Moving Through Fear
It can be paralyzing.
It can grab us by the throat and force all logic to be abandoned.
We all experience fear. The experience can be a feeling of slight anxiousness all the way to full blown terror. We can have fear of coming to our first yoga class or trying a new pose, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of flying, fear of speaking in front of other people, fear of death, fear in trying something new, and so on. Fear arises from the unknown and even we if we are uncomfortable or unhappy with a situation in our life, it's what we KNOW. And often we'd rather stay with what we know, because the unknown can be scarier than our present situation.
But here's the deal with fear - when we are fearful, we are not in the present moment. We can't be. Fear is only found in the future - when the mind propels forward, worrying or thinking about all the things that could happen or might happen.
If we are truly anchored in the present moment, it is difficult for fear to find its way in.
And this is where our practice can come in. Yoga is being present in each moment completely - with our awareness, with our breath, and with our body. Either our thoughts or our body can cause the mind to stray and bring about fear. Fear at times, can serve an important purpose as it challenges our intellect to evaluate a situation to ensure our safety. But beyond that, it can wreak absolute havoc.
Just the other week, I had fear completely blindside me. I didn't see it coming. I hadn't planned for it and so when it showed up, I was caught completely off guard and it sent me into a complete tailspin for a few hours.
Many of you know that we lost our son during birth last year. A sudden, tragic event that there are no answers for and never will be. That loss has brought new fears into our lives, ones we could never have even imagined before. We are aware of them and in some ways have created vigilance so that we are better equipped to work through them when they come, but we don't always know what will come.
We are now pregnant again - which we are extremely joyful for! We know it will be a difficult journey and we know that it will bring about it's own challenges - but there is no way to know exactly what new fears might come until it arrives.
It was the morning of our 3rd doctor's appointment. Our other two previous appointments had gone great. We got to see the baby via ultrasound and see his/her beautiful heart beating. Both times we left, it gave us hope and assurance that everything is going well. I was a bit anxious both times, but on the morning of our 3rd appointment, I woke up terrified. I took notice and was a bit taken aback at how strong my feelings of fear were - I felt as if I was being choked and could barely breathe. My appointment wouldn't be for another several hours and so I went about my morning, trying to function as normal. But I realize now, my downfall that day, was that I tried to ignore it.
Fear hates to be ignored. The moment it recognizes it is being ignored, it will work harder to become stronger and louder. And this is exactly what it did to me. By the time I arrived at my appointment, I was on the edge of a full blown panic attack. My forced smile, my demeanor in my body, was no match that day.
The appointment itself ended up being fine - we were relieved to hear the baby's heart beat and I knew that the entire morning had been built around this precipice - what if there had not been a heart beat??
I instantly saw my fear (at least for this moment) in it's entirety. That this is what had taunted me all morning long. And I had ignored it. There was not a darn thing I could do walking into that appointment to ensure our baby had a heart beat, and like it or not, none of that can be in my control.
I spent the rest of my day unraveling what the morning had done - to both my mind and body. It wasn't pleasant and it took me time to recover. And I remember thinking....is this what I will have to endure for the next 25 weeks?
But I can't go there. For worrying about the next 25 weeks will keep me out of the present moment. And then I will miss this moment, moments you can never get back. I have decided to settle with knowing that fear will come.
I might see it coming, I might not.
But this particular morning reminded me that I can't ignore it.
I have to face it head on.
Fear doesn't appreciate being looked in the face. It weakens it. When you stand your ground, stare directly into it - daring to take step forward, it begins to lose its grip. The ONLY way to overcome fear is to move through it. There is no going around it, underneath it, or above it - there is only going through it. And when you get to the other side, you will find that fear has released its hold on you.
Here is what helps me when I need to stand in the face of fear:
1. Check in with your breath. Notice it. Notice the quality of your breath, the length of the inhale and exhale. Consciously begin to even out your breath - let the rhythm become smoother and more even. Then keeping a smooth and even rhythm, let your breath gradually become slower and fuller. Stay consciously with your breath for several minutes. And if you are feeling anxious, let your exhales become even longer than your inhales.
2. Ground yourself. Have your feet connected to the earth. You can do this standing or sitting on a chair, but make sure your feet are connected to the ground, that you are sitting or standing with a tall and upright spine, and that you are balancing weight evenly in both of your feet. Imagine your feet as your anchor to the earth - your ability to firmly stand your ground.
3. Face your fear. Staying connected to your breath and the grounding in your body - stare directly into your fear.
Resist the urge to run. When the urge to run arises, come back to your breath and your feet. And as you look into your fear, see yourself taking a step forward. Even if it is the tiniest, smallest step - see yourself taking it. Remind yourself that the only way through this fear is to walk directly through it.
And then take that first step.
The first step is always the hardest, but it will allow the other steps to follow.
Mind you, fear will test you. It will try to tell you that you cannot do it. It's the only way fear can have its power, so don't buy into this falseness.
What else to do you have to lose? If you are going to be afraid anyway, why not be afraid in facing your fear?
You can reach the other side.