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Yoga - an intimidating practice

On numerous occasions I’ve heard from students that coming into a yoga studio for a class can be intimidating. Most likely you’re now saying one of two things to yourself: ‘Yeah, I feel/felt a little/very intimidated’, or ‘Erm, hell no! No intimidation here!’. I was very much in the latter category; some may remember, others can probably picture it: mid 20’s, in pretty good shape, in my funky unicorn leggings - I definitely didn’t feel intimidated by others in the room. Or so I thought.

We all experience fear. It’s natural, and at times useful. Evolutionary speaking, it was wise to fear being eaten by the lion, or to eat the red berries that killed Jeff, for example. But there aren’t lions in our everyday lives any more, and the berries from Waitrose are pretty safe, I'm sure. So our brain re-purposes that fear and we end up being afraid of trivial things, like talking to another human being (particularly who we're maybe attracted to!), falling out of a handstand, of being judged for something (which I think is one of the major roots of a lot of fears). I think we've become so good at and used to it that we don’t even recognise when it’s happening sometime. That’s what happened to me - my fear was a fear of failing, of not being good enough; a fear of being judged. And it took me a long time to realise this.

Falling, making mistakes is natural - it’s a part of life. In fact it’s how we learn - we are (very advanced) feedback computers. But we end up misconstruing falling/making mistakes for failing. They’re not the same. If a toddler falls whilst learning to walk would I call them a failure and berate them? Probably (/hopefully) not. So why would I do it to myself‽ When a toddler falls they don’t fear being judged, they just get back up and try again. Failure isn't in the falling; failure is falling and choosing not to get back up, or not even trying in the first place out of fear of not succeeding.

I think most fears ultimately condense down to an underlying fear of failure and (then) judgement/shame. This fear though is a learned reaction (initially response, but then through habit becomes reaction, bypassing rationale) that is adopted in adolescence and perpetuated in adulthood when interacting with people and becoming aware (and then self-conscious) of their responses. But because it’s a learned response it means it can be unlearned. But this can be challenging. It's so much easier to distract oneself away from it using short term highs/'happiness': television, smoking, eating, drinking, drugs, and even exercise (which was mine). But it’s only through challenge that we grow; and that’s part of this practice - growth. But that takes awareness.

The yoga practice, for me, is the opportunity to identify these fears and to (eventually) take the time to ask where they come from - where and when in my past they developed. I come into a space not to be judged, but to witness myself. I choose to notice those fears and sit with them. Everyone in a class is just like me - dealing with their own shit. I remind myself that they’re just another human being, so there’s no need to be scared by/of them, or compare myself to them, or worried about what they're thinking of me. Social media/the West does a great job perpetuating the misconception that yoga is an aesthetic practice - that people/the poses have to look a particular way, otherwise you're just not very good. But that's just not true; everybody, and everyone's body is unique, so the poses can't look the same for everyone. It's not about looking a certain way, but finding a sensation; taking the time to come into a safe space to connect to body and breath, so as to then connect deeper to the Self. Union.

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