For a high school senior girl, there is nothing quite as important as finding your prom dress. Having witnessed this process firsthand, I was surprised by how complicated it has become.
These days, choosing a dress is more methodical than any research project that most kids have done to date. Hours are spent on-line browsing hundreds of dresses on dozens of websites. Analysis must be done of cut, color and how each style would look on you. There are statistics to manage. You carefully keep track of your classmates’ choices on the Facebook page created not only to reduce the horror of dress duplication, but to make sure you don’t choose the most popular color or a dress that is “too much” or “too little.”
Friendships are tested as each girls texts out screen shots of her favorites to her group and opinions are gathered. Emotions can run high. There can be tears, as in “She chose the dress I wanted!” or “I’ll never find one that pretty.” There can be some cattiness. There can be gossip. (After all, we’re talking about adolescent girls.) But there can also be empathy and kindness and even sheer joy when you think you’ve found “the one.”
Actually standing in the store and choosing “the one” is a gigantic decision for a girl. Trying on gown after gown is a real-life moment that feels lifted out of a Hollywood romantic comedy. You spin in front of mirrors. Women from other dressing rooms “ooh” and “aah.” You’re offered a selection of high heels. Best yet? There’s a smiling someone standing right there to hang up your cast-offs for you.
You can’t get completely caught up in romance of the moment, though. You have to think. You have to inspect. You have to categorize and analyze. You have to really look at yourself. The dresses that don’t look good on you or that you didn’t really like anyway are the easy decisions to make. Harder is the dress you loved as soon as you saw it on-line, but that doesn’t look quite the same on you as it did on the willowy model. Harder still is the style you “hated” in all the pictures but looks like it was made for you when your mom makes you try it on.
The hardest decision of all, however, is the final choice between the two (or, if you’re really having a good day, three) gowns that make your heart beat a little faster. Thinking doesn’t help you now. The work of critiquing, analyzing and inspecting yourself in the mirror is over. Even gathering opinions – from the salespeople, the woman in the next dressing room, your best friend in the dressing room with you, 15 of your closest friends via text – doesn’t help.
You are on your own now. You have to trust something much deeper than data or opinions or well-considered thoughts. You have to stand in each dress and figure out how you feel. For, in the end, choosing a prom dress is about choosing the dress that makes you feel beautiful. The dress that makes you feel like a princess. The dress that makes one of your dreams come true.
This is heart-stuff rather than head-stuff. And for many of us, heart-stuff is uncharted, uncomfortable territory. It’s easier to make choices when we know we’re right. When the math checks out. When there are supporting arguments. When there are experts to rely on. We’ve been trained all of our lives to make decisions like this. In fact, many of have been trained that heart-stuff is unreliable, that feelings are less valuable than thoughts, that desires and dreams are for … well … for (scoff) dreamers.
A yoga practice teaches us the benefits of both head-stuff and heart-stuff. Our teachers provide the head-stuff. Our teachers can show us technique. They can recommend books. They can suggest videos. They can listen to us and repeat back what they hear. They can answer questions. They can guide us, but only so far.
For our practice to really take off, we assimilate all that we have learned and then we add to it from our own experience. We have to begin to lead the way, relying on the way we feel, what we yearn for and whether or not we sense something is right or wrong. We’re on our own as we work with this heart-stuff. On our mats the heart-stuff we work with can be fears and frustrations, failures and success or gains and losses. We set goals based on our desires. We have to learn when to push ourselves and when to coddle ourselves a little bit.
Our yoga practice teaches us to balance our reliance on head-stuff. With practice, we learn not only to connect with, but to trust, heart-stuff as much as anything else that we’ve learned.
Many of life’s biggest decisions ask us to do just this. Choosing a spouse. Choosing a house. Choosing a new job. In each of these choices head-stuff absolutely plays a critical role. But that alone is not enough. There is an emotional component to these choices that can derail us if we don’t know how to tune into our heart. Thankfully, we can practice. Whether on a yoga mat or while choosing a prom dress (or whatever the male equivalent of that is).