What is Fear?

Emotions play an important part in our daily lives and fear is one such emotion. It is an unpleasant emotion caused by a perceived threat and is pre-programmed into all animals and people as an instinctive response to potential danger.

Biologically speaking, when a person experiences fear, certain areas in their brain take control causing physical reactions such as:

* Rapid heart rate
* Increased blood pressure
* Tightening of muscles
* Increased sweating

All these are protective mechanisms to increase our chances of survival.

Fear however is not always positive. A small amount of fear before an important speech serves a purpose – it encourages you to focus on your topic and avoid making a fool of yourself. This is one of the types of fear that can be useful to sharpen our minds. However, some types of fear that are excessive can become crippling, or even make you feel like escaping when it is not appropriate to do so.

When fear gets out of control, it can escalate to a point where it effects our daily functioning. Fear is negative if we find we are constantly afraid of events that haven’t happened yet. For example, anxiety is a dysfunctional fear which results from not knowing what’s going to happen next and the inability to control upcoming events.

Clearly fear has a place in our lives, it is a normal emotion, but we shouldn’t let it control or allow it to dictate how we choose to live. I am not suggesting living a “fearless” life; rather a life where we understand, manage and respond to our fears with greater compassion and skill.

How can we manage our fears?
Why not start by overcoming your fears on the mat. These are the steps I have used to overcome some of my fears.

1. Accept it
Remember that fear is a normal, natural part of the human psyche. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty because you experience fear. Being ashamed of your fears will only inflate them and make you less able to manage them.

2. Identify and demystify
The next step is to identify your fears and write each of them down. Observe and document your thoughts about these fears and note your physical reactions to them. For example, I am afraid of Bakasana (crow pose). My fear is falling on my face and damaging my neck. John, on the other hand, who has neck problems, has no such fear.

Understanding my fear helps me answer whether it is a healthy fear that’s keeping me safe and whether it is a function of my current abilities and skills?

3. Create a plan and visualize success
Once you have identified and evaluated your fear, the next step is to create a step-by-step plan on how to skillfully and consciously make progress on overcoming the fear. I like to break things down into small steps that are easy to accomplish, slowly moving me towards achieving my goal.

For example with my fear of Bakasana, I started by placing blocks under my shoulders, so if I fell, I didn’t land on my face. Once I had mastered that, I started placing a block under my forehead (I would place my head on the block to stabilise me when I started to wobble – similar to doing a tripod headstand).

Visualising each step is also important to prepare and train your body and mind for success. Use all of your five senses to practice the steps in your mind with as much detail as possible.

4. Ask For Help
Asking your teacher for help does two things: First, you take some of the pressure off of yourself. (And, no, you’re not adding to your teacher’s burden; this is what they’re here for.) Second, you actually get help when you ask for it! Your teacher might not know that you need a little extra support. When you ask for help, they can usually give you the physical and mental support that you need.

5. Breathe!
Lengthen your exhalations. Lengthening your exhalations will settle you, focus you, and soothe you. Once you’ve lengthened your exhalations take an “Everything’s gonna be alright” breath. You know what I mean.

6. Don’t Stay Long
Don’t stay long in postures that scare you. Staying too long in stressful situations usually increases aversion. Try staying for a breath or two — it will give you confidence to know that you can do the pose. But if you know that you’re only going to do the pose for a couple of breaths, you’ll be much more willing to repeat it.

7. Strengthen and deepen your yoga practice
Throughout this process keep your yoga and meditation practice strong to maintain a calm, focused and centred mind. Committing to a daily or regular practice builds the inner strength and will power to follow through with your plan to face your fears. You may also want to deepen your practice by incorporating mantra and pranayama.

I hope the above will help you manage your fears on the mat. Once you master fear on your yoga mat you can then take these same techniques to conquer fear, worry and anxiety in the world around you.

So, this month at Inspire let us support each other in doing some poses that will connect us with our strength, understand, manage and respond to our fears with greater compassion and skill.

See you on the mat.


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