“Remember to keep your monkey tame. Cut away those thoughts, those branches that he’s swinging on,” Mel softly instructed. On a heated floor, amid flickering scented candles, Mel was teaching me (and 15 others) how to practice metta meditation, with a focus on sending loving thoughts to yourself and others. We’d been taught the previous night about ‘Monkey Mind’, a Buddhist term describing the mind as unsettled, like a drunken monkey jumping around and hopping between thoughts when left untamed. Throughout the class, we tried to train the monkey, concentrating only on our breath.
I was spending my weekend in a converted barn in West Sussex on a ‘chillout retreat’. Sweeping views of the countryside cleansed the mind of bustling cities, while a detox helped flush toxins from the body. As well as yoga classes twice a day, we also had regular evening meditation, which connected the body and mind and supplemented the retreat’s purpose — to learn to live in the present moment.
Whilst the morning yoga classes were more dynamic or included a pilates aspect, evening classes were more restorative, and we had just spent an hour stretching out muscles used during our long walk through the South Downs. The class was taken at a relaxed pace by Nat, the founder of Chillout Retreats, and the group was a mixed bag of complete beginners to dedicated yogis. Perched close to the novices, I was comforted that Nat offered three options for most of the poses, based on ability. We stretched out our legs, arms, abs, backs and hips with resistance bands, before Nat moved us into partner work.
Starting with a simple, seated partner twist pose, we moved into a forward-and-back-bend pose and a partner forward-fold. The partner work culminated with what Nat liked to call a ‘sushi’ pose: one in child’s pose and the partner stretched out over them, helping to detoxify and straighten the spine. Moon salutations and a headstand finished off the class, and we then moved onto meditation — which is when I was reminded of my monkey.
The yoga had prepared our minds and bodies for this meditation. Practising yoga had kept my thoughts away from distraction, making me focus purely on the postures. The three points of mindfulness mediation — strength, stability and clarity of mind — suddenly came a lot easier. After twenty minutes of meditation, I left the class feeling stretched out, relaxed and serene.
My monkey hadn’t been completely tamed, but there were certainly fewer branches for him to swing from.