Yoga Musings

Fear Factor (Part 1)

One of the greatest challenges in yoga is overcoming fear. This is of course one of the greatest challenges in life, as well, which makes the overcoming of fear in yoga a perfect example of how small lessons on the mat can translate into big things off the mat. Today, I’m going to discuss one kind of fear in particular: the fear of falling down and busting one’s skull open. Of course, there are many other kinds of fears we deal with in yoga, and I will talk about those in subsequent postings under the same heading.

Fear of Falling: This is perhaps the most ubiquitous fear among yogis, and maybe among people in general. And for good reason; there is a clear biological/evolutionary advantage for humans to be afraid of falling. But, I think, this can function sometimes as a kind of mental attachment. And on the yoga mat, we’re (at least in part) trying to break ourselves from our attachments. As one of my teachers often says, “We have a body, we have a mind, but we are not our bodies and we are not minds. Therefore, as yogis, we don’t allow our senses to lead us around, and we don’t allow our minds to lead us around.”

But when we’re afraid of falling over and hurting ourselves in some kind of inversion, for example, we often become attached or even fixated on the “what ifs…”, such as “what if I fall over backwards and throw out my back” or “what if I lose my balance and crash on my face” or “what if I come crashing down on my head and injure my neck”. These are clear examples of the mind dwelling on things and events that have not even occurred yet, and which are in fact purely hypothetical. I like to think of it this way: Every bit of attention that my mind dedicates to the “what ifs…” is one more bit of attention that my mind is NOT dedicating to the task at hand, which is doing the pose or transition safely, gracefully, and with precision. Ironically, then, these persistent thoughts about “what ifs” probably make it even more likely that you’ll fall down and injure yourself. In my own experience, almost without fail, I find that if I even think for one split second about what might happen if I don’t do a pose successfully, I end up not doing the pose successfully.

The parallel lesson in life is pretty obvious, I take it. Personally, I’ve wasted way too many hours in my life worrying about “what if this happens” and “what if that happens”, and usually none of the things I’m worrying about manifest. And even when they do, it is frequently the case that the bad situation arose because I wasted so much time worrying (a kind of procrastination) instead of dedicating myself fully to doing something positive that would have resulted in a better situation.

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