Everyone can recognize how the ‘monkey mind’ feels—it’s the distracted mind that moves in more than one direction at a time, swinging from one branch of thought to the next, and the next, and so on.
The ‘monkey mind’ idea comes from Buddhism, and yogis have used the term for thousands of years to describe restless people who were in a state of agitation, doubt, worry, uncertainty, and stress. The chaos inside our minds, the constant mental chatter, and today’s access to technology, make it incredibly challenging to focus, sit still, and enjoy the present moment.
- It’s why you have CNN turned on for background noise when you’re working.
- It’s why you treat yourself to an Instagram break every five minutes when you’re on a deadline.
- Or, you get ready for an afternoon of studying, but before you know it, you find yourself deep down the YouTube rabbit hole and shopping on Amazon.
So how exactly can we reel in the monkey mind and train it to start powering your brain to live in a focused, higher state of being? The key is to learn to tame it, and one way, as practiced by the ancient Buddhist philosophers and yogis, is through mindfulness.
If you’re stuck in your head and need some grounding in the present, here are our favorite accessible mindfulness-oriented activities. All can help you pay attention to the present moment, focus on a purpose, and positively improve your life.
Write morning pages.
Journaling morning pages is a stream-of-consciousness exercise that will clear your mind because there is no right or wrong approach. It’s completely free and open-ended. It doesn’t have to be creative, beautiful, or even makes sense.
Tip: Grab your journal (we like this and this one) after you wake up, and jot down three pages of anything that comes to mind. Once you find your rhythm, it’ll become easier to write and might even be hard to stop.
Do a daily 5-minute morning stretch.
Whether you naturally like to start your day with an easy yoga session or prefer to sweat and move, research shows that any morning movement lowers blood pressure and overall stress.
Tip: Drink one full glass of water beforehand to hydrate your organs.
Daily pranayama breathing.
Regular daily practice of deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving your health, and incorporating pranayama breathwork strengthens the connection between your body and mind. Studies show it can promote relaxation and mindfulness. It also supports multiple aspects of physical health, including lung function, blood pressure, and brain function.
There are many breathing techniques, but a straightforward one is known as the Belly Breath. It’s a core breathing pattern used by many yoga teachers and many yoga studios worldwide.
To try it:
- Place one hand on your belly.
- Take a deep breath in through the nose for four seconds, drawing air toward your lower belly. Feel the belly expand and rise as you inhale.
- Exhale through the nose for four seconds and feel the belly contract and lower. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.
- Practice this technique 3 to 5 minutes a few times a day, or whenever you feel stressed.
Tip: Try this exercise in the morning before you open your laptop for the day!
Write a gratitude list.
Gratitude is the warm feeling of thankfulness you experience when you acknowledge the good things you have – and things you don’t – in your life. Reflecting on all these things helps you release positive emotions, improve your wellbeing, leads to a more positive and optimistic outlook in life, and release tension in the body.
Tip: After you wake up in the morning or go to bed at night, write five to 10 things that you are grateful for–this list can be of people in your life, things people have said, items you have or don’t, feelings, anything! Revisit the list each night or the next day.
Do an introspection exercise.
In our technology-driven culture, distractions happen a mile a minute–from working, texting, browsing online, and Instagramming–tuning out means turning inward for a bit.
- Take a few minutes to sit silently and observe your current mental state and all of the emotions that exist for you right now.
- Note which thoughts arise, how you feel, how your body feels.
- Incorporate breathwork to slow down and release tension a few times a day.
Try a foot-grounding exercise.
There’s a reason most yoga teachers will remind their students to stay grounded or in-tune with the floor beneath their feet. Grounding techniques help you pull away from negative emotions, unwanted thoughts, or challenging situations. These techniques help you refocus on what’s happening in the present moment.
Tip: Try walking barefoot in the grass to experience an “earthing” exercise. While researchers are still exploring this practice’s benefits, some experts claim that this may help reduce stress while improving blood flow, sleep, and vitality.
It wouldn’t be a mindfulness post without mentioning meditation. While you may know that it’s a popular method used to train the mind to focus on the present, meditation has been proven to change your brain. Among its many benefits, it reduces aging, reduces the need for antidepressants, improves concentration. There are many ways to meditate, from five minutes to fifty to being in a room filled with people or solo.