While the intricacies about what makes meditation so powerful may be incredibly complex to comprehend, there is one expression often used in association to meditation that is particularly easy to understand right off the bat – monkey mind. Many of us confront our monkey mind at some point during our week, or perhaps, even daily.
Monkey mind describes the state of your mind that is restless, and is seemingly unable to be calmed or controlled. You begin thinking about this concern, or that worry, and suddenly you’re overwhelmed with a flood of overwhelming thoughts. Interestingly, your monkey mind often presents itself during meditation – a time when we should have anything but one!
It’s an unfortunate reality for many of us that when we finally set aside the time to nurture ourselves and rest our minds, the cheeky monkey in our minds lets loose. Instead of being in a zen-like state, we find ourselves thinking about Tuesday’s dinner, or prepping for your next business meeting, or what to buy your friend for their birthday – or all three simultaneously!
Fortunately, there is a way to reign your monkey mind in. In fact, there are many ways to, as you’ll discover below 5 expert tips that will help you to finally calm your monkey mind.
1. Don’t Judge Your Wandering Mind
Simone Sobel is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist who teaches mindfulness meditation to anxious, stressed, or traumatized clients. When they complain of not being able to calm or slow their mind down during meditation, she offers the following tips:
“Don’t become distressed or distracted if you can’t bring your mind to the task. It’s normal for the human mind to wander. Don’t judge your wandering mind. The idea with mindfulness meditation is to not to cling to anything or push anything away too strongly. Marsha Lineman, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy suggests a couple of mindfulness meditation exercises in which you imagine one of the following scenarios:
a) Your mind is the sky and your wandering thoughts and emotions are like clouds. Imagine your thoughts as clouds as they gently float or scurry by in the vast sky of your mind.
b) Imagine your mind is a conveyor belt. As your thoughts come down the conveyor belt, imagine placing them in a box sitting beside the conveyor belt.
These two exercises give the mind both focus and a visual to assist someone in developing a calm, conscious, mindful awareness. If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to the task and don’t worry – mindfulness takes time and practice to perfect, just like any discipline.”
2. Correct “Over-Energy”
Tracy Latz, M.D. is an Integrative Psychiatrist with 25 years of clinical experience. She has been teaching meditation and mindfulness for nearly two decades. Latz even taught a course called “How to Meditate When You Can’t.” Below is one of her recommended tips for calming a monkey mind:
“Our imbalance in the meridians can come from being over-charged and having too much energy. This results in feeling spaced out, confused or overwhelmed. To correct for over-energy you should try this exercise:
Cross the left ankle over the right ankle, extend arms with backs of hands facing each other, bring right hand over left, clasp fingers together, fold arms and hands inward and rest the hands on the chest under the chin. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth, breathe deeply for 1-2 minutes. It’s very calming for most individuals and can be used as a separate exercise to promote sleep and reduce acute anxiety.”
3. Have a Belly Laugh to Relieve Stress
The wellbeing experts at women’s wellness site WellMe recommend laughter as an effective strategy for combating stress. While it sounds, well, laughable (excuse the pun!), numerous studies uphold the efficacy of laughter as an effective stress buster. Here’s what they advise:
“Stress often manifests itself in the form of a monkey mind, not to mention countless health problems. This is why it’s so important to find ways to de-stress before meditating, and there a few things better than a good belly laugh. Just remember the last time you had one and how great it felt after!
How you get laughing is really up to you, as what makes each of us laugh is completely different. For example, you could put on a comedic show or movie, catch up with a hilarious friend, or even watch cat videos on YouTube.
So long as you find something that makes you get the giggles, there’s no going wrong. The best thing is that as you put aside time to do so on a regular basis, you’ll start to find that your feelings of stress don’t linger on so much. Eventually, you will be able to leave whatever stress you have at the door, and enjoy a monkey mind free meditation practice.”
4. Get App Happy
Certified nutrition coach, corporate wellness consultant, and founder of Let It Be Club Alison Brehme recommends meditation apps as a quick way to get your meditation back on track. Here are her favorites:
“Sometimes it can feel as if your mind is racing in a million different directions. When this starts to happen it is important to take a centering break. Mini-Meditation soundtracks, guided deep breathing exercises, and apps like Headspace and Calm are useful and simple ways to dial back your stress and calm a “monkey mind.”
If you have more time and want a deeper meditative experience, I suggest one of my new favorite apps, Think Up. They have a list of affirmations and encourage you to select the ones that resonate with your life. You then record those affirmations in your own voice using the app.
Once completed, it plays your recordings with soothing meditative background music. You can listen to them throughout the day especially when your mind is racing from one thing to the next. It becomes 10 times more powerful because you are hearing these affirmations in your own voice! Perfect mental pick-me-up to your day whether you are the office, in the car or at home relaxing for the evening!”
5. Find Your Anchor
Our final expert tip comes from Ravi Mishra, a meditator for over ten years, and founder of the meditation app Why Not Awaken. Here’s what he believes can help settle your monkey mind:
“Come back to your attention anchor – or have a conversation with yourself. Once you’ve recognized where you’re at and are ok with this, it’s time to come back to your anchor of mental focus.
The process of mediation (and life) is simply to come back, over and over. Meditation is not nearly as much about staying with your anchor as it is about noticing and coming back, over and over.
This is the exact mental process that trains the mind, much like how a repeated motion is the training when working out. And if coming back feels like too much, take a break and ask yourself what’s up, so you can know more deeply what’s going on inside.”