Walking Toward Fear
I got married on a spectacularly sunny day in the middle of September and even though the rains have returned I’m still glowing from the wedding. In trying to put the experience into words, I’ve found myself uttering (such highly original!) things like “it surpassed all my wildest dreams.” And that is true. But what has just started to come into focus is that the actual day was so much better than what I had imagined because many of my “dreams” were actually double-coated with fear and anxiety. Yes, I was excited, but I was truly terrified of standing in front of 100+ people. Let’s not get started on the all-eyes-on-me dancing. In low moments, I was convinced that all those details couldn’t possibly come together and our guests would wander around all weekend hungry, thirsty, and confused. The technical term for this is an anxiety snowball.
Although it may sound silly, many of us have experienced a similar sense of excitement and anxiety when we thought about attending our first hot yoga class. Every time I invite friends, I see the hesitation in their bodies and the fear in their eyes as they say, “I don’t know, I don’t really like being hot”, or, “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible”, or, “I’ve heard that’s really hard, I think I should probably get in shape first.” Trying something new (or just continuing to keep on trying) is often exhilarating and the benefits enticing and rewarding, but many of us stumble out the gate or along the way with the fear of the actual process of the yoga class. Here are some ideas of how walking safely toward fear in yoga can help us discover something new about ourselves, and open up new mental and emotional doors.
Harness the heat. Hot yoga can be extra intimidating, but most people anticipate the heat as being far worse than it is. 99% of the time, people walk out of the yoga room after their first class either liking the heat or talking about how they expected the room to feel much hotter. Your sweat actually cools you down in class and a steady breath keeps your nervous system calm. A benefit of regular attendance is that you get better and better at down-regulating yourself on your mat. And if you can start to do that in yoga, you can start to do that when you’re super stressed out at work, needing to make a speech in front of a crowd, or in an argument.
Power over pose. Many of us have one (or five) poses that we avoid because they challenge or scare us. I used to feel incredibly vulnerable in camel pose—I would hear the instruction and my mind would immediately decide that now was the perfect time for child’s pose. Giving yourself permission to rest if you need it is different from what I was doing: shutting down before allowing myself the space to explore. While participating in the Core 26 classes I confronted this pose every day until one day I sucked up my anxiety about it (and my habit to avoid, see below) and tried again. True story: it wasn’t as bad as I remembered and certainly not as big as what I had subsequently built up in my head! It still challenges me but it has become a place of dedicated concentration and commitment (and bow pose is my new nemesis). Remember too that even if you are physically going through the motions of a pose, your mind may be running wild with omg/when will this be over. Both on and off the mat, breathing steadily, especially in challenging moments, can help us confront fear with grace and ease.
Bad habits beware. Yoga is a great place to start noticing your habits, whether physical, mental, or emotional, and challenging yourself to change what doesn’t serve you. As a habitual back-row yogi, I’ve been asking myself to occasionally set up in the front. Taking this step outside my comfort zone, where I can’t hide behind anyone, helps me feel more present. Whether it’s a tendency toward criticism or distraction or negativity, zoning in on bad mental habits on the yoga mat can translate and transform in daily life too (hello Facebook).
Be your own best self. People often avoid yoga classes for the self-imposed reason of not being flexible or “good at it” or not having the “right” kind of body. We all have our own reasons for being scared. But yoga is not a performance, and the studio should be a place where you feel seen, accepted, and welcomed whoever you are and whatever body and mind you come in with. Looking at yourself in the mirror in all your glory is an opportunity to start seeing who you really are and to start liking and loving that person. It is only from that place of acceptance where change and transformation can occur.
When it came time for me to stand in front of our ridiculously smiley, kind, beautiful wedding crowd, the fear melted away. The same thing happened when it came time to dance (full disclosure: wine helped too). As I walked into what scared me, a million other/better feelings than fear rose up in its place. This same sentiment is echoed every day through yoga—as we walk purposefully toward the things that scare us, we begin to live fuller, more present, and more authentic lives. The more you start accepting yourself and addressing how you respond to fear, anxiety, and discomfort on your mat, the more you start living that full, meaningful life off your mat. The adrenaline of fear can be the fuel we need to walk the path of transformation.
Meet our blog writer, Mollie!
Mollie has been practicing yoga in various forms since 2008 and is continuously amazed by the transformative effect that it has on her mood, energy, and overall life! A recent-ish Portland-to-Eugene transplant, she spends much of her day editing books, adoring her dogs, and hunting for chocolate.