I asked on Facebook a couple of days ago what people would like me to write about in this 30 Day Blogging Challenge. I only had one answer, but it is a universal problem, so I hope I can help more than just one person
How can I turn my brain off when my thoughts are racing?
This, to a very large extent, is the purpose of Yoga. There are MANY tools and tips I can give to help to answer this question. Regular attendance at a Yoga class is one way
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the key texts on which the system of Yoga is based. Maharishi Patanjali didn’t ‘invent’ Yoga, he codified the knowledge that the ancient yogis already had into a format that would still be used thousands of years later. This collection of 195 (or 196, depending on the translation you are using) sutras, or verses, tells us about the human condition, and what we can do to elevate ourselves to a better life.
In the second Sutra, Maharishi Patanjali tells us
Yoga is the cessation of the whirlpools of the subconscious mind
Through the practice of Yoga, and by adopting it’s teachings into our life, we can learn to control the mind, to find calm and stillness, and to quieten the noise in our minds.
This noise can be the source of much anxiety. It can keep us awake at night, stop us from being able to focus on the task in hand, from being able to move on from a particular thought or emotion. It can be, as it is for many, a reason to seek out a way to ‘numb’ ourselves, to seek a way to be able to block out the noise. For me, it was one of the reasons I turned to drink, as drinking enabled me to “sleep” at night, rather than listen to the thoughts that would revolve around my mind when I got into bed.
While Yoga has many routes to help to clear and quieten the mind, the main tool that we use is the breath.
Stilling the mind with the breath
We all breathe, from the start to the end of our life, we will all breathe. Our breath is an automatic function carried out by our brain, but we can take it under our conscious control. When we do this, we breathe better, we gain a greater sense of calm and control, and we develop the ability to focus the mind and quieten the noise that keeps us so distracted.
Every class I teach begins with ‘quiet sitting’. This is a practice not unlike the “mindfulness meditation” practiced by so many. This is a very simple way to gain some stillness in the mind, and to “turn off the brain”.
To do this, sit somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. You can sit on the floor cross legged, or on the heels in Vajra Asana, or sit upright in a chair. Make sure that your back is straight as possible, and that your head is erect and not drooping forward.
Clasp the hands together with the right hand dominant over the left, or place them on the thighs. Close the eyes and begin to focus the attention on the breath. Just be aware of the movement of the breath as you breathe in and out through the nose, paying attention to the passage of the breath, the movement of your body as you breathe in and out, and the sensation of the air entering and leaving your body.
After a few breaths of simple observation, try to slow the breath down. An ideal goal is to extend the inhalation and exhalation to a 6 second count each, but if you are new to this practice this might be hard at first. Simply try to slow the breath, and keep the in and out breath equal in length. If you can take the breath to a 6 second count then do so, but if not, keep that in mind as the goal of your practice eventually (over time and practice you will expand your lung capacity and will be able to take the breath to 6 seconds in length).
Keep this practice going for as long as you can. When your mind wanders, don’t judge the thoughts, or yourself for having them, simply bring the focus of the mind back to the breath. We all have to do this, part of the skill that gets developed through this practice is less about the absence of the thoughts, but more about noticing them and coming back to focussing on the breath. I have been practicing this for a long time now, and still have to often bring my thoughts back to my breath – what has changed is that I become aware of my wandering mind sooner, and don’t get dejected by it and give up thinking ‘oh, I can’t do this’.
Practising this regularly will help you to quieten the mind when you need peace, and will, in time, lead to a more peaceful, quieter mind in general.
If you prefer to work through a video, here is one I made for you
This and other practices form part of the work I do in my one to one coaching to help people develop the tools they need to achieve sustainable recovery from alcoholsim. If you or someone you know could benefit from my help, please see my services page for more information