Have you ever been fearful on the yoga mat?
Fear of falling down, of injuring yourself in a specific posture, of dropping back? Well, I have.
As we progress in our asana practices, we will probably face more challenging postures that trigger more fears. So we might be asking ourselves: what is all this yoga for? Why all this jumping back and forth?
Over the last three months, during my ashtanga yoga teacher training course at Tattvaa Yogashala in Rishikesh, Sunil—the yoga philosophy teacher—constantly reminded us of the final aim of yoga, the purpose behind the jumping, sweating and the daily practice.
He would say: Aim of yoga is the voluntary control of our involuntary functions. How to reach that? Train your mind!
We all have natural reflexes and they have a purpose of survival or an easier life, though sometimes they become an obstacle on the path of yoga. Have you ever tried Jala Neti (cleansing the nostrils with water) or Sutra Neti (the same cleansing but with a catheter)? How did it feel the first time you tried to push an external element up through your nose? I was scared of the idea of injuring myself.
The good news is, we can learn how to overcome fear!
Children run barefoot without any worry while we as adults tend to avoid doing the same, being very careful not to not step on anything that might harm us.
What has gone wrong between childhood and adulthood? We develop fear—fears that come from conditioning, from experiences that leave a samskara (an imprint) on us.
During the last weeks spent learning new asanas on the yoga mat, I started developing a great fear of falling from pincha mayurasana or headstand while practicing ashtanga, 2nd series. After a while, I started feeling limited in my practice.
Day after day I was facing this fear when finally I realized that fears come from conditioning. I decided I would learn to decondition myself—and I made it!
Using the mat as my deconditioning playground, training my mind, this is what I did:
1. Start slowly. Allow yourself the time to experience and feel the fears as they arise and be aware of them. At the beginning I was only just observing my fear.
2. Do it often. Do not allow too much time to go by between two yoga practices, so that the memory of what you are working on stays fresh in your mind, body and soul. I was practicing the incriminated asanas several times per day. I wanted to get close to my fears as much as possible.
3. Do it regularly. Remind yourself of your purpose every time you’re practicing. I wasn’t skipping the intimidating asanas.
4. Do it gradually. We’re not fighting our fears, we are learning how to overcome them. So allow yourself time and use supports for that: you might need a wall to feel more secure at the beginning but then ask a teacher or somebody else you trust to assist you. When you get more confident, give it a try and face your fear.
Is it falling from shirshasana that scares you? Then fall on purpose and experience that there is nothing wrong with falling and there are safe ways to do it. You may even discover that it can be fun. And once you experience it, that won’t have a grip on you any longer!
At the beginning, I used to ask fellow practitioners or the teacher to assist me in falling from pincha mayurasana on purpose, and than I started doing it on my own. And I quickly realized there was nothing to be afraid of. Actually, I felt unusually free and light, just like breaking a chain. That experience has allowed me to grow on the path of yoga and I’ve now brought that attitude from the yoga mat to my life!
5. Have faith—you can do it!
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Editor: Catherine Monkman