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Patanjali, Yoga Sutra

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Yoga Sutra I - 2

Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah - Yoga is the ability to direct and maintain the mind's focus.

Whose mind doesn't jump around from thought to thought like an overwrought monkey from time to time? We've all experienced some form of "monkey mind," whether it's an occasional or consistent state for us.

We also have the ability to be focused and remain focused, sometimes for long periods of time. Take, for example, someone engrossed in a musical performance or joyfully gazing at their newborn child. Most of us have also had this type of experience.

The difference between the two is that the monkey mind creates agitation and the focused mind produces calm.

Being human, we experience both states, but for most of us, the monkey mind is our more common state. The resulting agitation can also be called "stress," and the more time we spend with our minds racing from thought to thought (no matter how juicy or pious our thoughts), the more stressed we become. Eventually, this stress appears on the physical level, manifesting in any number of conditions from fairly benign to life-threatening.

The great news is that there's something you can do about it. In a yoga class, we usually start with the physical body. The very act of concentrating on what you're doing physically helps your mind to focus. Usually, when your mind wanders, your balance wavers! Over time, when you can focus on the gross details of moving your body, the instructions get refined so that you're paying attention to more subtle aspects of the pose. As you progress, you learn to focus on your breath, creating more subtle awareness and focus. Eventually, you focus on the mind itself, as in meditation. At this point, you may be able to notice the precise moment when your attention wanders. This usually takes a lot of practice!

Wherever you're at, yoga can be helpful in focusing the mind and creating the conditions for calm. Then, over time, this becomes the normal pattern, and the monkey only comes to visit once in a while!

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