If you're breathing (and I believe you are), you have something to learn from ancient yogic wisdom about how to better focus on your life, your work, your world.
For the yogic sages, the equivalent of a busy, multi-tasking, e-mailing, Facebooking, dashing-to-meetings, late-to-pick-up-the-kids, where-are-my-car-keys, no-time-to-stop brain (sound familiar?) was known as a "monkey mind."
Here's what I mean: Imagine a tree. That's your mind. Imagine 1,000 monkeys. Those beasts are all your thoughts and distractions. Imagine the 1,000 monkeys are in the tree doing all their monkey stuff (like jumping and swinging, screeching and eating). That's your monkey mind. Or mine. Or your neighbor's (unless your neighbor is fully enlightened). We all have monkeys in our tree.
So, now that you have an image of all your mind's distracting thoughts: Take a nice, deep breath.
Then, check back with your mind. Are the monkeys still there?
I'm sure the answer is "yes" - but do they seem even a little bit less active? If so, it's because your breath has triggered the calming effect of your parasympathetic nervous system and has opened a doorway to a clearer mind.
The parasympathetic nervous system helps slow the heart rate and allows the blood vessels to widen, improving blood flow throughout the body.* Flooding the body with a fresh blood supply relieves stress. Ancient yogis may not have had the physiology figured out, but they knew this phenomenal power of the breath.
Consciously breathing in the midst of your frantic day can slow your heart rate, improve your blood flow, and deliver a dose of calm that frees you to focus on the task at hand. Becoming more aware of your breath through meditation, yoga or specific breathing practices can cultivate a calmer, more focused mind. But you can call on the parasympathetic nervous system to do its stuff any time you remember to breathe. I even have a sign at my desk that says 'Breathe.' Any time I see it, I do just that, and my monkeys simmer down a bit, and I just feel better.
I saw a graph recently about the exponential rate at which information will be created over time - and it's not slowing down. If you think your monkey mind is busy now, wait a few years. Learning to draw on the ubiquitous and ever-powerful gift of your breath will be a tremendous asset as you seek to tame the increasing number of monkeys in your tree.
* The parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system together make up the automatic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our "fight or flight" responses and increases the heart rate to prepare the body for action. Overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is a cause of stress.
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