Fear is something primordial, something we carry in our DNA throughout the long history of evolution. It’s a way our body raises a warning of potential danger, and in 7 seconds we have to decide whether to flight or fight. Have you ever noticed in these few seconds before we decide what action to take, after the alarm goes off, our body suddenly becomes more alert? Our senses become more acute, and we see our surroundings as an opportunity that is asking us to perhaps respond in a different way. Fight, or flight. Become the predator and go out hunting, or become the prey that curls up and hides.
Some animals, when in danger, may freeze, curl up pretending to be dead, or run away. Some fight for dear life. Have you ever realised that those who fight are mostly predators, and those who flee are mostly prey? It is the same with people. Those who are fighters rely on themselves, take control over their actions, and face the consequences of their decision. Those who are flighters (if there is any such word) rely on their hiding place to protect them from the ‘predator’, their life at the mercy of somebody else.
In modern life we live comfortably, those senses are not needed as much anymore. Thus we are becoming less and less aware of their importance, so we just shuffle our fear, our demons, to the side, undermining their significance, and then we numb it out. We forget how to confront and control our fear. Instead we run away from it, boxing it into a corner, numb it, hide it pretending it was never there – so we can safely go back to our comfort zone. We forget that, although fear can be our enemy that pushes us into hiding, we also have the power to turn around and confront it eye to eye. By doing this, we make fear into our ally which will push us to our limits to be better, stronger, a builder of our own destiny, the predator rather than the prey. We take responsibility over our life rather than letting our actions stem from fear.
The funny thing about fear is, it never dies. You can numb it, but it will be back. I love practicing inversions and arm balances, but the fear of falling is still there whispering in my ear. Sometimes when demonstrating in front of a class, I still get the whisper whether this would be the time when I am going to completely humiliate myself in front of my students. The fear never goes away, but I refuse to feed it. Instead I just focus on what I have to do, one step at a time. And if I fall (oh yes I do fall! Numerous times, and in front of my students on a few occasions!), I just laugh about it and get back up. I have got used to falling, and although I am still scared of it, it doesn’t rule me. I’m still learning how to fall correctly, how to laugh about it, and most of all, I’m learning the courage to get back up and try again.
Over a decade ago when taught languages, I used to have a student who was a marine. He loved parachuting. I asked whether he ever got scared. He said that he always felt scared just before jumping out, but that was also why he kept on doing it. This guy chose to tame his fear rather than being controlled by it. I still remember his words: “Don’t give yourself time to feed your fear, just JUMP! As long as you know your equipment is safe, you will be fine”.
Now what has this got to do with yoga? Many of us are scared of trying inversion postures or arm balances, mainly because of the fear of falling. By persevering with the poses that scare us, we learn to turn around and see our demon eye to eye, realising it is not that scary anymore, and falling is not so painful after all, and getting up and trying again are the only ways to move forward. Once we are used to that, we can start seeing any obstacles in our life as an opportunity for empowerment. It is no longer the falling we give our attention to, but the discipline of getting up again and mastering the courage to keep going.
This time, rather than hiding your fear in the deepest and darkest corner of your heart, find it, hunt it, and bring it to the light. Turn around and see it eye to eye, and before the fear has a chance to grow bigger, JUMP! And if you fall, don’t be scared to GET UP and TRY again! THAT is the only way to develop.