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Tag Archives: life lessons

A 7-Step Formula For Facing Your Fears (PS: You don’t have to be fearless!)

Jason Crandell Scorpion assist
The idea of being fearless—on or off the yoga mat—doesn’t resonate with me. Neither does the notion of conquering my fears. I understand and appreciate these concepts, but they don’t feel realistic.

I’d rather change the narrative to this: Instead of trying to live a “fearless” life, I’m trying to live a life where I understand, manage, and respond to my fears with greater compassion and skill. I’m under no illusion that my fears will permanently go away. I am, however, optimistic that I can continue to get better at working through my fears so that they don’t unconsciously control my behavior.

I have countless fears, but I don’t live in fear. There’s a difference. Here’s a partial list: I’m afraid of bees (yep), I’m afraid of turbulence (sweaty palms from takeoff to touchdown), I’m afraid of bodies of water where I can’t see the ground, I’m afraid of losing my loved ones, I’m afraid of failure (hello, therapist), and I’m afraid that my style of teaching will become irrelevant or that teaching yoga will no longer be a viable livelihood for me.

I also get little twinges of fear when I practice deeper backbends like Kapotasana or when I’m getting dropped back into Urdhva Dhanurasana. File both of these under postures I’d rather be teaching than practicing. Fortunately for my wife, I’m not afraid of spiders.

The reason that I’m sharing all of this is because I witness so many students feeling guilty or ashamed when they practice postures that trigger experience fear in the classroom. When we’re afraid to acknowledge and feel our fears, it only makes things worse. Instead of trying to “fake it ‘til you make it” or stuff your fears, I invite you to use yoga room as the perfect place to witness your fears and become more skillful at working through them.

Here’s a step-by-step process for you to try:

1. Accept It
Remember that fear is a normal, natural part of the human psyche. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty because you experience fear—everyone has fears except for psychopaths and you don’t want to be a psychopath, do you? Being ashamed of your fears will only inflate them and make you less able to manage them.

It can also lead to feelings of separation, as though you’re the only person in the room with fear and that something is wrong with you. You are never the only person with fear in the room and there is nothing wrong with you. Got it?

2. Demystify It
When you become fearful in your practice, try to drill down and identify what you’re actually afraid of. Let’s say you’re afraid of Handstand. Take another step and try to figure out the specific fear you’re experiencing, such as the fear of falling on your head. Being more objective with your fear will help you start to demystify it. This will begin to lessen the fear. Even more, it will identify the challenge that you’re trying to solve.

3. Ask For Help
Asking your teacher for help does two things: First, you take some of the pressure off of yourself. You reduce the burden that you’ve internalized. (And, no, you’re not adding to your teacher’s burden. This is what we’re here for.) Second, you actually get help when you ask for it! Your teacher might not know that you need a little extra support. When you ask for help, they can usually give you the physical and mental support that you need.

4. Breathe!
Lengthen your exhalations. Lengthening your exhalations will settle you, focus you, and soothe you. Once you’ve lengthened your exhalations, take an “Everything’s gonna be alright” breath. You know what I mean.

5. Use Support
The first wave of support should come from your teacher. Remember, you’re going to ask them for help, right? But, you may also benefit from using more props, like the wall, bolsters, and blankets. If you’re afraid of Handstand, stay at the wall without feeling guilty that you’re not in the middle of the room! If you’re afraid of falling on your face in Bakasana, put a bunch of blankets on the floor in front of you.

6.Don’t Stay Long
Don’t stay long in postures that scare you. Staying too long in stressful situations usually increases aversion. Try staying for a breath or two — it will give you confidence to know that you can do the pose. But if you know that you’re only going to do the pose for a couple of breaths, you’ll be much more willing to repeat it.

7. Rinse and Repeat
Repeat the postures that scare you—for brief periods and with proper support—more frequently. The longer you avoid postures that scare you, the bigger the aversion becomes. Instead, repeat the postures with adequate support as frequently as you can. This repeat exposure—and success in the postures—will help you reframe your relationship to your fear.

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A Simple Way to Cope with Fear

scarycatmeme

Fear can feel painful, overwhelming, even paralyzing. Whether you’re facing a major life change like an illness or a break-up, or a more specific fear like giving a presentation to colleagues or standing in front a group and teaching a yoga class, I hope this post gives you some idea for navigating fear with more ease.

I’m not going to lie. I still have moments, hours, or even days when I’m consumed with fear about cancer. Despite the campaigns that have played out over the past 20 years, early detection does not guarantee a cure for breast cancer. (Laurie Becklund, a well-known reporter for the LA Times, faced this reality and wrote about it just before she died from metastatic breast cancer in March.)

I never used to be afraid to go to the doctor. But that’s different now. My fear arises with a vengeance when it’s time for a check-up. There are lots of them at this point. For all kinds of whacked out lady-related things that I won’t go into here. (You’re welcome.)

Last week, before one of these check-ups, I spent 24 hours moving through what I am now referring to as my Seven Stages of Coping with Fear. I am now intimately familiar with these stages because last fall they were on a repeat loop while I was constantly awaiting test results. This means that I:

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A Thank You Note to My Bod

Prasarita Padottanasana
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – about consciously thanking my body for all that it does. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s easy to feel like your body has betrayed you. Like it’s been sneaking around behind your back, hanging out with rogue cells in alleyways making dirty deals. It’s a horrible feeling, that.

But my whole cancer experience has reset my priorities, which means that my time on the mat is now nonnegotiable. And so, I’ve been spending a lot of time feeling all the great things that my body can do and these are the things I want to focus on.

Before I begin my thank you note, I’m going to apologize for my past transgressions. In part because, despite what my writing might portray, I want you to know, dear readers, that I’m really not all hearts and flowers all the time. And also, by acknowledging the crappy stuff I’ve done to my body, I’m hoping that I can let it go (and my cells can, too) forever.

Dear Bod,
Ahem. Where do I begin? It seems like I have to begin loooong ago, back in my late teens and early twenties since that seems to be when my poorest choices were made. So here goes: Sorry about all those French fries (although the jury’s still out, I feel twinges of guilt for those high school McDonald’s runs). Sorry for drinking alcohol. Like ever. I’ve never been a big drinker, but that doesn’t seem to matter with the type of breast cancer I had. Sorry for bumming cigarettes at college parties and for my (past) love of cakes, cookies, ice cream, and cannolis. Do I need to atone for that tanning booth experiment that one time? Let’s just say it was the 80s and we were pulling out all the stops for prom. And we didn’t know any better.

In spite of all that—through fat times and thin times, good hair days and bad, you’ve continued to be there for me. So, I thought I’d thank you, publicly. Here goes:

Thank you to my heart for beating and reminding me that I’m alive

Thank you to my belly for moving up and down when I breathe in Savasana

Thanks to my toes for feeling the sand squoosh beneath them

Thanks to my face for feeling the sun shine on it

Thanks to my arms for being so great at hugging

Thanks to my legs for running and skipping and hopping

Thanks to my hips for wiggling and having dance parties with my two year old

Thanks to my vocal chords for making it possible to sing

Thanks to my ears for being able to hear music

Thanks to my wrinkles. If I’m being really honest, I have to admit I don’t like looking at you. But, you remind me that I’ve lived and and that I have gained some wisdom since the tanning booth incident.

Thanks to my blood and lymph and all of those other elements that come together and make sure that my body keeps on keepin’ on each day

Thanks to my musculo-skeletal system for firing up so that I can do yoga and feel what it means to be embodied

Thanks to my taste buds for giving me so much pleasure

Thanks to my brain for being able to process all of this. Sometimes you are too clever for your own good and you make things far too complicated. But all in all, I’m impressed by your hard work.

And finally, a big shout out to my eyebrows. Because, have you seen my eyebrows? I just really love the shape of my eyebrows.

Thank you. Thank you. Just thank you.

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Wide Awake Gratitude

vasi_Edited4
You may or may not know that I spent more than a decade as an editor at Yoga Journal. A decade is a loooooong time to keep any job in this day and age. And so, it’s hard to summarize succinctly what I did during my time there. In a nutshell, I worked as the deputy editor of the magazine and then ran the web site as executive editor. I was the asana nerd, the cover model talent scout and coach, and, on many occasions, the team shoulder to cry on. I learned so much from the talented editors, designers, and photographers I worked with. I developed all of my true editorial chops there — from taking the initial spark of a story idea, choosing the angle, assigning it to the right person, guiding said person through the research phase, pruning their prose, packaging the story, managing the talent for the shoot, and watching the designers and stylists bring the story to life in the photoshoot and on the page. I also got to work closely with the most insightful, skillful yogis of our time, many of whom were very influential to me: from Sally Kempton to Maty Ezraty, Cyndi Lee to Shiva Rea. And of course, it’s how I met the man who is now my better half, Mr. Crandell.

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Sharing My Story

Today’s fast-paced, social media-driven world can sometimes make it feel like we have to get our message across in 15 seconds (or 140 characters) or less. But recently, Yogaglo commissioned some videos of its teachers and I had the great fortune of having an amazing, leisurely conversation with the talented videographer Jonathan Pears. The result is this seven minute video, which I feel captures who I am perfectly. Thanks, Jon (his company is called Back to Awake) & Yogaglo! I love being part of your family.

I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we did making it.

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