Approaching What We Fear

Photo by Michele Venne

Near the end of my yoga teacher training in 2009, we had a class on inversions. I’d known from past classes that these were my very least favorite poses. Why? I was petrified of being upside down. Sure, I could do legs up the wall, down dog, standing forward folds, even supported bridge and supported shoulder-stand were okay. But head and handstands? No way! Eventually, I was able to move into those poses against the wall and with a partner.

After some practice, I realized it wasn’t being upside down that was so fearful, but falling and breaking my neck. Literally. I didn’t trust that I had the arm and upper body strength to keep me from landing on my head. With time, I came to understand that it has a lot to do with core strength. I have that! But it didn’t alleviate the fear. Even when I could perform the pose with the support of a wall or a partner, I felt no rush of excitement. The fear was too great. I always came out of the pose after only a few moments. When asked if something was wrong, I always said no. After all, what kind of yoga teacher is fearful of inversions?

One of the many, many things I learned during that training is that there are thoughts, and then there are thoughts about the thoughts. It’s that second layer that often gets us into trouble. I was okay being fearful of hurting myself in an inversion pose. But what compounded my situation were my thoughts about my feelings/thoughts around those poses. I asked if a yoga student (me) could have a yoga asana practice without inversions, and was told yes. That made me feel better. As the classes progressed, I learned different ways to move into those poses. After enough practice, some of that fear dissipated. I also learned that good yoga instructors offer multiple levels of the pose for the students in class. This way, I could participate, gain the benefits of the pose, and keep my fear (and my thoughts about the fear) to a controllable level.

Am I completely over my fear of injury when it comes to inversions? No. But through my practice, I’ve learned to let go of wanting to be a “perfect” yoga teacher by performing each pose as if I was on the cover of a magazine. I’m able to move into and out of versions of the postures without fear hijacking me. I’m still grateful when it’s over! But I’m also allowing of that gratitude, that fear, that acceptance that this is part of what makes up this yogi.

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