Living with Chitta by Helena Nygren-Krug
Helena Nygren-Krug has a background in human rights law and has worked in the UN system within the field of public health for the past two decades. Her interest in health, which includes mental, physical and social well-being, along with her practice of yoga over the past 15 years, triggered a deeper interest in exploring and practising the intersection between meditation, yoga and enhanced well-being. In 2018, she certified as a yoga instructor (200h) and has since been teaching as well as expanding her knowledge with courses in breathing techniques, mindfulness and gravity yoga. While recognizing that “the longest journey is the journey inwards”, she welcomes this opportunity at this stage of her journey, to share some of her personal insights and experiences in handling stress through yoga.
In yoga, the mind is often referred to as Chitta the monkey. Always jumping around, seeking attention, fiddling, worrying, planning, reminiscing. We spend most of the day (and night for that matter) being dragged around by Chitta. Monkey’s love drama and Chitta puts you (me, I) at the centre of your own life-story, weaving it together in a constant chatter of beliefs, thoughts and emotions.
Does this sound exhausting, even stressful? Welcome to your life.
Rumi, the famous Persian poet said, “protect yourself from your own thoughts.” Sadly, many people are not even aware of all the mental chatter going on in their minds. Oftentimes, moreover, this is negative chatter that is constantly judging yourself and others, questioning your ability, and worrying, even about things that you have no control over.
Yoga helps me see Chitta for what he is, a busy little fellow who will do anything to get my attention. To someone who came to yoga late in life, and who was never particularly flexible, he often takes advantage of my yoga sessions by babbling about how I won’t be able to do this or that posture.
At times, and this is through meditation which I always do using my breath, I get Chitta to actually stop, yes, stop. He has to sit down with me and take deep slow breaths. The breath is a bit like giving him a banana or a toy to play with. As you know, the mind has a very short attention span so you have to be gentle and start small as he will find any excuse to bounce back up.
Try starting for just one minute (set a timer), sitting absolutely still, roll back your shoulders, open your chest, tuck your chin (to lengthen your spine) and start focusing your attention on the breath coming in and out thought our nostrils (keeping your mouth closed). Experience the sensation of bringing your breath from your chest down into your belly. You can place your hand on your belly and the other on your chest and perhaps explore the difference of breathing with your belly from breathing with your chest. Perhaps after a week, you can extend your practice to two minutes and then even further.
I remember when I started meditating. I couldn’t sit still. Chitta hates it and will give you all sorts of excuses…I don’t have time, I don’t feel comfortable, I need to itch my nose, etc.
If you want to understand why, I recommend one of my favorite books, the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. You will see why Chitta hates stillness and the letting go that meditation provides. It threatens his star role, his very existence.
Now meditation is like a ritual I do every day, just like brushing my teeth. If I don’t meditate, my mind feels messy, Chitta is jumping all over the place, I feel the stress creeping in…
Now back to yoga which, frankly to me, is deeply interconnected to the whole idea of liberating yourself from your mind. Yoga allows you to reconnect with your body. It allows you to unlock the tremendous potential which is stored in your body. Wisdom, knowledge, kindness, gratitude, compassion. Through a range of postures, you can embrace life at a deeper and richer level. As someone who loves animals, it’s fun that many of the postures resemble and are given animal names- cobra, lion, camel, dolphin, lizard, snake, frog.
Try small, perhaps a minute of meditation, followed by one or two yoga postures of your choice (total 5 mins a day for a week). Let your practice grow over time. Or if you prefer being guided with some high quality yoga teaching, choose among Adriene’s over 500 free yoga videos! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFKE7WVJfvaHW5q283SxchA