Like a shot to the back of the head that nearly blinds you…or maybe like being held under water while you desperately scramble to come up?
That’s what fear used to feel like to me. And I should know; I felt it nearly every day.
Then I began a mind-body practice. Yoga is my choice for that. I began to notice things more deeply. Like what happened in my chest, my stomach and my throat and shoulders when I felt threatened. I began to explore the sensations of fear (aka anxiety, aka stress). I noticed that my breath was constricted, that my tongue was driving into the roof of my mouth, and that my muscles were tensed. My stomach was as tight as a fist ready to land a punch, and my shoulders were hunched up around my ears.
A funny thing happened when I started to get curious about my fear. It lost it’s power. As I experimented with exploring the sensations of fear, I forgot to fear it. I forgot to think of it as something I needed to escape from or avoid. I began to think of it as a sensation–or a group of sensations. And I began to notice that it passed. When I stopped resisting it, fear stopped persisting.
So here is the freedom of fear. It can become a tool for liberation. It can become a tool for deep calm and strength. Because beneath the fear, once we explore it enough, and dive deeply into it enough, is our essential self–calm, strong, vibrant, healthy, happy.
5 Experiments in Facing Fear
1. First, go to your breath. Notice your inhale and your exhale. Then take your inhale deeper into your belly and let it rise all the way up to your chest–even to the roof of your mouth. Then take your exhale deeper down, all the way down to your belly, letting your belly button draw in fully. Exhale fully and completely.
2. Notice the muscles in your face. If they’re tense, soften them. A smile works well for this, and studies show that smiling is associated with the release of calming hormones into our system.
3. Go back to your breath. Breath more deeply.
4. Notice what’s happening in your stomach, chest and shoulders. Just notice, no judgement. It’s all good. Even just noticing tension will often enable an automatic softening.
5. Most of all, practice this: let go of labeling the sensations–aka fear, stress, anxiety–and begin to just notice them as what they are: just sensations.
And if you get lost in the muck again–sucked right into the reaction instead of observing it? Just notice, no judgement. It’s all good. Try again next time. Your fear facing muscle will get stronger every time you do.
p.s. Like most things in my life, this is a work in progress for me. I’m still working on switching my default shoulder-hold from ear-kissing to laying low.