"Expose yourself to your deepest fear. After that, you are free."
"We're all afraid. We just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn't mean that we can't also be brave."
I recently received a question from a student about the experience of fear during a yoga pose. This is not fear of hurting oneself physically, as the student was clear that they were very comfortable in the pose. Rather, it was emotional fear, and it was debilitating, creating disturbances in the breath and a sense of dis-ease in the student. Below is my response...I am curious...do you experience fear in yoga poses, and how have you learned to relate to this fear, whether on your mat or in your life?
"One of the most beautiful lessons I’ve learned is not to make our emotions wrong. Fear is OK. You can take a moment, engage rationally, notice that you are OK (body is comfortable, room is safe, no danger) and then return to the emotion and see if you can simply allow it. Feel fear. What does it taste like, smell like, how does it show up? You’re saying it constricts you, it feels tight, overwhelming. How can you learn to sit with that? Notice how often you respond to fear by trying to shut it out, to make it ‘bad’, to numb yourself to it. Notice the fear of fear. Then see if you can take a tiny little step back from it and notice what else you’re experiencing, while you’re feeling fear. Sensations in the body, the sound of something outside the room, even just the edges of the mat or rug or floor you’re practicing on, notice the beyond and then the space the body is held in, notice how your experience is much, much wider than just this feeling you have labeled ‘fear’. This is the wide container that EVERYTHING we feel exists within. We can hold it all. The love, the joy, the pain, the fear, it’s all held in this wide, open space. The ocean of awareness, or consciousness, but really, it’s just our wholeness, our entirety, and it includes and has space for everything. The fear is as much a part of you as the joy, as the comfort, as the feeling of the air on your skin. It’s all you. So don’t make fear wrong. Don’t numb yourself to it. Especially in yoga, we can start to look at the fear, and as we learn to see it, we can see BEYOND the fear. What is the fear masking? Going into ourselves can feel really scary - it’s like venturing into a forest on our own for the first time. Eventually the surroundings become more familiar and we begin to feel at ease, and eventually at one, with our surroundings. I believe this takes time and can’t be rushed. But mindfulness, presence, permission, it all helps. Usually, when we’re uncomfortable, we move. Be it physically (fidgeting in our seat) or emotionally (checking out) and it’s this momentum that keeps us from being fully in our lives - we use the speed to hold on to familiar patterns. When we slow down, we get the opportunity to see underneath, to the vulnerability that hides under fear, under anger, under pain. It’s all beautiful. Because to be vulnerable is really to be strong and brave and human and authentic and the paradox of all this is when you truly embrace your vulnerability, and your fear, you will no longer feel it. I hope this makes some kind of sense. Please don’t judge your fear. Just keep returning to the moment. Fear is usually related to the past or future, it’s rarely in the present moment (ESPECIALLY in a yoga class, quite a safe environment, generally!). Let fear lead you to spaciousness."