Taming the Monkey Mind, or, will standing-bow pose make me a better mommy?

standingbow.jpgNo, the woman in that picture is not me. She could be, if we added forty pounds, covered her in sweat, and shaded her face a delicate shade of purplish-plum.  Oh, and drop the leg from straight up to about nine o’clock.  Then it would look like me in Bikram Yoga class.

Bikram is yoga done in a hot room – a sauna, basically. You do 26 postures (each one twice) and the class lasts about 90 minutes, during which the room gets to just above a hundred degrees. By the end of class my clothes are soaked, I’m a bit dizzy, my face is plum-colored, and my muscles sometimes shake uncontrollably.

I love it.

Until Bikram, I wasn’t really a yoga-head. That whole “breathe through your left nostril to unlock the chakras of your right ankle” stuff makes me giggle and I never felt like I was getting much of a workout. (yes, yes, I know Madonna and Sting got their amazing bodies with “just yoga” but they have hours a day to spend on their yoga – and I think they’re lying). But with Bikram, there’s so much sweat, and so much stretching and balancing and pulling that it’s impossible not to feel like you’ve exercised every iota of your body: “inside out, bones to skin,” say the yoga teachers.

The classes never vary – the teachers rotate but they conduct the class according to a set script and the poses are always done in the same order. Part of the teacher training is to memorize the script and I’m sure that as they are telling us to “stretch past the limits of our flexibility,” they are thinking “do I need to pick up cat food on the way home?” Some of them run through the class dialogue so fast, in fact, that they could probably get jobs as auctioneers.  The set routine and the constant teacher dialogue means that I don’t have to think – and that’s why I love it. 

During class, I follow the teacher’s voice. We’re not supposed to anticipate instructions; we’re just supposed to move in sync with the dialogue. And that means that my inner voice – the voice of chores, notes, books, blogs, groceries, whatsfordinner –  goes silent. It reminds me of all the years I spent taking ballet classes (a long time and a lot of ice cream ago) and how during class all I thought about was the class, the steps, my alignment – and not about how miserable I was in school or how much I hated my college roommate.

In Bikram, all that goes through my mind is I’M HOT. HOT HOT HOT HOT. And then even that thought goes away and I concentrate on standing on one foot, holding the sole of my other foot in my hands and straightening my leg so that I look like the letter L.

Thumbnail image for headtoknee.jpgYeah, that’s obviously not me either. I have yet to achieve “L.” My leg extension (aka standing-head-to-knee pose) looks more like Caleb’s attempt to draw a witches hat.

The teachers call bikram yoga a “moving meditation,” and it is – but it’s a meditation that also helps combat the wonderful middle-aged upper arm jiggle. So I tone my mind and my swags of backfat. What a lovely twofer. 

In graduate school I tried meditating – concentrating on a candle and chanting, that sort of thing. Usually I got distracted by all the crap I had to do, or I started to laugh, or my back hurt, my knees hurt, my neck hurt. I was a meditating failure.

Recently, however, I had a kind of an epiphany – be warned, yoga conversion story coming – during the savasana. That’s the two minutes we get on the floor, after fifty minutes of intense exercise, when we are to rest in utter stillness before the series of floor postures.

Utter stillness. Two minutes.

Do not wipe away the sweat dripping into your eyes, pooling into your ears, tickling the back of your neck. Do not fidget with your soaking wet t-shirt, do not wipe the hair off your forehead. The teachers call those fidgeting impulses the “monkey mind” – the part of us that wants to move away from stillness, that needs constant distraction, constant reaction. During savasana, we’re supposed to calm the monkey mind and just breathe. In and out, in and out.

You know what? Stillness is freaking hard.

But last week, I did it. Let the sweat drip, the hair tickle, the t-shirt chafe. And then I had a thought: what if today I didn’t yell at my kids. What if I just stayed this still inside all day long?

So I did. Kept my voice calm – even when threatening the boys with no computer! no TV! One day of not yelling led to another day of not yelling. And that led to a day –  okay a day with some Stern Voice Talking – but no yelling. It’s been a week and I’ve managed, more or less, to avoid the sort of monkey-minded yelling that provides a momentary release but ultimately doesn’t really make anything better.  

Now don’t get me wrong. Not screaming has not rid me of the desire to lock my children out of the apartment, or to bang their bickering little heads together, or to throw every single lego down the garbage chute the next time they scream about which legos belong to whom. Let’s not get all crazy here – Bikram hasn’t made me a nice person or anything like that.  And frankly, I’m not even sure my kids have noticed that I am doing less yelling. But I’ve noticed (and Husband has corroborated this observation, so it must be true).

Will this new-found control over my monkey mind continue? Who can say –  if Buddha had my kids, there’s no way he would have found Enlightenment. For the moment, however, the monkey-minded yelling has been silenced.

Now if I could just achieve that “L.”

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3 Responses to Taming the Monkey Mind, or, will standing-bow pose make me a better mommy?

  1. Susanbw February 14, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    Peut-etre you inherited this yogic love from your ma, who entertained her small children by assuming the yoga pose of standing on her head. Hard to yell at children in that pose!
    I certainly experienced no monkey mind the time I breathed so deeply at the end of our yoga session that I felt myself levitating above my prone and sweaty body. Then the monkey mind returned and during this very quiet meditation time, I got an uncontrollable case of the giggles, so funny was it to be floating far above myself — any everyone else!

  2. marneta March 8, 2010 at 5:00 am #

    Hi – I came across your post when i was looking for things about monkey mind! I love it and you reminded me how brilliant bikram is! Thank you so much for reminding me about how great bikram is – i need a good stretch!

  3. Jen July 16, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    I love your realism 🙂 Great post, and something I have struggled with as well. It’s hard not to fidget! I should try that with my kids and at work too….

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