Wild Monkeys On Board: Mindfulness in Therapy and Daily Life

A woman does a yoga pose in a natural setting with the sun rising in the background.“When I counted up my demons I saw there was one for every day. But with the good ones on my shoulder, I drove the other ones away.” – Coldplay

Riding the Train

I stood on my yoga mat, the sound of my breath pounding in my ears like the thunderous sound of a train. Each wayward thought competed to hijack the breath and the mantra of “peace” that I started my yoga practice with that day. My sense of calm clamored to stay on board, while my thoughts gallivanted about like wild monkeys: “No, lets go here.” “Yep, wander off. Get distracted.” Witnessing this, with loving kindness, I would have to bring myself back to my breath. I would find peace in the spaces in between the thoughts; they were heavenly stops where my “monkey mind” would just rest and let me focus on riding the breath. Of course they started again, you know they always do. But those moments of stillness were magnificent, and the very essence of the peace that I sought. I just had to trust that more stops would come. And they did. I returned to my breath following it back to my true self. And the journey continues.

Showing Up

Lets just put this out here; anyone who says that meditation, yoga, or other activities that promote mindfulness are “easy” just hasn’t experienced them. You and I both also know that it can initially take a greater sense of effort to just “be in the moment” than to allow the monkey-like thoughts to take over. Many find that the benefits of showing up for such practices outweigh the effort that it can take to get on the mat in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no yoga instructor. What I am is a trauma counselor who cherishes yoga, especially what it offers the people I work with, as well as myself. I encourage people with trauma histories to consider a yoga practice as part of their daily living.

The Witness

Ironically, though the postures alone are what many think of when they consider yoga, it is also the actual principles of yoga that are truly conducive to healthy living. Yoga offers its practitioners greater body awareness, self-acceptance, and introspection. As a result, and what I find the most beneficial, one learns to “witness” what’s happening in the internal world, rather than getting “sucked into it.” “Witnessing” what is happening on the mat, just as in life, is the opposite to being hijacked by our thoughts, emotions, or sensations that show up. With this in mind, when we can develop that skill of witnessing, rather than judging ourselves, we are also better able to demonstrate a greater sense of self-acceptance. I find that trauma survivors, for example, are better able to become grounded, and manage their feelings, rather than being taken over or unable to tolerate them as they process them in session.

Body Talk

Yoga encourages you to listen to your body and gain a greater awareness of it, rather than being dissociated from it. Our bodies communicate with us regularly. Whether it is in the form of pain, tension, tightness, or pure relaxation, the body always speaks. The problem is that we don’t listen, or may not want to hear its message.

As I have said in previous articles, the body has memory. Often times, the body will remember something, even if the conscious mind does not. Because I primarily work with clients with histories of trauma, for example, their trauma often “shows up” in their bodies and gives them triggers for anxiety and fear, even though they have no conscious knowledge of its origination. The body wants to release the trauma out of the nervous system. But, through yoga, if they have developed the ability to “witness it,” rather than get taken over by it, they can look at what the body told them, process it, and integrate it more fully.

The Journey

I truly believe that as therapists, we cannot take our clients further than we have gone ourselves. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to explore our inner worlds and promote our healing journeys. For me, exploring yoga is just part of my experience of that very thing. So, as one of my clients asked me recently, “Sarah, what’s up with this yoga thing you are talking about?” I don’t know the definitive answer. What I do know is that you may find it worth exploring. There may be a gift waiting for you when the train stops, in those moments between your thoughts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I also know how hard it can be to make a change. Like you, I’m also human, and can struggle to get to the mat in the first place. The mind, life, and various other distractions ask us to curtail the very things that benefit us the most. But, our inner sense of peace and calm requires that we listen to what our truest self needs, not what the judgments, repeated negative thoughts, and distractions tell us.

Whether it is through yoga or another healthy, nurturing practice, you can find ways to love yourself enough to quiet those unruly thoughts, especially if they want to derail you along your healing journey. And it is through that journey, and experiencing our world authentically, that we connect with our true nature.

© Copyright 2008 by By Sarah Jenkins, MC, LPC, CPsychol, therapist in Tempe, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 19 comments
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  • Sandy

    Sandy

    July 23rd, 2008 at 8:19 AM

    I have never been able to do yoga becasue I have never really had the patience to do things slowly enough. I am always on the go so it kind of goes against my nature to do it. However after reading the article and gaining a better insight for how it can help me not only physically but also on a spiritual and emotional level I think I am going to try incorporating it into my life again and hope to gain a deeper perspective from it this time around.

  • Sarah Jenkins

    Sarah Jenkins

    July 23rd, 2008 at 10:44 AM

    Welcome back to the mat ;) Yes, yoga, truly, is an inspiring experience and can help us look “from the outside in” at what our deepest, most innermost self, really is. Ironically, it is not always what our egos and minds tell us, at all.

    That being said, I encourage you to also look for books by Stephen Cope, especially “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.” He is a psychotherapist and yoga instructor. He does a great job of explaining the transformation, internally, that yoga encourages. It asks us to dig into ourselves and find our true nature. I’m glad that the article is also encouraging you to challenge yourself and find yours!

    Best of luck and let us know how it goes!

  • Chicago Therapist

    Chicago Therapist

    July 23rd, 2008 at 2:57 PM

    Yoga can be such a cathartic experience for so many people that I think that it is great that you are recommending this for your clients. There is so much ease and comfort to be obtained by this, what can be a spiritually moving experience for many and I applaud you fo using innovative therapy techniques for your clients. I think that Ill keep you article as a resource for myself to discover how I can also use this in a therapeutic and creayive way for my own patients, and maybe even myself! :-)

  • Mind Body Shop

    Mind Body Shop

    July 23rd, 2008 at 3:42 PM

    Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.

  • Sarah Jenkins

    Sarah Jenkins

    July 24th, 2008 at 3:01 PM

    Chicago Therapist,

    Thanks so much for the feedback! Yes, I don’t think we can separate our work with the mind, from the body and spirit. As a trauma therapist, I am very keen on making sure that clients are able to identify the link between them. I’m glad that the article is a resource for you, and your clients. Thanks so much for taking the time to read it and bring it into your life as well. Best wishes!

  • Jeni

    Jeni

    July 24th, 2008 at 1:58 PM

    I am so bad about not listening to what my body is trying to tell me. Maybe practising yoga can help me get a better feel for that and help me develop a little more self awareness.

  • Jennifer Therapist

    Jennifer Therapist

    July 25th, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    What a wonderful release for your clients I am sure. Yoga has so mant benefits, bith physically and emotionally, that I sure that the practice of it really serves many people im your caseload well.

  • Laura H

    Laura H

    July 26th, 2008 at 8:35 AM

    I love yoga especially Bikram! I laugh louder, breath deaper, and have more energy. However my fear and anxiety levels are so high right now that I can not even go to yoga.

  • Stephanie W

    Stephanie W

    July 27th, 2008 at 4:32 AM

    I know what you mean about stress levels and the inability to give it your all. But sometimes if you can work through that in your mind and just go ahead and go to class you will be amazed with what results you will feel. You will automatically feel better just from being there and letting the moment of the class take away the stressors in your life. For me it even clears my head enough so that I know what all I have to do to keep everything else going and to even solve the other problems I amy be having.

  • Ed

    Ed

    July 27th, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    I am careful applying the “we cannot take our clients further than we have gone ourselves,” seductive as it is. I work a lot with Dr. Jane Loevinger’s ego development model (Washington University, St Louis) and the phrase is correct up to a point. But low level therapists will never be able to work with anyone – and there are no lack of these in practice. However, Conscientious therapists can also work with the higher level clients just as good coaches. trainers, and physical therapists can work with a wide variety of “clients” whose abilities far exceed their own.

    The same is true with regard to notions such as “only someone who’s been there can understand…” Indeed, for example as drug/alcohol rehab has shown, those who have “been there” are the least effective.

    So, I advise caution in our own – and my own – generalizations. Especially those which suggest that I am the provider and my client the recipient instead of our work being a collaborative effort, leading us both to new discoveries.

  • Sarah Jenkins

    Sarah Jenkins

    July 27th, 2008 at 1:20 PM

    Ed,
    I would certainly agree with you that therapists don’t have to have “gone through” the same things as clients to work towards healing. Besides, who in the world has had the exact same life? Like you indicated, look at the various developmental stages we are in. That being said, “high and low level” therapists seems more like “newer vs. seasoned.” We all start somewhere, don’t we?

    Nevertheless, my point is that I believe that as therapists, when working with clients, and what they are struggling through, that we have an obligation to do our work around those issues if they are ours too. Energetically, we must face the shadows in ourselves, just as we work together with clients to face theirs.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Ed

    Ed

    July 27th, 2008 at 2:21 PM

    I wish that developmental stages translated easily into “new” and “seasoned” therapists. Unhappily they don’t, and developmental considerations – whether Loevinger’s, Kohlberg’s, Erikson’s or any other – all note the individual’s, especially therapists, resistence to growth.

    There’s also that nagging problem that bedevils therapists as it does teachers – the best are the newest and formal training is counter productive (see House of Cards by Dawes, but most of us know this from colleagues and experience).

    Sorry for being a touch pessimistic – 12 years in adolescent psych hospitals, another 20 in rural Alaska, and my current work have not rendered me optimistic about clinicians, though I remain so about clients.

    Regards…

  • Sarah Jenkins

    Sarah Jenkins

    July 27th, 2008 at 3:03 PM

    Hey, no worries Ed. I don’t think the apology about pessimism is necessary. I teach new graduate level therapists, so I get where you are coming from on that. It is always so important, and often ignored, for them to have a healthy balance of personal growth, experience, and formal training

    Take care, and best of luck in all of those wonderful things it sounds like you are doing out there! ;)

  • Maggie

    Maggie

    July 28th, 2008 at 1:32 AM

    I think that you are right in some cases that new counselors and therapists are often the best, but by the same token there are some experienced ones out there who still do care and wat to make a difference. I think the modeli illustrated in this model gives all of us some fresh perspective and new ideas to learn from and will certainly help many of us to liven up oursleves and patients once again. Thanks for the article.

  • Riggs

    Riggs

    July 30th, 2008 at 1:47 PM

    I must confess that I’ve never really tried yoga, but recently I have grabbed hold of living in the present. The result? I have found that I have so much more patience, especially with my children. If I focus on what is going on with them at the moment rather than the laundry list of things I have to do, I am much more willing to hear what they have to say and occasionally do the things they want to do rather than the things I have to do.

  • Terry

    Terry

    July 31st, 2008 at 7:49 AM

    Riggs,
    If you’ve never tried yoga, now may be the perfect time to start. It sounds like you are really ready at this point since you’ve already seen some of the benefits that come from yoga. Being in the present is more than just not worrying about other things in your life. So, why not take a class?

  • Sarah Jenkins

    Sarah Jenkins

    August 3rd, 2008 at 9:54 AM

    Terry and Riggs, I am always shown that how I am on the mat, is how I am being in the world. It is humbling. Whatever my “monkey mind” is doing off of the mat, just “shows” up on the mat as well. It is a great mirror for my internal experience. Yoga helps me to remember that my external experience in the world, always reflects my internal energy. And, when everything is in sync, the present does just unfold.

  • Austin

    Austin

    August 3rd, 2008 at 2:33 PM

    I am not sure I am really all that into this. It seems a little out of my usual comfort zone of dealing with things. Can I, who has never done anything like this, benefit? Where would I even begin?

  • Sarah Jenkins

    Sarah Jenkins

    October 16th, 2008 at 6:50 AM

    Austin,

    I’m truly sorry for the delayed response. To get started, look up yoga studios in your local area. Level 1 or Relaxation classes are great ones for starting out. They teach you the basic poses (asanas) and also get you relaxing and in the moment. They are like foundation classes. You can ask to observe some classes too, just to get a feel for what the studio is like. The benefits are, in my experience, physical, mental, and spiritual balance. Yoga is not just a physical practice, but a mental and spiritual experience. I can, literally, feel my life force flowing more freely and I also experience a greater sense of calm. Again, everyone will describe it differently. There is a Yoga Journal magazine that may give you some great information as well. Hope that helps!

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