach? Are you a good teacher? How can you be a better one?
What are you doing?! Ignore me! Here, use a manta to focus—that usually works for you: So hum, so hum. Maybe breathe in some colors too—you like that. Light blue today? Let’s do it.”
“How long are we going to be in this darn lizard pose? Stop—be present! Breathe. Here and now. Body and breath. Be grateful that you’re here.”
“Hi, I’m back. Let’s start thinking about all the potential ways you could fail in life. Oooh, or we can think about the ways you already have. Seriously, what have you actually done in your life that’s really outstanding? You’re not going to be on any 30 under 30 lists you know. Maybe you could have been—let’s evaluate how you might have messed that up. Should you have taken more risks?
Fine, I’ll shut up now. Good job on driving me out with your pranayama. Mental high-five!”
“Remember the time that guy you had a crush on in ninth grade asked you out, and then another girl asked him out, and then he told you he’d actually rather go out with her? That sucked. Oh wait, you still made out with him didn’t you? Girl, where was your self-esteem?”
“Darling, be gentle with yourself. You don’t need to go digging through the past for all the negative stuff; that doesn’t serve you. Focus on the light inside—each time you breathe, that light grows. Do you feel it growing? Hold onto that light. You need it right now.”
“This is it. All you have to do is just lay on this floor and feel the earth holding you up and notice the energy rush through you and be connected with the beautiful divine and know that all the garbage is melting away…wait, does this actually count if you’re thinking these things? Shouldn’t you just feel them without thinking?
Oh, the instructor is adjusting you now. This feels amazing. Don’t make a weird face or else she might think that you don’t like it. Yes, there you go into that sea of peacefulness.”
“You are a beautiful, light-filled being and everything will be okay.”
Whatever the reason for chitta vritti, guess what? The remedy is yoga!
A steady yoga practice helps us clear our minds, focus our intentions, and slip into a state of connection and peace. The mind doesn’t have an on/off switch; like a pet monkey it has to be trained to quiet down.
We train our minds by getting back on our mats and back to our breath over and over again. Maybe my mind monkey was loud this time, but I’m going to put in the work to quiet it down. And I’ll remember that yoga is not a destination—it’s a practice we dedicate ourselves to the best we can.
Yoga is a practice that honors growth, imperfection, vulnerability, and even the monkey mind.
Author: Mary Conroy Almada
Images: Author’s Own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
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