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Yoga Made Me Face My Fears

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Imagine my surprise when an easy Yoga Flow class last Saturday morning brought me to tears. It wasn’t because the instructor was making me do some crazy inverted pigeon pose. It actually was quite the opposite—it was what the gentle flow of energy allowed me to see and to release. Fascinating!

For most people, yoga is about flexibility and, in some ways, meditation. For me, a former athlete, it is mostly about the physical benefits of stretching and muscle toning. I try to get quiet and centered, but most often I am counting the moments until I can stop being quiet and get going…until this Flow class.

At the beginning, the class instructor informed us that she wanted to focus on the Root Chakra—the energy zone at the base of the spine and in the pelvis that connects to our sense of safety and security in the world, especially with regard to our families, or “tribes”.

She explained that the Root Chakra is the home of the emotional wounds from our childhood that affect our “I am” in the world—places and events that we perceived, or misperceived, that changed the way we view ourselves. Some of these caused hurt…some caused feelings of abandonment…some caused embarrassment. Whatever it was, our young eyes made assumptions about something that forever changed our perception of who we are in the world.

And that’s when the tears started…

My mind began playing the movie of the many moments when my young, energetic and lively self got squashed through humiliation—the time the teacher yelled at me for forgetting something on my way to deliver a message to the school office…the time, as a first-grader, that I peed in the second-grade classroom while waiting to bring homework home for a friend…the time when I was playing with my father and accidentally hit the corner of a wall and ended up with stitches in the back of my head…the time that a very nice shoe salesman laughed at me because he winked at me and I winked back.

None of these were heinous events…and certainly they are nothing compared to the very serious tragedies that many children endure. Yet these events—and my own embarrassment about them—caused me to “shrink” as the years went on. No longer was I that carefree spirit. Instead, I became an adult with a chronic low-level fear that I will embarrass myself again and “they” will judge me for not doing something right.

Fast-forward to the yoga class. We move on to the Warrior Pose. Warrior 1…Warrior 2…no Warrior 3—this was gentle flow, after all.

Teacher: “Feel the strength of the warrior.”

And the tears started to come. No…I don’t feel strong, I think. I have been fighting hip pain for almost a year—no deterioration in my joints…just incredible tightness because of too much sitting and too much holding tightly onto the stresses of life. That’s why I go to yoga…to try and increase the flexibility throughout my pelvis.

But, there in Warrior 2, with tight, sore hips and teary eyes, I saw the assorted fears that I perpetually face in all shapes and sizes. We all have them. And, no…I didn’t feel strong! At least not at that moment. I felt vulnerable…very vulnerable.

I have read a lot about how our emotional issues dig deeply into our bodies, but during that yoga moment, the physical and emotional weaknesses came to life. And I could let myself feel the fears and see that the child of my past was holding me back in my present.

Meanwhile, it seems every week I hear another tale of, or another perspective on, drug addiction, painkiller abuse, depression, “mystery deaths” that are likely suicide and more. And the antidepressant manufacturers continue to provide warnings that their products may cause suicidal thoughts or actions.

I continue to believe that we have created a culture of medicating our lives away—that rather than feel the whole emotional spectrum of our lives, we are using medications to dull the pain of difficult times.

I don’t know that yoga is the magical “medicine” for the release of the pain, but in that yoga studio on that Saturday morning, I certainly had some pain killed and some fears beaten.

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Source: Sarah Hiner is president and chief executive officer of Stamford, Connecticut–based Bottom Line Inc., which publishes books and the consumer newsletters Bottom Line Health and Bottom Line Personal.
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