In my last column, I gave you five steps to take to work with fear. Now I would like to share with you some examples of how I have stalked and worked with my own fear.
The first happened just a short time ago. I was on the phone with my soul sister Kelley Starkweather Rush, and she said to me, “You know, a year ago to this day, I began chemotherapy after the double mastectomy.”
Kelley’s breast cancer and chemotherapy treatments were a very serious dance with fear both for Kelley and for those of us who love her. This cancer dance made her into an even stronger and more beautiful individual who today is holding steady cancer-free. When she said those words, they penetrated right into my heart so intensely it left me gasping in terror.
The tendency with fear is to get paralyzed, or run, or attack. Instead, I thought, “Well, isn’t this interesting” and took some really deep breaths deep down into my pelvis. I sat with the fear and asked myself, “Why does this scare me so much?”
As I went into the fear, what came up first was my absolute terror, re-immersing me in the year-long threat of losing my beloved Kelley to cancer. I stayed with the feeling, and walked even deeper into the fear. By this point I was physically shaking. So I walked even deeper in.
Then the fear parted, like a fog curtain that I walked right through.
I tapped into how very profoundly I love Kelley and how frightening it was to have nearly lost her to cancer. I had a choice: I could step back into the fear and use my love to make the fear even worse. Or I could stand in my love for Kelley: steeping in the feeling. I chose to stand in my love even though I was surrounded by fear of having this Forrest Yoga teacher and soul sister so deeply and intimately in my life.
I have such admiration for Kelley having graduated into an amazing and graceful “Cancer Dancer.” Marinating in this rich stew of feeling, I chose to stand in my love, even though I was surrounded in fear. It is a very different thing to be surrounded by fear and making a brave choice, as opposed to being infected and controlled by fear.
The second example of a time I stalked fear happened longer ago. I spent many years feeling fearful, wild, crazy, out of control—and I didn’t really understand why. I just had this sense that I hadn’t reached the black heart of things. Then one day I was in Dolphin pose, butt up in the air, when I was jolted not just by a memory of hands grabbing my hip and thigh and being brutally raped, but the actual painful feelings.
Suddenly all these horrific memory fragments rushed to the surface—all those times I’d woken with intense pain and bruising around my genitals and butt, feeling drugged out and woozy. This wasn’t the first time I suspected that I had been sexually abused as a little girl, but it was the moment that I made the decision to turn from prey to predator.
I started gasping for air, shaking uncontrollably, and going number, but I thought, Hell no! I’m gonna chase this abuser out of my body! I went rampaging through my pelvis and colon, looking for every little vestige of fear—hip joints, blood vessels.
I could smell the fear, taste it, feel the acidic burn of it. When I came to each painful spot inside my body, I would breathe and fill it with my essence, will it back to life.
It took me years and years of therapy to come to terms with the physical and sexual abuse to which I’d been subjected, and I won’t minimize the hard emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual work involved.
I called on many resources, including therapy, bodywork, Forrest Yoga, and ceremony. But it was the decision that day on the mat to transform from prey to predator that gave me the courage to take that journey.
When I finally stalked the origins of my abuse, I understood why I’d always felt so wild and crazy. Once you stalk the fear back to its source, you can begin to reconcile it. You’ll inevitably find your fear ramping up as you hunt–keep going, you’re on the right track.
I know some of you are still in shock from the dolphin story. It was shocking to me too. Here are some ways you can get out of shock. There are some great yoga actions you can do right now.
1) Active Feet. When we get fearful, we get caught up in our chest, neck and jaw. Keeping your feet active makes the energy travel down to some of the biggest bones and muscles and makes you rooted, grounded.
It also keeps you more aware, because you’re breaking a habitual posture. Do it right now. Spread through the ball of the foot and the heel, pressing down into the earth. Now lift your toes and spread them out, until your whole foot is awake.
2) Deep breathing. When we’re afraid, we hold our breath, literally making ourselves gasp for air. This keeps you from being clear-headed and centered. Deep breathing changes your physiological response to fear, making you better able to think clearly and take right action. My first breathing teacher was a tiger, and they breathe deeply into their ribs. Breathing like a tiger is a great way to move from prey to predator.
Do this: put your hands on either side of your rib cage. Exhale everything out, feeling how the ribs move towards each other. Slowly, consciously, inhale very deeply through your nose. Feel how your ribs press against your hands as you expand your ribs sideways.
On exhale, pull the belly in. Do this for ten breaths right now. Every time you feel fear starting to percolate through you, take ten deep breaths with your hands on your ribs and change your chemistry immediately.
An even faster way to re-center in fear, once you learn how to breathe expanding your ribs, is to breathe down into your genitals. Place one hand on you genitals, one hand on your anus and tailbone. If this scares you, hunt your fear right now with this technique.
Inhale, ballooning the breath into pelvic floor, creating a light pressure as the abdominals push down slightly. Feel your genitals, perineum and anus move into your hands. On exhale, contract genitals, perineum and anus muscles three times. The numbness generated by fear disperses quickly. Can you feel that? (FYI, learning to do this makes sexual response and pleasure quite wonderful).
3) Relax Your Neck. This is essential for changing your response to fear. A perpetually tight neck and jaw sends fear, stress and anxiety signals throughout the body. Stand or sit up straight, get your feet active, take a deep breath. Exhale.
Move right ear toward right shoulder, keeping shoulder down. Relax eye muscles and brain. Feel the stretch on the left side of your neck. Breathe into your neck, relaxing a little more with each breath. Each exhale, release shoulder blades down the ribs. Do this for three to five breaths. Cradle the right side of the head with the right palm. Inhale, use the hand to lift your head upright to center. Now do the other side.
Make the decision to stalk your fear.
When you become the hunter rather than the prey, you create so many exciting new opportunities for growth and happiness. You learn to let go of the old fears and stories that kept you chained. Instead, you live free, able to make better decisions for yourself and love your life more —how incredible is that?
In my next article, we’ll look at some common situations that cause fear and how to deal with the exhaustion that comes with adrenal overload.
Ana Forrest has been changing people’s lives for nearly 40 years. An internationally recognized pioneer in yoga and emotional healing, Ana created Forrest Yoga while working through her own healing from her life’s trauma and experience. With thousands of licensed practitioners around the world, Forrest Yoga is renowned as an intensely physical, internally focused practice that emphasizes how to carry a transformative experience off the mat and into daily life. She tours and leads teacher trainings internationally year-round. In 2012, WIND HORSE, the first-ever Forrest Yoga conference featuring Ana and the Guardian Teachers of Forrest Yoga, will be held 17-20 Aug in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Find details of Ana’s work, WIND HORSE, and a Forrest Yoga teacher near you at www.forrestyoga.com.
Editor: Hayley Samuelson.