How Yoga Helps Us Confront Our Fears

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato

Fear is a signal of a threat – It is also a necessary tool for survival, think of an oncoming buffalo (or bus). We were not born into a state of fear – fear manifests when we first become aware of ourselves, of our own individuality, impermanence and death. When we discover that we are separate and temporal our imaginations invest in beliefs that aren’t real. We become victims of our own misperceptions and scary “What If’s”.

What if…

What if my dog dies/house burns down/I get sick, old, and ugly?

What if I fail?

How am I going to die – and when?

Fears feed our false self

These fears feed our false self, they take over and cause suffering. That’s Avidya, “the native lack of knowledge of one’s real nature”, manifested in ego, attachments, aversions and desires. Instead of trusting that the pathway is lit we react with ignorance. The future becomes dark and unsafe.

Fear also stems from a direct experience of trauma: falling off a bike, being bitten by a dog, post traumatic stress disorder. By not processing the event clearly and with compassion we instead develop responses to situations that scared us. These could be mental or physical: avoidance, disassociation, bodily ailments, self- medicating or overachieving. They are all strategies for self-protection.

When we live in this state of fear, precious life moments are robbed from us. Fear prevents us from achieving or even attempting our dreams and potential.

We lose touch with ourselves when buying into this mindset – but this is not our essential nature; it’s unreal. What’s our truth? Our divine nature, the un- perishable flame. The seed of consciousness and the love in your heart. Yes, you will die, but your soul is eternal.

How can yoga help deal with our fear?

The things that come up as they inevitably do during practice can be physical and/or emotional. For me the yoga mat is just like a mirror: anything that can come up, will come up. It could be the asana you’re afraid to attempt (Backbend? Me? Never!), or worries and regrets, past and future.

Regarding the backbend: It’s an uncertain prospect on several levels – the unknown upside-down, plus gravity. Have faith in your teacher: she can take you through the process, one step at a time. Bit by bit, with practice and effort you move toward the goal, and then? You might just surprise yourself. “I could never” might turn into “just maybe,” or someday, what about “YES”.

When we come to our mat, when we are still, things that disturb can come up. The goal of meditation is to bring a state of relaxation and heightened awareness. From here begin to observe your thoughts from a place of detachment, then allow them to simply float by. Deep, measured breathing has a calming affect on the nervous system and brain. This is a physiological response and it’s effective. Quiet the mind and separate from the self-chatter. Cultivate presence and space. Acknowledge your fears with compassion. Be practical.

Visualization and Mantra techniques.

Try this: come into a supported relaxation pose. Steady the breath, bring your hands to your heart, close your eyes and turn your mind’s eye within. Inhale, see the light, exhale and repeat.

Feel your presence and repeat to yourself, with the breath, in and out: “So/Hum”, from the Sanskrit, meaning I AM.

Please share with us in the comments below how Yoga helps you to confront your fears.


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