I've heard yoga teachers say that fear is excitement without the breath (heck, I've said it myself). I guess you could say that I've taken lots of deep breaths over the past few months. Most of what I've experienced is what I'd call "good fear," or the kind that you face when you try something new or push your boundaries. It's an exhilarating feeling, one that charges you up and makes you feel as if anything could happen. I'll admit that I'm a bit of a good fear junkie, as I often like putting myself into new, scary places/circumstances.
Then of course, there's the more negative type of fear -- the kind that is rooted in a feeling of being unsafe. Unfortunately, I've experienced that just recently. Deep breaths helped, yes, but it wasn't quite the same as breathing through good fear. But like much else in my life -- the experience held some valuable lessons for me and it got me thinking about safety.
What makes you feel safe? Interestingly enough, I'd never asked this question of myself until I started to feel unsafe. I was so focused on what was outside of me -- the perceived threat -- that I completely missed the fact that safety comes from inside. It's about honoring boundaries. For me, that means I've had to set aside being a nice girl in order to cultivate an inner sense of safety. And in the more extreme circumstance that I recently experienced, I've had to sink into trust, knowing that even if the worst happens, I'll be okay.
I still remember the first time I did this on my mat. I was in a perfectly lovely yoga workshop. The teachers were well-known, with years of experience under their belts. Towards the end of the practice, they directed everyone to come into a rather advanced pose. About 95% of the class struggled (some did it effortlessly) to get into and maintain the pose. I remained in Child's Pose on my mat. My inner yoga showoff exclaimed -- "You can do this pose, so why the heck aren't you? Don't just sit there in wimpy ole Child's Pose -- do what everyone else is doing!" I'm happy to say that I didn't listen.
A few others didn't either. They knew their boundaries and they honored them by avoiding a yoga posture that would have possibly brought harm. The woman a few mats over actually packed up her stuff in a huff and walked out. It makes me think of my recent experience. When I got scared, the emotion that followed quickly on the heels of the fear was anger. I was mad over the fact that my boundary had been crossed, the result of which being that everything around me seemed to be tainted by fear and suspicion. Perhaps that woman who left the workshop felt the same way -- that she'd been asked to cross a boundary and she wouldn't do it for the sake of being a "good" little yoga student. As I rested on my mat, I knew that I wasn't angry or full of good fear (Can I really do that pose? Perhaps I should try?) -- I felt a clear sense of what I was willing and unwilling to do, regardless of what a respected yoga teacher was directing me to do.
So here's a little something to ponder as you sit in stillness today (or chill out in Child's Pose on your yoga mat):
- Where in your life are you feeling good fear and bad fear?
- Do you avoid fear of any type?
- What makes you feel safe?
- What are the signs of feeling unsafe?
- Do you believe that safety comes from outside of yourself or inside?
- How can you strengthen your inner sense of safety?
- Do you honor your boundaries on your yoga mat (and off)? If not, what changes can you make to do so?