The practice of yoga offers many opportunities to come face to face with your deepest fears. From the obvious fears associated falling out of Handstand to more subtle fears that arise such as, well, making a fool of yourself in front of other people when you fall out of Handstand, yoga class offers a safe environment to explore and begin to understand fear. Fear is a natural emotion that everyone deals with both on the yoga mat and in life. But, if you’re not careful, it can also get in the way of reaching your goals and full potential–especially when the drama in our heads is making something a lot more scary than it actually is. Think of it this way: You’ll never learn to stand on your hands if you’re too scared to even try!
Through the years, yoga has really helped me to deal with fears of all kinds. While I might not ever “conquer” these fears, my mat time has helped me to see my fears for what they are and empowers me to keep going despite them. Here are a few things yoga has taught me about fear.
1. Face Your Fears Gradually. No yoga teacher worth his salt would advise you to throw all caution to the wind and fling yourself right into a pose that strikes fear into your heart. When you’re scared of trying a new pose, whether it’s a scary inversion or a deep hip opener, you start out with very small movements and gradually, over time, you go a little further. This is a great way to approach the scary things in life, too. Thinking of a career change? Don’t go turn in your notice right away—take one small step toward your next goal and see how it goes before you make any huge commitments.
2. Don’t Go It Alone. There’s a reason you should seek out an experienced yoga teacher for scary poses like inversions and drop backs. Because at that moment when you’re about to freak out because you realize you’re actually balancing in Handstand, you need someone calm who’s been there to calmly say: “Great job! Now slowly bring one foot to the floor.” Practicing scary poses alone is, well, a lot scarier than when you have someone to cheer you on and celebrate with you when you’ve accomplished a goal. (Besides, it’s hard to snap a selfie in a Handstand, so when you’ve nailed it you’ll want a witness who can assure your Facebook friends that it really happened.) So, whatever it is that seems scary to me, I look for a friend who can help me along even if it’s nothing more than a reassuring, “You’ve got this.”
3. Breathe. Whether it’s a scary yoga pose or a scary life situation, a deep cleansing breath is sometimes all you need to slow down, regroup, and put it into perspective. Deep breaths are amazing medicine for yoga poses and for difficult situations.
4. Know that it’s OK. Fear isn’t all bad. As Jason Crandell reminds his students, fear is a rational response to the threat of your head crashing into the floor. Sometimes just knowing that there’s a good reason for that uneasy feeling in my stomach is enough to help me start to move past it. For me, it’s easy to get caught up in, not just in the fear, but in feeling bad about myself because I am fearful, which amplifies the fear a hundred times over. Remembering that I’m not alone, and that fear serves a purpose has helped me to navigate through many an uneasy feeling.
5. Keep At It. The first time you do something it’s always scarier than the hundredth time you do something. Thinking back to my first yoga class, I was scared that I would look silly, that I wouldn’t be able to do any of the poses, and that I’d be embarrassed. But after just a few classes, most of those fears melted away and I realized yoga class wasn’t so scary after all. Now I’m more comfortable in yoga class than just about anywhere (outside of my home, anyway). I try to remember this any time iI embark on something new that is just outside of my comfort zone.
What lessons has yoga taught you about fear?