Sometimes it feels like my brain is broken. Like there is a disconnect between what I know I should do, and actually doing it. And between what I should think, and what I actually think. For example, last night I promised ZiZi that I would wash her school t-shirt, so she could wear it on today’s field trip to the zoo. I left in in the middle of the hallway, so I wouldn’t forget.
I walked around that bright red shirt twenty times before I went to bed, yet I still forgot to wash it. Because my brain is broken. And because my brain is broken, my 8 year old went on a field trip to the zoo in a shirt stained with last week’s peanut butter. And in my broken brain, I am thinking that the chaperones on the field trip, parents that I see all the time, must think that I am the worst mom ever.
I know I they probably don’t think that, and that dirty laundry does not make me a bad mom, but I do think this way sometimes. Thankfully, I have confirmed that I am not the only one with a broken brain, and other people also have these feelings from time to time.
The good news is that there is a remedy for broken brain syndrome. All we have to do is create a little space between what the world thinks we should be, and who we really are.
This is what the fifth limb (discipline) of yoga, pratyahara, is all about. The word pratyahara is sanskrit for “withdrawal”, and the practice of pratyahara teaches us how to create space between ourselves and our attachments to the relentless chatter of the world. It makes us aware of the stories circulating around us, and opens us to the possibility that some of them are not true.
Pratyahara is difficult to explain, if you have not experienced it before. It’s more of a belief, and a feeling, than something we do. When we believe that we can quiet our minds, we make it possible to tune out the chatter that separates us from God.
It’s that thing that happens in savasana, when you forget that there are other people in the room. You know that you are physically there, but you are not there. You are floating in space, and it feels free, and nothing else matters besides staying in that space where you are neither here nor there. Just like any other discipline, pratyahara becomes more rewarding, the more frequently we practice it.
Knowing how to create this space between us and the world is especially helpful, as we navigate the messy details of our busy lives. Like when I gave birth to three children in 39 months, and they were all in diapers at the same time. My days were a blur of bottles, music classes, homemade baby food, and Baby Einstein.
I wanted to be the perfect mom, but when you have three tiny humans that are totally dependent on you, it is impossible to be perfect! Somebody was always crying, I was on sensory overload, and my broken brain couldn’t figure out which way was up. People were quick to give me the stink eye if my babies cried at the store, even though I was clearly outnumbered. Strangers gave me breastfeeding advice, as if it was something I couldn’t figure out on my own. It was all so overwhelming, and withdrawal from the chatter was the only way I could begin make sense of the chaos.
When I needed a break, I would strap the girls into whatever bouncy seat or johnny jumper would hold them safely for a few minutes, and stretch on the floor, while they watched Dora. If my husband was home, I would escape to the basement and meditate. And, when I was lucky enough to have a sitter, I would find a yoga class and get my pratyahara on in public.
Little by little, I chose to make space for my soul. I learned to recognize the difference between what was essential, and what was not, and got really good at saying “no” to anything, and anyone, that might make me feel less than enough. I realized that I don’t have to be everything to everyone, and sometimes “no” is the right answer for me, even if it’s not what other people want to hear.
My kids are older now, somehow things are even busier, and my brain feels just as broken as it did when they were babies. I kinda doubt that my brain will every get fully unbroken, at least not as long as we still have kids in the house. But it does find peace when I practice yoga, and it’s good to know that peace will always be there for me, as long as I remember to make space for my soul.