There is a yoga teacher in New Hampshire who helps guide her students into balancing poses by saying, "Get out of your head."
She goes on to say that a toddler falls over because their center of gravity is so high up -- practically in their skulls -- and that is roughly the same reason why people fall out of balancing poses. People focus too much on what they are doing, if they are capable of doing it, if they are going to fall over, that they essentially bring their energy, their balance, into their heads. And like a toddler, they fall over. She tells her students to focus on rooting down, focus on the ground below them, focus on that connection, and watch as they stop falling over.
Now, I straddle the line between the spiritual and the practical aspect of yoga. I remember my first full yoga class, where I rested in savasana and just knew that this bag of meat I lived in was nothing compared to the dynamic spirit that resided in me. But I also recognize that a lot of the "mystical" stuff has roots in actual science. "Opening your heart chakra" is really just keeping your thoracic cavity expanded, making it easier to breathe. "Pull in the uddiyana bandha" is really just an efficient way of engaging your core. And, likewise, telling a person to "get out of their head" is a psychological act of putting the focus on something calmer, something that keeps you from panicking and locking up your limbs and falling over.
I might be touching in on Life of Pi over here, but, when given both options, I'm okay with shifting towards the more imaginative one: the idea of shifting energy down, even if it's just a ploy to get my muscles to move in a certain way.
I got to try paddle boarding for the first time yesterday. Our flight wasn't until late, so we spent the morning at the beach. For those playing the home game, paddle boarding is when you kneel or stand on essentially a surfboard and, well, paddle around. I spent the first 45 minutes trying to transition from kneeling to standing, only to immediate fall into the water. I blamed everything: the wind, the surf, my paddle... until I remembered that bit of sage advice from the yoga teacher, "Get out of your head."
And that's what I did. I stopped thinking so much and instead focused downwards. I thought about my feet on the board. I thought about this connection (be it mystical or literal) I had with the board and the waves and the water -- and even the sand below me. And maybe I did draw my energy downward. Or maybe I just stopped thinking so damn much and allowed my body to just do what it needed to do to keep balance. Whatever it was, suddenly I could stand. I was going from one end of the designated paddling area to the other. I even turned around while standing up. Within the hour, I looked like someone who spent their whole life in the Caribbean, and paddle boarding was just that thing I did in my spare time.
I do a similar thing with tai chi, jumping back and forth between the pragmatic anatomy & kinesiology and the more mystical "channel your chi". And that's a-okay in my book. Whatever gets you to where you need to be, take it. If you have to imagine opening your heart chakra, go for it. If thinking about your thoracic cavity instead gets the job done, do it.
Just so long as you get out of your head.