Monkey Mind

Have you ever thought of your brain as an organ?  Just like our hearts, intestines, and skin that are organs in need of care and maintenance, our brain is no different.  At the end of my last post "Turning Off" I suggested trying a simple breathing relaxation technique.  This week I wanted to expand a bit more on mindfulness meditation and how something so simple, free, and easy can have such profound psychological and physiological effects.

The Buddhist term ‘monkey mind’ refers to how our uncontrolled mind holds thoughts; it flits from thought to thought, subject to subject, much like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. A key goal in meditation is that of concentration and quieting the monkey mind. Concentration involves the ability to keep one’s attention firmly fixed on a given subject for a prolonged period of time, thus overcoming the mind’s usual rambling habit of flitting from subject to subject.  

There is a reason that if I were to ask you what you picture when I mention a Buddhist monk, a profoundly happy, calm bald Asian man sitting cross-legged in robes most likely comes up.  Those monks have something seriously right going on over there and we would be foolish to not take a look at what that might be.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School used MRI technology on participants to monitor brain activity while they meditated to explore exactly what part of the brain is stimulated during meditation.  They found the sections of the brain in charge of the autonomic nervous system, which governs the functions in our bodies that we can't control such as digestion and blood pressure, were activated. Interestingly, these are also the functions that are often the most susceptible to be compromised by stress. One may argue that it makes sense that by modulating these functions we could help ward off stress-related conditions such as heart disease, digestive problems and even infertility.

Furthermore, in an article on meditation from Psycology Today they mentioned how neuroscientists have found that meditators can shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex; brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for the sensation of fear.

So, with this being said you can’t honestly tell me that something that can be done at any time of the day, anywhere in the world for the low price of ZERO dollars isn’t something you would be interested in trying.  There are a wide variety of ways one can meditate, and what appeals to one person may not work for another.  Zazen meditation (my personal favorite) is a seated zen meditation where you are focused on the diaphragm during breathing and either counting or repeating a mantra (see here for more info and instructions).  A good way to start out if you are having trouble with your monkey mind is with guided meditation, or meditation with imagery.

In light of this post my fellow an avocado a day teammate Jamie and I have decided to do a 30 day meditation challenge.  This means we need to set aside a minimum of 5 minutes each day for meditation OR quiet reflection for 30 days straight.  Sounds easy right?  HAH.  I’m on day 6 and I’ve almost forgotten to do it 3 out of the 6 days.  I’m hoping it will get easier as we go along…!  

We encourage you to try and set a modest goal: maybe try to set aside 10-15 minutes for your choice of meditation once a week on the day of your choice for a month and see what happens; you may surprise yourself!

Good luck with your monkey mind and nameste! 

A long time athlete and health advocate,  Dr. Kumentas’ goal is to help her patients become excited about making positive lifestyle choices in order to enjoy healthier, happier lives.  Her driving force is a passion for healing the whole person on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level using carefully selected natural therapies, fitness, and integrated medicine.  She truly believes in the importance of practising what you preach and investing in your health.  
Dr. Nadia Kumentas practices at Zen Beginnings Wellness Centre in Toronto and has a special interest in dermatology, woman’s health, and pain management.

To learn more about Dr. Nadia Kumentas visit or contact her at


The Science of Meditation - Psychology Today, Cary Barbor 

Cheng, Wei-an. Taming the Monkey Mind: A Guide to Pureland Buddhism

Burns, Douglas 1994. Buddhist Meditation In depth 


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