Yoga & Fear

My friend and fellow yoga teacher Stacy recently began a 365 Day Handstand Challenge, just like I’ve been doing since May. The other day when she posted her daily handstand photo, it sparked some really great conversation on her Facebook page. My friend Kay brought up the issue of fear. Challenging inversions like handstand and headstand bring up a lot of fear for Kay.

She wrote, “It absolutely scares the bejeebers out of me… Yoga has taught me that I operate out of fear more often than I realized. Maybe that means I should face it full on and conquer it, but on the other hand I really don't want to.”

And being the student of self-study that I am, I found this to be a really intriguing question. With Kay’s permission, I’m sharing her comment and my thoughts about fear here today…

My experience of fear in handstanding is not so much related to the physics of standing on my hands. I’m pretty comfortable trusting my arms to support the weight of my body when I’m upside down.

fear and yoga

It’s taken months of a little bit of practice every day to build up strength in my fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, back, and core. And now I’m at the point where after a little bit of warm up, I can pretty much handstand on cue. But it certainly wasn’t always this way.

My fear in handstanding is the fear of “What will people think?” I realized it about a month in when I attempted my first handstand in a public place with strangers around. By that point I was getting pretty proficient at catching at least a little bit of air with my handstands. But whenever I would try to handstand in public my fear around What People Think would throw me off so much that I COULD NOT FOCUS at all. I attempted handstand after handstand with pathetic results.

What exactly was I scared about? I was worried that people might think I’m annoying or silly or acting like a kid or not being a good parent or setting a bad example or blocking a walkway or seeking attention or showing off or SOMETHING. Whew, now that I see that all written out I realize what a huge burden that is to carry around.

And so then I decided that I would use the 365 Day Handstand Challenge not only to learn how to handstand, but also to overcome my fear about What People Think. It really isn’t any of my business what people think. But even if it was, what I’m realizing is that more often that not, people get excited about handstands.

They make positive and encouraging comments. They smile. They ask me what I’m doing. They ask about yoga. And sometimes after I tell them about the 365 Challenge and how I really couldn’t handstand at all when I started, they even get inspired to try yoga. But I digress.

Based on my own handstand fear experience, I think that working to overcome a fear, even in tiny baby steps, is definitely worthwhile. When you lose fear, you gain freedom. You gain peace. You gain confidence in yourself. You may even gain some new skills that you would never have imagined.

For me, what I’ve gained is a much improved level of focus and the realization that things aren’t always as I perceive them to be.

I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) not to worry about What People Think. I make sure people aren’t standing or walking so close by that I might accidentally kick them on the way up, but aside from that I don’t really notice them, much less worry about them.

They can think whatever they want. They might think badly of me, in which case they probably aren’t going to say anything anyway. Or they might think well of me, in which case they may walk up to me and say something awesome that makes my day.

Either way, I’m doing my thing. I’m getting stronger. My focus is getting sharper. I’m gaining freedom from my former fear of What People Think. I’m gaining peace.

And now I’d love to hear from you! Under which circumstances do you think it’s worthwhile to stare fear down. What is a fear you’ve overcome? Please post your comments below.

Zelinda 2013XO, Zelinda