You always hear people say, “overcome your fear”, “fear is an obstacle to be faced”, I totally agree with these statements… sometimes. It is true that if we let fear rule our lives we won’t be living to our full potential. Fear can stop you before you even start. Many people don’t try new things because they are afraid of how they’ll look, how they’ll come across, how others will see them. This kind of fear is useless. It only exists to hold us back and it should be overcome. What no one really ever talks about it the good fear- because, not all fear is bad. Fear serves an evolutionary purpose of survival. We are afraid of certain things because they are dangerous or do not serve us. As social animals it makes sense that we are afraid of being seen poorly in the eyes of the members of the tribe and while it makes sense why we would, the tribe no longer governs life or death for us. Not fitting in or being cast out of social groups is no longer the difference between life and death. There are enough misfits out there now to form their own tribe. This is a beautiful thing. Yoga helps us to overcome our fears and things that make us uncomfortable on the mat so that we may be better prepared to face obstacles in the real world. Like muscle memory can improve a golf swing or diving form, so too can practice in reactivity on the mat translate to better reactions in our lives.
While social fear serves no purpose, fear of pain or fear of injury should be more closely assessed. Why am I afraid to try an arm balance? Well, if you aren’t ready and don’t have the strength to do said arm balance, then your fear is an appropriate reaction to probably injury. Our bodies and minds are amazing, they know when and when we can’t do something. So many times as yoga students it’s hard to listen to our bodies. Whether it be because of our ego, our reverence for a teacher or our fear, it is our duty to ourselves and our bodies to get to the source of our motivation and our fear.
I preach listening to your body in every single class I teach. Every class I can be heard telling my students to honor themselves, their practice, their limitations, and their abilities. “If something doesn’t feel good or right, don’t do it”, I say. I got a wake up call this past weekend when I did just the opposite of what I constantly remind others to do. A very capable teacher asked me to do something I was afraid of doing. We were learning how to fall out of handstands by coming into urdva dhanurasana or wheel pose. That little voice inside of me told me, well actually screamed at me, “NO! DON’T DO IT, you can get hurt”. Everyone outside of myself was telling me that I had to work out my fear, I had to get over it. So, I did it, I listened to everyone else but myself and, as the voice predicted, I got hurt.
Fear in this case was the rational thing to feel. I knew my body was not prepared to fall from a handstand to a wheel pose, I did it anyway and it was not fun. It can be so hard to listen to yourself when everyone around you is telling you to go against your inner voice- do it anyway. Listen to your fear, assess whether it is rational or irrational. Asses if it is based on past facts or if they are based on present truths. One day, my fear will be based on past truths, one day I will have the physical ability to fall without hurting myself. Will the fear still be there? More than likely, yes. I will have to examine my fear and make the right decision for that moment and that truth.
Fear can cripple us if we allow it. Fear can also save you from injury. As with all things, yoga teaches us to be mindful of our thought and feelings. The only way to act with authenticity is to examine our thoughts and motivations so that we may come to act on them from a place of truth. Remember that only you can say what that is. Trust yourself, you’re more intuitive and insightful than you think.