Like so many people, I came to Yoga to find some relief from my stress. I was 18 years old, had just moved away to university and was not a social adept. My mother urged me to give yoga a go and I did. The first thing I noticed was that I liked it, the second was that I didn’t know why. My friends told me later that whenever I returned back to our digs I was apparently annoyingly happy and unusually friendly. Something was working on more than just my hamstrings, but what?
That was where my curiosity in yoga and its effect on my mood began. Now, nearly 30 years later I have a far better idea of what was, and still is, going on inside my head. My quest began with the mind. What effect was this yoga thing having on my mind and how? Sadly, my 18-year old self decided that my mind was obviously the enemy and was something to be battled against, defeated and ultimately put down. I feel pretty certain that I came to this conclusion due to the repeated words of my first yoga teacher telling us all to ‘clear the mind’. Try as I might, my mind would not clear. My mind was, therefore, according to my logic, uniquely flawed and clearly troublesome. I felt that I needed to cultivate a will of steel and an unmovable determination to cull the mind, to use brute force in order to make it become subservient. How wrong that turned out to be.
Over happy years and through bleak black years I toyed with, fought for and swung pro and against the idea of my mind being ‘clear’. Even during my yoga teacher training I was still looking for this chalice of calm. The thoughtless, mindless me. This is what yoga teachers are going on about I thought, when they, almost absentmindedly, ask their students to ‘now just clear your mind’.
It was 6 or so years ago that I met Alexander Filmer-Lorch and through working with him, the pieces finally started to slot into place. I began, through his expert guidance and deep understanding of philosophy, meditation and psychology, to realise that my mind was actually my friend. In fact, I now like to think of my mind as a small, brilliant child. A child that needs taking very good care of to flourish. In order to gain the trust of my mind I needed to give it respect, attention, love and patience. Otherwise it was going to throw a tantrum and I might end up falling victim to one of its nastier games of anxiety, cruelty or even depression.
So, I gave my mind time.I began to teach my mind, to train it through very specific, and also surprisingly simple, methods to steady. I began to realise how I could use the very thing that I had been fighting against to help me reach my goal of stilling my thoughts and finding the clarity that had eluded me for so many years.
Philosophically speaking, and more recently scientifically speaking, we have 3 brains. A head (or intellect brain), a heart (or emotional brain) and a movement (or instinctual brain). In the language of universal laws when these 3 brains are working in harmony, a new creative and transformational brain appears. One able to navigate all 3 and correctly file information into the right brain to maintain the status quo.
So to find ‘clarity of mind’, (as well as body and heart for that matter) we need to work with all 3 brains to find our path towards a steadiness, or stillness of all 3. How many times have we sat down for meditation or ‘to clear the mind’ only to find our ankles or back hurt? This is a movement-brain thing and needs attending to first. To ignore the body requires determination and that is the kind of hard work which will end up exhausting the mind. Once our movement body is placated we might become aware that we are upset about something. Perhaps the quarrel this morning over who would take the last parking space in the street. This is a heart-brain thing and needs attending to in the same way, giving it a moment of attention and noticing the feelings. And then, we remember that we‘ve forgotten to send that email to the boss. This is a head-brain thing and needs to be noted so it doesn’t start to create a mind loop, popping back into the mind again and again and delaying the process of stilling.
Only once all 3 brains have been given their time and attention will they soften, a little like putting wax on a camera lens, blurring our focused attentive mind and opening our expansive, awareness mind. The 3 brains can now become passive and open to allow something new to occur. Some days this new thing might actually just happen to be a clear mind. No thoughts, just presence. Some days your mind will present you with something else. It just is as it is, whilst practice allows for more clear days than cluttered ones. This is the reward for discipline and patience.
Finally, it is important to remember that the brain waves. Our brain waves at different speeds or frequencies throughout the day depending on what we’re up to. From busy Beta waves towards relaxed Alpha waves into chilled, almost meditative Theta waves before dropping into dream state Delta waves. Interestingly, a truly meditative mind, as proved through research with Buddhist monks, displays the fastest of all waves, the ultimate transformative Gamma wave of the mind. A truly meditative mind is as fast as lightning and as sharp as a knife. It’s focused and expansive at the same time and through this expansive nature, it is no longer cluttered or cramped as there is just so much space inside it. You could even call it clear, perhaps?
Whatever your mind goal I would urge you to consider cultivating a love affair with your mind, not trying to keep up a battle with it because trust me, you will lose.
*Abbreviated from "Your Mind is Not the Enemy", by Lucy Parker in the fifth issue of Amrita. Learn more and download Amrita Yoga Magazine here!