What’s fear got to do with yoga? Quite a bit! Some people may be fearful that they’d be unable to ‘do’ yoga, so they don’t come. Some people are fearful of not looking good enough or that they don’t have the latest designer gear (this is rarely the case in Aberystwyth where people wear whatever they want to yoga classes). Some people may fear particular postures. I am fearful of headstands.
After years of only being able to do them against the wall, or if a teacher/partner was there as support, I had a breakthrough during a retreat with Andrea Kwiatkowski last year. I was able to go up, in the middle of the room, on my own. It was great! Ok, my legs didn’t quite get vertical, but I’m getting there. I can raise my legs up (either bent or straight) to half way, and beyond, but I cannot get vertical. I know I have the arm, shoulder and abdominal strength to get me up and keep me upright. But there seems to be some sort of mental block, I don’t seem able to take my legs further up because it feels like I’ll tip over. What am I fearful of? What might happen? I think I’m frightened of falling over – what if I damaged my neck? However, I have rolled over once and it was fine, I just crushed my fingers. I’ve seen other people roll over. They were ok. I need to just practise more, and let go of the fear.
I was reminded of this when cycling with my Mum recently. After overtaking her on the uphill she swooped passed me on the downhill and called “See you at the bottom, don’t use your brakes!” Here’s my second confession. I’m frightened of going fast downhill on a bike! I have to have the brakes on but I’ve been trying to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ (see well known book of that title) and not use the brakes as much, but I worry ‘what if I hit a pebble and fall off?’ I have visions of ripped clothes, broken bones, cut skin, blood and pain! Is this fear rational? Not very. Yes, accidents like that happen, but probably quite rarely. (Random thought, what would happen if I was on a tandem bike with my Mum?)
What do the classical yoga texts say about fear? The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a text I’ll cover in a future post) says that some pranayamas can help overcome the fear of death. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (again, for a future post) also cover fear of death. In chapter 2 he states that the tensions of the mind are basic ignorance of truth, ego, attachment, aversion and fear of death (S 2.9). Fear of change, letting go etc also figure in the Sutras as a whole. (I don’t have my text books with me as I’m writing this on holiday and so using Internet sources only!) The Bhagavad Gita (again, for a future post) also talks about trying to free oneself from fear, anger, desire, death, envy, anxiety etc.
It can be scary letting go, but sometimes we should test ourselves, let go of the brakes, and see what happens.