Those new to yoga and meditation may find this idea baffling: your mind isn’t actually you. While the mind is always there – filling our lives with near-constant thoughts, judgments, emotions and demands – it’s not the only driving force in our lives. When yogis talk about “disciplining the mind,” they are speaking about the need to look past the thousands of thoughts that fill our head space (the “monkey mind") every day and, instead, to question these very thoughts before assuming that they are valid and worth acting on.
Like other beneficial skills, disciplining the mind and drawing your attention inward comes with practice. Moment-to-moment, every single day, you need to make an effort to quiet the rambling mind that often takes center stage in your life. Beneath the mind lies a buried treasure, a part of you that’s always (yes, always) still, calm, centered and at peace – regardless of what’s going on around you. When you learn to discipline the mind, you bring yourself into contact with this all-knowing, all-loving part of yourself. Here are four ways to help get your monkey mind to calm down so you can hopefully one day live your entire life from a place of heart-centered intuition.
Use a Yogic Focus Tool
Both yoga and meditation help you to quiet the mind’s voice. Bringing your attention to your breath, being silent, or chanting a positive mantra, are all examples of yogic techniques that allow you to see past the stream of consciousness that’s likely currently governing your day-to-day interactions, moods, behaviors and feelings. (You can also try Linking Breath and Mantra.)
Recognize Your Intuition
Your intuition might just be your best friend when it comes to disciplining and quieting the mind. We all know how important following our “gut feelings” can be; the problem, however, is that tapping into your inner knowledge isn’t always easy. Intuition is one of the most essential pieces of the puzzle when it comes to learning to trust yourself, not jumping to conclusions and making beneficial decisions that serve you best. While listening deeply to our intuition isn’t exactly a life skill we are taught in school, or even at home, it’s one of the most important things you can practice and master.
The intuitive mind has been called sacred gift, while the chattering, wandering mind is more like a servant aiming to please those around us and fit in. Unfortunately, in our society, the servant mind is usually calling the shots since it is the one seeking approval, striving for success and keeping you on your toes, anticipating problems and worrying before things even begin to take a turn for the worst, if at all.
It might seem like a lot of work, learning to look past the mind and rely instead on your inner guidance. But, in some ways, it’s not work at all: in fact, it’s one of the simplest things you can do. Instead of spending your days chasing after every thought that pops into your head – assuming that all your judgments, beliefs and emotions are entirely true and important – you decide to simply take a step back. You notice how you’re feeling, but you don’t assume that every emotion is based on fact or that it necessarily needs to determine your next behavior.
Intuition can appear in many forms: a dream, a feeling in your stomach, an inner sense of “just knowing,” a moment of epiphany, or a realization during a yoga or meditation session. How can you actively work on bringing yourself into closer contact with your peaceful Self?
When we try to quiet down the mind and tap into our true Self – the one beneath the constant stream of thoughts we experience all day long – we find a peaceful place that’s free from worry, comparisons, fear, overwhelming and other damaging feelings. To get there, we need to practice lots of patience, have compassion for ourselves and be willing to try over and over again. (Read more about how to get started meditating today in 6 Steps to Starting a Meditation Practice for Beginners.)
Take Time to Just Be
Aside from being dedicated to your yoga and meditation practice, try journaling, spending more time in nature, walking outdoors and giving yourself time to be still and just be. Throughout the day, as often as you can, tune into what you’re feeling, thinking, wanting and desiring. Ask yourself what you really need when you’re feeling clingy, anxious or upset. Get comfortable with silence: silence is when intuition really has a chance to shine through. (Try Taking Silence Breaks Throughout Your Day.) Make a practice of telling the universe (and yourself) what you really need in life, and then look for the signals that these things are unfolding before you.
Make no mistake about it, disciplining the mind doesn’t happen overnight – far from it. It can take a lifetime of trying, but the joy is in the journey, not necessarily the destination. The more you practice discipline over the mind and looking inward to your own place of wisdom, the more you live a life of authenticity, self-acceptance, non-judgment, compassion and confidence. And regardless of where you might end up, doesn’t this make for a much more enjoyable life?