Learning to Fly: Overcoming Our Physical Fears

Is fear stopping you from moving forward? Our physical practice can also become practice for overcoming fear in other places. For me, my practice is learning and conquering the handstand.

Yoga is my life and I’ve been practicing for the majority of it. My mom introduced me to yoga and I have intermittently attended yoga classes since the age of seventeen. I always wanted to become a yoga teacher, but I was always afraid. I just didn’t think I could do it, so I never tried. I felt stuck working in a passionless career and didn’t believe change was possible. My life took a sudden turn when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. I found myself challenged with some severe physical, mental, and emotional setbacks and once again began practicing yoga regularly. After breast cancer, I made my way to New York City and became a certified yoga teacher. I had no reason to be afraid anymore.

As a yoga teacher and practitioner, sometimes one specific yoga pose can become an insurmountable feat. It’s a common myth that as a yoga teacher one will be able to sufficiently practice and teach all yoga poses. I find there’s always that one pose that “poses a challenge” (insert cheesy yoga joke here). Similar to any form of exercise, there are goals that may seem unreachable. How do we, as practicing yogis, master these poses or attain goals in exercise with a little bit of grace and dignity? This is a self-discovery worth some further exploration, regardless of your discipline.

I have found in my own yoga practice that I am riddled with fear and self-doubt when it comes to handstand. Practicing against the wall doesn’t seem to relinquish my fears much. I find myself hesitant to practice and doubting I can do it. It’s possible that the inability to master handstand all lies within my mind. I find when I’m in a state of fear or doubt, my fears come to fruition instead of the pose. The obstacle seems even more unattainable as I allow my fears to control my thoughts.

Tonight I was practicing my handstand again and immediately I thought, “I’m not going to be able to do handstand no matter how much I practice.” I have to admit that I don’t practice handstand every day. The reason for my lack of practice may be due to a lack of discipline or commitment, or it may be a lack of confidence. I am stuck in this belief that I won’t be able to do it, so I just don’t. Mastering the pose becomes a battle of the mind. How many times in life do we just give up because we think it’s impossible?

When I accept my body’s limitations and get out of my own way, I allow the possibility for change to occur. I found myself in handstand tonight for a microsecond! Not the full extent of the pose, but a microsecond nonetheless. One of my yoga teacher mentors, Sadie Nardini, would say that I’m “learning to fly from the core.” That means methodically building up to the pose, rather than just jumping up into handstand thoughtlessly. Tonight I felt the possibility of flight for just that moment and it was exhilarating. I keep practicing my bend, hop, and engage – fly!

handstand, fear of handstand, handstand fear, yoga handstand

And perhaps it is the feeling of flight and freedom that is most satisfying. I have to ask myself whether mastering handstand is really going to satisfy my desires, and ultimately, I know I will find another pose that is even more challenging. So, is mastering a yoga pose really where the joy is, or is it the journey of overcoming? This is a question that comes up for me often. There’s always more to learn and explore.

I get a lot of joy out of seeing how far I have come. I may not be the best yoga teacher, be able to do any yoga pose, be uber flexible and strong, or be able to do handstand, but I have made a lot of progress and come a long way. I am my own personal yoga coach repeating to myself, “You can do this handstand.” I truly believe someday I will do handstand. Today my state of mind is my yoga practice.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.