My daughter Lucia can play piano and guitar, do geometry, read adult books, and play soccer, all really well. She's a hard worker, a good listener (sometimes) and can really focus when she wants to. Her weakest link is decision-making. Whether it be what to eat for dinner, who to invite for a sleepover, what color undershirt to wear, she becomes a complete bonehead. I have theories as to why she might struggle. As the child of divorce myself, I can relate to the divided loyalties that Lucia, as a singleton with divorced parents, experiences as a daily part of her life. Lucia is also a perfectionist and she overthinks every decision. Her prefrontal cortex is way over-active.
When Lucia gets stuck on a decision, "Mommy, I don't know..... I can't decide.... what do you think?", I try to encourage her to go to the feeling. "Close your eyes," I coax, "and just try to feel what you want. Try not to think about it." Sometimes she can get there, but more often, she just panics and, like ripping off a scab, she makes the decision as quickly as possible.
I'm forty-six years old, and, like Lucia, a perfectionist. If I choose the Carbonara, will I wish I'd chosen the Bolognese? Will salad be too much? Malbec or Tempranillo? Which is the one I really like? Should I text Nancy to see if she remembers if that was the kind I had in New York? Packing for a trip is a saga every time. I love my yellow slacks, but will I really wear them? Does it make more sense to just bring the black, even though the weather is so unpredictable and it might be hot and then I'll really wish I had the yellow... or what about shorts. Shorts might be good. I might really be bummed if I don't have shorts. Maybe I can borrow shorts? But what if they don't fit? I guess I could always go to Target and get some emergency shorts! Jesus Christ! It never stops.
So, finding a way to slow down the brain, get to the feeling, is an important life skill for me to develop. And, it's something I want to do my best to impart to Lucia so she can spend her future days with a little more peace of mind.
For me, releasing the over-thinking only consistently happens in one place-- Yoga. When I practice, especially at the beginning of class, when I am filled with resistance, residual static from life still coursing through my veins, the only way for me to actually get through the postures is to put all of my energy--mental and physical-- into what I'm doing. Usually, by about fifteen minutes into class, I am where I want to be. I am in a different brain state. My reptilian brain is turned on more than my neocortex and I can literally feel a state of calm take over while crazy brain takes a nap.
It is often when I am teaching, when I can see the bodies of other humans, that I start to understand what happens for me in my own practice. Yesterday I had a class with a handful of strugglers. Seeing their bodies, I could imagine what was going on in their minds, and I could totally relate. "Try not to think so much," I said, "just feel what you need, and give yourself that." It's a hard place to get, and it can take years of committed practice to get there.
This permission to simply feel what you need or want, and give it to yourself, is a huge part of Yoga practice. You are not performing, not competing, not trying to be perfect. You are simply practicing--practicing the physical postures as well as the mental exercise of listening to your feelings instead of your thoughts. This mental exercise tells you when you need a break, when you can give more, when you need to cry, laugh, breathe. You'll start to notice both inside and outside of the Yoga room, that life feels easier. Your brain is like a muscle. Like your quads eventually develop the strength to hold you in Standing Bow Pose, your brain will get stronger with practice. Take if from me, packing, though still intense, is way easier than it used to be!