Why Yoga Can Help You Confront and Overcome Your Fears

I’ll be the first to admit that I started practicing yoga for the physical benefits.  I wanted to look good (yes, there was some vanity involved) by getting toned up, improve my flexibility, which deteriorates as we get older, and most importantly, I had developed some lower back pain that I wanted to eliminate without self medicating. Of course, I was aware that yoga benefits go beyond just the physical and include the mind, body, and spirit.  What I didn’t anticipate was the enormous impact yoga would have on my mind, especially how I deal with fear.

I had been practicing Vinyasa Yoga once per week for a little over a year (that’s all my time will allow for now), when my wonderful yoga teacher decided to have us attempt to do a headstand.  For the intermediate students like me, we would try the yoga pose with the help of a wall while the advanced students would do it without help.  Since I only attend class once per week, my assumption is that other intermediate students had done it before because they didn’t seem as freaked out as I was!

As soon as she began to explain how we were going to do it, fear set in. I started to imagine all the things that could go wrong – what if I broke my neck, what if I dislocated my shoulder, what if I wasn’t strong enough and toppled over to the side, what if…  As though she was reading my mind, she began to tell us to think about all the stuff that we may be afraid of and to know that they were not going to happen to us.  One by one, she outlined all the things that I was thinking about (broken neck, hurting shoulders, not strong enough…)

Feeling inspired and empowered after successfully doing a headstand in my yoga class.

My very first headstand after many years!

Suddenly, I began to relax, talk myself out of each fear and focus on what I needed to do, and voila!  The next thing I knew, I was on my head for the first time in years, albeit with the help of a wall.  It was the most inspiring and empowering moment that almost brought me to tears!  Biggest lesson, by confronting my fears, I was able to get past them and to accomplish my goal!

It reminded me of the many times I may have talked myself out of doing something out of fear of the unknown and I’m sure most of you can relate.  Whether it’s changing jobs or careers, taking on a new assignment, pursuing a dream, asking for stretch goals, seeking forgiveness, moving to a new location, buying a home, and much more, we fear failure, rejection, disappointment, hurt, or whatever else that is associated with any type of life-changing decision.

Yoga has taught me that before you delve into the unknown, you must outline all the things that you may be afraid of and address each one.  You will find that most of your fears are unfounded and those that are legitimate can be overcome by making the right adjustments or decisions in your life. One of my favorite quotes from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book is “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”  Being able to do that headstand yoga pose answered this question for me with a resounding “anything!”  So my next goal is to be able to do it on my own without the help of a wall, an objective that I now believe is completely attainable.

I am still very much a yoga student. Every time I go to my yoga class, I come away with the feeling that there is so much more to learn and gain from it.  My only wish is that I had started it sooner and that I could do it with more frequency.  It enriches my mind, heals and rejuvenates my body, uplifts my spirit, feeds my soul, makes me a better person, and most of all got me through one of the most challenging and stressful past year and a half.

Do you practice yoga?  How has it changed your life?  If not, how do you confront and overcome your fear?  We’d love to hear from you.