True confession: For 28 years I did not fly in an airplane (nor on a broomstick, in a helicopter, or any other flying machine).
In fact, the last time I flew (until recently) I was pregnant with my now 30-year-old son. When I boarded that flight I felt an overwhelming sense of panic.
But I can’t blame my fear of flying only on motherhood (not that blame is what this is about, anyway). Although motherhood seemed to exacerbate the problem, my fear was planted well before that. I was brought up in a fear-based family (“No, you can’t do that! You might get hurt! Be careful!” were my parents mantras.)
Though my parents were loving, exceptional, compassionate people, their love for their offspring was so tightly intertwined with fear and protection that they would do or say anything to keep us safe (interestingly, my father never boarded a plane in his 81 years, and my mother only once or twice).
Driving frightened me, also. I could putter around my New Jersey neighborhood easily enough, but once I had kids driving in Manhattan was out of the question and I avoided highways whenever possible. My hands would sweat and clench, my throat would tighten, my heart would beat wildly. I was terrified that I would crash or get lost. I was terrified that something would happen…to me, or to my kids.
When my middle son was 15 years old he asked me if he could fly alone to London to study at Oxford for a summer. Perhaps, from what I’ve just told you, you can imagine my fear when I heard his request. But my fear of passing on to my son what my parents had passed on to me was even greater. I knew that I could not bequeath my fear of travel to my kids, and I knew I had to get help.
I went to a therapist who suggested I could take beta blockers (I’m also afraid of pills!), or try this ancient practice to calm my anxieties. I decided to try option B and began to attend two weekly Vinyasa classes at my local yoga center (I’d never entered the place before and knew nothing about the practice).
Within a few months, my breathing calmed. My thoughts turned from negative to positive. My son went to England and came back. Yes, my knees had buckled and my eyes had filled with tears when he boarded the plane, but he had gone and I had let him go. Now, I thought, it’s my turn. But I wasn’t quite ready yet.
I continued to practice, practice, practice. Several years passed. I practiced more yoga and tried different styles. I noticed that driving was becoming less terrifying. I soared onto highways I had avoided before. I went down roads I’d never traveled. I began to envision myself being free of my fear.
And then one day – six years or so after my first yoga class – I bought a plane ticket from New Jersey to New Mexico. I wanted to attend the Kundalini yoga summer solstice retreat in the mountains of Espanola. I had in my pocket (or rather, in my heart, undetected by even the most high-tech airport X-ray screening devices) a new set of tools: confidence, fearlessness… and mantra.
On the plane, I chanted a Kundalini yoga mantra for protection called The Triple Mantra; it’s also said to provide protection when you get in a car. My panic subsided, my breath slowed, and I gazed out the window into the sparkling sky.
Strangely, I felt…at peace.
As the plane rose above the clouds I realized that I’d let go of much more than my fear of flying and driving. Yoga had helped me to let go of fear of the unknown. Yoga had helped me to trust.
My children—now grown—are traveling the world. They’ve been to England, Mexico, Qatar, China, Japan, Jordan, and many other places. And I am determined that their aging yogini mother is not going to be far behind them.
In fact, I’m currently conjuring up a trip to Hong Kong. There will be plenty of mantras and pranayama in my bag for the 16-hour flight, but I know I can count on them. But even more importantly, I now know I can count on my own inner strength and courage.
Yoga has shown me how.
Author’s note: This post is adapted from/inspired by my forthcoming memoir, Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman’s Quest for Balance, Strength, and Inner Peace (Premier Digital Publishing, Feb.)
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