From monkey mind to donkey mind with yoga


These series of articles touch upon content of my recent book “Essential Yoga Therapy”, written for everyone involved using yoga for healing. Please join me on a journey of mind-body anatomy and physiology relevant to yoga therapy!

With love, Merel Martens – Founder Parimukti Yoga & Meditation India

Very often our minds are like a storm: we have many thoughts in rapid succession colliding with each other. Our emotions can stop us from seeing the true quality of our minds, of our selves, and of the world we live in. Spiritual practices can help us slow down the waves of thought, or at least make them more manageable. Then we can slowly start to see what is real with clarity.

Spiritual teachers sometimes say we have a monkey mind – our heads are busy with many thoughts while our attention jumps all over the place.

In yoga philosophy, it is thought that the breath is the bridge from the physical to the spiritual body and that the quality of the breath reflects the state of the mind. Calm and less frequent breathing allows us a lot of space to investigate deeper layers of ourselves. Pranayama can turn our ‘monkey minds’ into ‘donkey minds’. Calm breathing makes a lot of sense from a physiological point of view too.

As I discussed before, our style of breathing is closely related to our emotions; our nervous systems plays a key role here. Fast, shallow, and upper-chest breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, triggering our fight/flight responses. While this is useful if we genuinely are in a dangerous situation, the stress response can have a detrimental effect ,on our health and result in conditions such as high blood pressure, anxiety, or depression. And, worse of all, we end up in a vicious cycle of breathing unhealthily, stimulating the stress response in our bodies and triggering negative emotions and thought patterns again.

Meditation can be enormously beneficial as it allows us to disable the link between a certain breath and an emotion. In meditation we ‘play’ with the emotions that come up. Instruct your client to observe thoughts and emotions arising and remain with a deep, calm, slow breath. Instead of shooting into the sympathetic nervous system mode, we allow the parasympathetic nervous system to remain active.