Taming a Monkey Mind

At a family dinner a few weeks ago, my father-in-law asked, “What are you up to now?”

I expressed with an enthusiastic, almost childlike tone, “I’m working towards completing my two-hundred-hour certification to be a Registered Yoga Teacher.”

The puzzled look on his face spoke volumes. He continued to appear perplexed while stating, “You’re always moving from one thing to the next. Will you ever be content with where you are?  

My immediate internal reaction was: Holy smoly, you glum guy! Why can’t you be happy for me or say, “How nice,” or even, “Good luck?”

Thank goodness my teenage son noticed my flummoxed expression and decided it was time to talk about his day and informed everyone, “I am so annoyed with my teacher. Can you believe it? She marked me late again!”

Immediately, I felt unsettled, questioning myself, Am I everywhere and nowhere at the same time? Do I need to settle down and find one thing that makes me happy? I took a deep breath, located my inner Zen zone and thought, Who cares what he thinks!

Yet, it still made me ponder. . . . What makes me think I can teach yoga? I get nervous speaking in front of people . . . . But I am quite flexible and I have practiced Yoga for years. Why shouldn’t I teach? I confuse some of the poses sometimes but that’s why I am learning to teach. The best way to learn is to teach. What the heck. . . . I want to evolve as a person.

I AM going to do this! I WILL be a Yoga Teacher!

Through the years, learning about restoring my own mind and body control has proven successful (especially at family dinners ☺). I realized guiding others to do the same would be gratifying, no matter how farfetched it sounded at the time.

About a year ago, I met an inspiring Yogini named Lila who projects enormous amounts of love and light. When I am on my mat, her yoga sessions feel like a spiritual service with a splash of soothing and a twist of settling into each pose. The energy she exudes is contagious.

Coming out of my comfort zone is awkward and nerve-racking, but extremely empowering once I mentally and physically get past the first few uncomfortable moments. Having learned Lila was co-leading the upcoming teacher training classes, and with the support of my husband and girlfriends, I enthusiastically signed up. In the back of my mind I knew that dreary comments would be forthcoming from some family members, and even then I asked myself, Do I jump from one activity to another? Was this the right decision?

The answer came quickly, Yes, it’s the right decision. You made this choice for a reason. Live into your answer.

I am curious about almost everything: nature and its existence, the human heart and its depth, the mind and its malleability. Over the years, yoga has provided me a safe place to explore all of these. It has been and continues to be an ongoing journey of self-study and life study.

Maybe I should have replied to my father-in-law: The same is lame, to me.

However, yoga and my Midwestern roots have taught me to pause and be polite before I verbalize something that may only be hurtful and not helpful.

I enjoy constant tinkering and thinkering. Layers excite me. Exploring the physical, mental, and spiritual side of me has been a constant in my life as far back as I can remember. I have been many things and will continue to be many more.

Having worked in the corporate realm, the culinary world, and the non-profit sector for many years, there was still something missing, I needed more.  I went back to school for Clinical Psychology, which ended up not being my path of highest pleasure. These undertakings never provided my full engagement.  The activity I am involved with must draw me in completely.  Otherwise, my attention and mind wanders.  I thrive with diversity in my life. I revel in keeping my mind malleable while fine-tuning my human heart, and deflecting negativity that others may radiate due to my choices.

My experiences have taught me many things about myself. The most important lessons turned out to be finding out the three “C”s of where I cannot be: Confined, Cramped, and Constricted. Just the thought of any of these three adjectives make me cringe.

Today; as a freelance writer, wife and mother of two teenage boys, a wanderlust, a yogi, gardener, librarian (I have a Little Free Library), wannabe ballroom dancer and an individual who likes to drink wine and eat stinky cheese is exactly who I am and where I am supposed to be, in this moment.

When Lila, my mentor mentioned the other day to the class, “Quiet your monkey mind.” I could relate.  The Zen Buddhists refer to this monkey mind notion as constant chatter of the mind.  Unsettled.  Restless. Fidgety. My mind is just that, in constant motion which is why yoga has been beneficial for me.  It forces me to focus on the present and the task at hand, which is staying in the posture while discovering my breath.

Practicing yoga has helped me to power down and reel in my racing thoughts. My mind and movements are similar to that of a monkey . . . in perpetual motion. My personality traits, can be mischievous, curious, and playful. My thoughts and actions at times, have the tendency to mosey into places they do not belong.

I like it this way. It is who I am.

That same class, Lila gently repositioned me, as I was not following her cues. Everyone, except me was on their left side, in Supine Twist while I was doing the Twist and Shout on my right side, with my leg crossed the wrong way.

It is taking time, but I am learning to quiet my monkey mind.  With improved self-governing, there is hope teacher training will transform my fear and force me to pay particular attention to the cues in both life and yoga while remaining inquisitive and interesting.

It is a struggle to not limit my own activities and advancements. When fear sets in, it is easy to shut down (did I mention, I get anxiety speaking in front of groups ☺). Each class, I look my fear in the face, recognize my monkey mind and feel grateful for the yoga community who accepts me. I continue to acknowledge my anxiety which is a huge first step and feeling the fear is not fun. But I asked myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen, I mess up and start over. Oddly enough, in Lila’s class yesterday the theme was, “I do not need to be perfect, just fearless, and resilient, and me.”

My intentions for this teacher training, and in my everyday existence, is to remain active in untangling the wild nature of my monkey mind. Never tame it, but allow this delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit, freedom to roam and run in its cleverness and curiosity. While acknowledging my boundaries are self-imposed, I will endeavor to swing with the monkeys in the jungles from tree to tree wherever the next vine takes me.

© November 2016 Shannon Hogan Cohen



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