What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.
Last Friday night was Halloween, which sometimes strikes me as an odd holiday. We project scary images. Children dress up as the dead or the undead. I don’t know the history of Halloween, but I suspect it has something to do with facing and overcoming fears. Perhaps the same way that Grimm’s Fairytales or old Disney movies can both profoundly frighten and delight children. Think, Bambi’s mother was shot and killed by a hunter.
Coincidently, I have been thinking about feelings of fear while practicing yoga. This past week, while taking a class with my teacher, we were offered the chance to lift up into a straight arm headstand (as pictured above) from Prasarita Padottanasana, a wide legged forward fold. I had not practiced this version of Sirsasana (headstand) in a long time. As I remained in Prasarita Padottanasana with my straight arms reaching between my legs and my head on the ground, I realized with absolute clarity that I was afraid.
What was scaring me? It came to me in a wave of thoughts and emotion. I was afraid of: falling and getting hurt, tumbling over and embarrassing myself, being out of control and hurting someone else, and the unknown. Quickly I analyzed my situation to determine if my fears were founded. My head was already on the ground, so I had the flexibility to go into the pose. I was feeling strong and secure. I had previously done this pose in the middle of the room without incident. I determined that my fear was unreasonable, and very slowly I lifted my legs into the inversion.
This experience got me thinking in a broader sense about fear and yoga. Sometimes there is an emotional release in yoga and feelings of fear can arise that have nothing to do with the physical practice. However, more often I see fear on students’ faces when confronted with arm balances. Fear is a healthy and useful feeling. It is a primal instinct to protect the body. If attempting a pose is precarious or careless, you need to listen to that inner voice telling you to wait. However, when fear is unreasonable or stops you from safely trying new things, it is time to examine and challenge it.
Be aware of what feelings come up in your yoga practice. If you identify feelings of fear, ask yourself, is this fear reasonable? Am I strong enough to try this pose? Do I have the requisite flexibility? What will reasonably happen if I am wrong? What will happen if I fall? You need to make a sensible assessment of whether you are ready to move outside your comfort zone. If you are still unsure after evaluation, ask your yoga instructor for guidance. If the answer is yes, take a deep breath and move into the pose incrementally. Remember that sometimes fear is just a product of self-doubt. Have faith in yourself and mindfully go for it.