feel the fear (and do it anyway)
There are a lot of yoga asana that bring up the feeling of fear. Inversions, backbends, arm balances – anything that could involve a delicate part of the body breaking, or smashing into the floor.
Using yoga asana as an analogy, for a moment, I want to talk about the kind of fear involved in turning the gaze in a different direction. The small, quiet fear that keeps you from lifting your eyes from the floor up to the fingers in side plank, or turning the head over the shoulder in a standing balance.
For example, you’re standing on one leg, with the other leg lifted, extended out to the side – held only by your first two fingers wrapped around the big toe. When you first get up there without falling, it’s kinda like you’re hanging on by this magical thread. You feel an overwhelming sense of pride for being there. You’ve done it. Finally. And then you hear:
“Now turn your head and gaze over the opposite shoulder…”
You’re only just breathing, you’re only just emulating the shape, you’re only just standing upright and this insane teacher wants you to turn your head in the other direction? For what?! To lose everything? To come tumbling to the ground only to be known from here on in as the chick who face planted in class again.
Yes, that is correct.
None of us are strangers to fear. Fear is a very helpful survival mechanism. It keeps us safe. It helps us make rational decisions. “Do not jump out of this window to avoid having to resit your first aid certificate” or “Yes I get the concept of #yolo but also if you buy that plane ticket to japan you will not be able to pay your rent and also you will starve”
But fear can hold us back. It can freeze us. It stops us from turning our head in the other direction. In case we start to lose our balance, in case we stumble or fall. I think that kind of fear is the one we have to look out for. Because the voice is quiet and small. Because it’s easy to think, where I am now is enough. I worked hard to be almost there. Why would I risk taking it one step further? I’m already way out of my comfort zone.
Think of something that you have wanted to do but keep putting off (yes, I love this subject.) A project, a holiday, a course, maybe it is a yoga pose that terrifies you or a new skill. Something small. Think about why you haven’t done it. Writing it down can help. The first reason is probably something like I haven’t had time, which is a very real excuse for sure, but we also don’t have time for Netflix documentaries about cults, for smashed avocado brunch dates and stalking people you went to high school with on instagram. So try digging a little bit deeper, go a little bit further. You might be surprised to find fear is the little monster lurking at the bottom.
Fear of making the wrong choice
Fear of losing money
Fear of losing invested time
Fear of what people will think of me
Fear of not being good at it
Fear of not being good enough
Since I started doing work I really love, teaching yoga and writing again, it seems to be that every time I only just feel steady and comfortable, there's an opportunity to take another step. Earlier this year I left a yoga studio. It was the place I had taught the longest and made up a good chunk of my teaching schedule. Only three months earlier I left a studio managing job to pursue teaching yoga full time. I was already out of my comfort zone.
In terms of the big picture, leaving the studio wasn’t a huge thing. It wasn’t a cliff jump moment. It wasn’t leaving the corporate world to open a bespoke hat boutique. It wasn’t moving to a foreign country with three small children. It wasn’t an all or nothing moment. Instead it was looking up when I wanted to look down. It was continuing to take small steps even when both feet wanted to be firmly planted on the earth. The risk wasn't that high. It would have been easier to stay. Same with starting this blog. Same with running a restorative workshop series on my own. But I'm so glad I felt the fear and did it anyway.
The worst thing about fear is the ability it has to stop us from doing what we want. It would be easy to let the little things go, not to take the extra step, to pretend like we’re doing the pose and it's all good, its enough, when really we’re too afraid to look up in case it comes a little bit undone. I've decided that what I fear most is allowing fear to get in the way.
Turning your head to look back over your shoulder is scary because you don’t know what’s there. Life is easier when you can see straight ahead, when you know what’s coming. If you want to keep moving forward, in asana, or life in general, you have to let go of looking down, at what is familiar, you have to look up.
At first, you might lose your balance. You might stumble. You might fall to the ground and make a loud noise. Maybe everyone will turn around and look at you. But after you have fallen once you realise it’s not so bad. You survive. Maybe you learn to move a little slower next time. Maybe you learn to move a little bit faster. So you try again. Eventually, you can’t remember why you were so hell bent on looking down in the first place.