Monkey Mind is Real, or How I Almost Never Became a Yoga Teacher

I graduated from yoga teacher training on Sunday and, as a result, I've been taking stock of my yoga journey so far. It's been a wild ride, to say the least. In fact, I walked out of my first yoga class.

Okay, not the very first class, but the third class of that first eight week series.

Seems funny to admit now, given my recently minted new teacher status, but it's true.

I was about 24 years old and a habitual over-achiever, a people pleaser. I heard that yoga would be good for me, although I'm not sure who told me that. Yoga was something I should do. You know, to relax. (As someone battling undiagnosed anxiety at the time, relaxing wasn't my strong suit.) Let's say that I was a little high strung. Anyway.

At that time there wasn't a yoga studio on every corner, so I found my way to yoga through community ed. The classes were in a church in Saint Paul. I don't remember the teacher's name or even what color hair she had. I remember that she played Deva Premal before I knew who Deva Premal was. I remember the odd texture of the mat I bought, rigid and curling on the ends from being so new. I remember that the class fee felt really expensive to my young, broke self. I remember that the people in the class were regular types, unremarkable to my 24-year old brain. There were no fancy spandex pants. There were no props that I recall.

This was a group of people (who all seemed to know each other) getting together to do what I now know to be Hatha yoga. I looked like everyone else. I fit in with the odd cross-section of humanity in the class, but I wasn't sure what was going on.

The good news is that I had years of dance training in my favor. (As it turns out, my college dance teachers were early adopters of yoga. They peppered our classes with the poses--although they never called it yoga.) I was also young and flexible. The teacher was friendly. She taught us how to do the poses. I could do them well enough. My struggle was not with the physical.

My struggle was with my mind.

My mind was racing all over the place. I was thinking about all the things. I was not feeling the least bit relaxed.

And when I looked around the room, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. No one seemed to be struggling. They all looked so calm. They could lie still on their mats and look serene while they did it.

My brain was on fire with lists of things to do and negative self-talk and random thoughts. I thought I would crawl out of my skin or at least wiggle right off my mat. The more I tried to relax, the louder and more frantic my inner monologue got.

It happened halfway through the third class. We were laying on our backs in happy baby pose. Rocking back and forth on my backside, I wasn't in the room. I was somewhere else, making a list in my head of the things I needed to buy at the grocery store on the way home.

Then I stopped listing food stuffs and started questioning what I was doing there.

Maybe this yoga stuff wasn't for me. I mean, I had to be doing it wrong. I didn't feel relaxed. Not even a little bit. Everyone else was relaxed. Everyone else was doing yoga the right way. What was wrong with me?

"This is stupid," I told myself. "You aren't any good at this. I mean, you're laying here arguing with yourself about whether you should be here. You're wrong for yoga. You don't belong here. You should just leave."

So, I did. I made myself as small as possible, quietly rolled up my mat, and left. I was sure that I would never go back to yoga. And now I'm a yoga teacher.

Life is funny that way.

Monkey mind is real

What I didn't know at the time is that everyone struggles with their mind on the mat. Maybe not all the time and maybe not to the same degree, but when you quiet the body, the movement of the mind comes front and center. And if you don't know to expect it, monkey mind can convince you that you are wrong for yoga.

Don't believe it.

What you can do about monkey mind

  1. Focus on your breath. Bring your mind back to the sensations of the breath moving through the body. This can help calm an active mind, or at least give it something to do.

  2. Ground yourself in the present. Feel where your body touches the mat. Explore sending your awareness to your fingertips. Listen and notice what you hear inside your body. Then listen to the sounds outside of your body.

  3. Visualize. When your mind is racing, visualize breath moving through your body as if it were light. Or think of your favorite place in nature and imagine that you are practicing yoga there.

  4. Know that it's an (imperfect) practice--and that's okay. Your mind will wander, it's what minds do. When your mind stops thinking, you're dead, so having an active mind means you are a living, breathing human. Congratulations! You're alive!

  5. Try again. Some days will be easier than others. Keep coming back to meet yourself on the mat.