I had been facing my fears for months. 2013 became a year of firsts for me as I finalized my divorce from the man I had devoted the past ten years of my life to and began to figure out exactly who I was without him.
I knew that I loved to travel and teaching high school English provided me with plenty of vacation time for both outward and inward exploration. In April, I traveled across country alone and spent a week in retreat wearing my hair wild, dancing, singing, and listening within. If I could travel across country alone, I thought, then I could do the same internationally. On a whim, without speaking a work of Spanish, I took a trip to Peru. I joined a travel group, went hiking and camping in the Andes Mountains and spent a day meditating at Machu Picchu.
When I returned home, I went in search of a hike as challenging and rewarding as the Andes had been. I drove to Maine one day and climbed the highest mountain on the Atlantic seacoast all alone, in the pouring rain.
I learned a lot in that year of exploration, but there was still a lot I had yet to figure out. The journey of self-exploration had just begun. I had faced my fear of being alone, but underneath it all, there was another more nagging fear yet to be faced. I had tried to numb and ignore it by drinking a bottle of wine every Saturday night since my husband had moved out.
I had “quit” drinking just about every week for the past two years, but something happened in early March that suddenly made me serious about being sober.
When Saturday night came around that first week and I refused to reach for wine or liquor, I began to see that underneath all of my triumphs of the past year I was intensely lonely. Worse yet, I was afraid of being in a relationship. My ex-husband was the first person I’d ever really trusted and he’d broken that trust on more than one occasion. I didn’t know how I’d ever recover, ever trust again, ever be able to have a healthy, mutually fulfilling relationship.
This realization was a breakthrough of sorts– I was finally admitting and facing my fear.
The next Monday, an hour into my favorite yoga class of the week, the instructor led us toward a pose that I was instantly afraid of. He asked us to plant our hands on the ground, place our feet on the wall, and walk our palms in toward the baseboard until our torso and legs were flat against the wall in a supported handstand. I was afraid of falling, afraid that I’d get up and my feet would flip over to the center of the room, sending me toward a back-bend I knew my back couldn’t support. There were only a few of us in class that night and I could see the others looked just as reluctant.
I’d been reading articles for months about how our reactions on the mat are just extensions of our day-to-day lives off the mat. I drew a parallel– if I could overcome my fear of falling in handstand, I could overcome my fear of falling in love.
With new resolve, I planted my palms flat on the ground, lifted my feet, and walked my hands in. My thighs and belly were pressed into the wall, my hands were a few inches from the baseboard, “This is where I stop,” I thought trying to ignore my fears. I could feel my heart pounding into the wall. I was terrified and wanted to get down. It was then that I realized I had no idea how to safely exit the pose.
I saw the shadow of the instructor moving closer in the reflection on the waxed bamboo floor. “He’s coming to help me, ” I thought and prepared to ask him how to get down. His shadow came close, then turned, he was walking across the room to help someone else. I thought about calling out for help, asking him to spot my descent, but it’s not in my nature to admit I need someone, it might contradict the image of strength and independence I’d worked so hard to cultivate.
As I saw his shadow move away, I felt my body begin to panic. I needed to get my feet back on the ground. I walked my hands forward quickly, too quickly, and my legs began falling rapidly down. It happened too fast for me to prevent it, all of my weight came crashing down on my right big toe. It sent a shock through my system. There was an instant of pain before all went numb.
I bent forward, poking at my already swollen toe, trying to figure out what had happened. A streak of red paint from the wall covered my toenail. I sat down and tried to flex and point my foot, but it was trapped in place. It was then I knew it was broken. I felt my body dump a thousand hormones into my system and laid back with one hand on my belly and my other hand on my heart trying to control my breathing and the pain that had set in.
For such a minor part of the body, the recovery has been long and slow. After two months I’m finally walking somewhat normally, re-learning to balance on one foot, and finding a way to literally and figuratively stand on my own two feet.
Facing our fears is important. Without it we may trap ourselves in regularity for the sake of stability. It’s not easy to admit our fears to ourselves and it’s even harder to admit them to others. It’s much more convenient to numb or ignore them with distractions like drugs, alcohol, working out too much, or allowing the familiarity of routine to bring us comfort.
I do think that a lot that happens on the yoga mat translates into life, but I also think that throwing yourself into a pose or situation against instinct, intuition, or logic isn’t the right answer either. Mastering yoga poses and conquering our fears are not about proving a point or upholding a certain image, they’re about softening into the places that scare us so that we can slowly find our way through the fear and into the future.