On the Overcoming of Fear


I have a bad bruise on the back of my right heel—right at the point where the foot rests whenever I have to do a seated yoga pose of any kind with the leg extended. It’s not painful enough to suspend practice; just uncomfortable enough to have my body tense in anticipation, my torso and appendages making minute adjustments every time the foot’s about to land—and all without the dictates of my conscious mind.

I do this, of course, with hurts and discomforts of all kinds. We are spectacularly engineered to avoid or suppress pain, even if our instinctive evasionary tactics lead to more intense agonies in the long-run. In my case, I’m already wincing before my foot lands, and the anticipation compromises the safe execution of the pose.

(How did I get this bruise to begin with? From attempts two days ago to launch myself into a handstand.)

One thing I’ve discovered from years of practicing yoga: much of the practice has less to do with priming the body than it has with priming the mind: with surrendering the fear, time and time again, that we will fall and that we will get hurt. It took me four years to learn the headstand: three years and ten months of NOT even attempting it; one month of attempting it and not getting anywhere; and then one month of finally letting go and finally learning how to do it.

I still feel twinges of fear when I do the headstand, and I have no desire to expel this last frisson of anxiety. It serves its purpose as a reminder that I am doing something quite risky and therefore has me adopt the proper vigilance. At the same time, I now marvel at the terror that kept me from trying something for years that my body was perfectly capable of accomplishing.

And, well, it seems that letting go of fear is a lesson I need to learn constantly, because the same anxieties that haunted me in learning the headstand are the same anxieties confronting me as I now attempt to learn the handstand. (I’ll NEVER learn how to do this. I just don’t have the body type. I just don’t have the balance...etc.)

As with all other things involving yoga, it seems more practice is necessary.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

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