Like most of us, I developed a fear of bees at a very young age. Several barefoot walks through lawns full of clover and one memorable stumble across a ground hornet’s nest reinforced the notion that bees=stings. Even though I knew, intellectually, that bees pollinated flowers, that they didn’t sting unless provoked, and that their hive structure was complex and fascinating, I still wanted nothing to do with them.
Flash forward about two decades, and I found myself tasked with scientifically surveying pollinators, including bees. At first I kept my distance, approaching only enough to identify the insect and then quickly backing away. Over time though, as I watched bees going about their business, as I recorded which flowers they visited and how often, I realized they truly didn’t care about my presence. I could lean in until my nose was barely inches from their bodies, and they would continue visiting flowers as though I weren’t there. I had gone from knowing (in my head) that I didn’t need to fear bees to feeling the truth of it.
Funnily, yoga is often the same. Fear comes into the asana practice more often than I think any of us anticipated when we first came into our mats. Fear of falling out of a pose or overstretching a muscle, fear of aggravating an old injury or creating a new one, fear shared by many practitioners or fear unique to each individual.
Some of these fears are wise; others, not so much. And so, in the yoga practice, we work not with the idea of ridding ourselves of fear, but knowing where to place our fear.
For example, I have hypermobile shoulder joints. The head of my armbone tends to want to come unplugged from my shoulder socket; if this happens while I’m in an arm balance, there’s a good chance I’ll either a.) dislocate my shoulder or b.) fall flat on my face. Handstand terrified me, and for years I avoided the pose completely and focused on building stability in my shoulders with asana and weights.
The pose comes much more easily to me now, and I’ve lost much of my fear of the prep work. This afternoon, I took class from my teacher, Stacey, and we worked into handstand with a single partner. Even though I could feel that my shoulders were integrated and my arms were steady, I was surprised by the twinge of nervousness that entered my stomach once I was upside down, nervousness that I knew was irrational. The fear that had once kept me safe from injury was no longer serving me the way it once did, but it still lingered.
The transition from knowing a fear is misplaced to feeling the truth of it takes time, patience, and a willingness to explore those areas we find slightly uncomfortable. More importantly, moving past fear in yoga takes honesty and a willingness to respect the fears which are wise and challenge those which are misplaced.