I tried something new this week – Ashtanga Yoga. I have been practicing various other forms of yoga for almost a decade, but this was a style I knew nothing about and had no experience with. A local yoga studio offered a one week introduction taught by an amazing instructor (many thanks PJ Heffernan) so I thought I’d give it a go.
Whoa…this was an eye (and mind) opener. The focus of this practice is on combining the pose with the breath with the gaze in continuous series, at your own pace. While I was familiar with most of the poses, I had never performed them in quite this way. There were several things I had not tried before and got the chance to experiment with during the week.
One pose, the headstand, scared the heck out of me. I had observed many people do this and found it to be such a beautiful expression of strength and courage, but my fears of injury and embarrassment kept me from thinking it would ever become part of my own practice. Well my instructor this week was having none of that! On day one he very matter-of-factly indicated that now I was going to do the series that included said headstand. Yikes! Decision time. Was I going to refuse to give it a try (see story above) or step into some fear and give it a go? What happened next made all the difference. My instructor said this to me
“You can do it. I will help you.”
And up I went!!! And I wasn’t afraid! My first headstand looked very much like a beginner’s, but the feeling I got from having done it was more profound than I would have expected.
That sense of accomplishment stayed with me all day, but as I traveled to the yoga studio the next morning, what arose in me (rather unexpectedly) was a sense of doubt and fear around this impending headstand. “I’m just trying to please my instructor. I’m going to hurt myself.” “Who do you think you are, one of those young pups?”. You get the picture. The old story that said I was inadequate and undeserving was taking over. I had such an urge to turn around and go back home. Thankfully, I didn’t.
Being able to observe our responses to fear can be extraordinarily useful as we work to keep our lives from getting increasingly small. Fear is uncomfortable generally, and our initial inclination when we feel this way is to do whatever it takes to move toward comfort and safety as quickly as possible. But fear is just like any other emotion-unavoidable. You may think you can control your life so that you don’t experience it, but that is simply fantastical thinking. I was allowed to move into my fear with a sense of safety when my instructor assured me that he would not let me get hurt. He would be there for me. And he knew I could do it.
Perhaps there is something that causes you to be uncomfortable, that you’d like to move beyond? What kind of support and encouragement would help you do that? Is there someone you might reach out to and ask, “I really want to do this. Would you help me?”. Is there someone you know who is struggling to get past or through something scary? Can you offer to be that for them?