Is Your Mind a Wild Beast? Tame It.

After I’ve exhausted all procrastination tactics, I finally get onto my mediation cushion. I settle in, adjusting my posture, getting my knees into a happy situation . . . there we go . . . and then start turning inward.

Immediately, I’m lost in thoughts: my ever growing to-do list, that last conversation with my boyfriend (why did he say that?), then a breakthrough idea for the video project . . . wait, I’m here to quiet the mind! So I focus on the breath and that works out for about two breaths and then I’m off again, wondering how to volunteer for this next election cycle.

I’ve heard from many others with this same tale of woe–the mind that won’t turn off. And as a yoga teacher, my students often complain of this when we discuss meditation. For some it happens in savasana, the resting period at the end of yoga sessions, or for others when they are trying to sleep. The mind is such a wild beast and it’s used to having its way!

The next step in wrestling with this beast, the mind, is noticing the difference between feeling and thinking.

Feel your body. Feel your feet or your shoulders or your belly.

The mind is habituated to constantly thinking. It’s always commenting, analyzing and judging. Your mind is a highly specialized problem-solver and this evaluative mode of the brain is its default mode (check out Kelly McGonigal’s work on this in The Neuroscience of Change).

The problem is the mind doesn’t know how to turn off. It doesn’t know how to stop thinking especially when you are trying to meditate, relax or sleep. It’s ready to solve all the problems in the world!

The trick is in redirecting your awareness–feel your body.

Instead of letting the mind run willy-nilly into the land of thinking, turn your awareness toward the body. Start with just feeling what you are in contact with – the chair, bed, cushion, or floor. Then you can move to more subtle sensations like your eyes, forehead or temples. You could move sequentially through the body from the head to the feet or vice versa – this is called a body scan. You could even focus on places of discomfort, but beware of judgments and analyzing. Can you just feel this area with curiosity?

And then there’s the breath. The breath is always providing some sensations. You could hold your awareness on one of the sensations of breathing and stay there, getting into the finer details of those sensations. Can you feel the coolness of the inhalations in your nostrils? Or the warmth of the exhalations? Perhaps you can even feel your nostril hairs moving with the breath.

What?! That’s crazy.

It’s true. You can if you just focus.

The next time you find yourself with an overly busy mind, try feeling your body. You may have to bring it back over and over – that pesky thinking mind is pretty strong – but every time you bring it back to the body you are strengthening your concentration muscle and that’s what you need to control the wild thinking mind.

Be patient. Keep feeling.

Michelle Stortz, C-IAYT, RYT500, MFA, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in cancer and chronic illness. She works in numerous medical settings in the Philadelphia area and enjoys designing custom yoga programs that anyone can do regardless of ability. Michelle also teaches meditation, drawing on both the Buddhist tradition and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction curriculum. She conducts classes, retreats, and private sessions. Find more about Michelle at www.MichelleStortz.com