This week on my mat, I’ve been exploring what being fearless means to me. I’m willing to dive head on into a challenging pose just so I can see what’s there. It’s different almost every day, but the poses that I think about when someone asks me to get into a pose that is challenging for me almost always involve balancing on my left leg or maneuvering myself into Kapotasana (Pidgeon). I want to know what’s there. I cannot wait to find out what I discover.
Being fearless on the Yoga mat doesn’t mean diving into pain. It means making friends with sensation. It means finding a modification or a level of engagement that creates the comfort and safety to explore in a non-harming way. The Yamas and Niyamas are always with us, both on the mat and off and self exploration (svadhyaya) requires us to use all of them.
We all have poses we avoid for a variety of reasons. Most of those reasons involve some level of fear. Perhaps we attempted the pose once without experienced instruction and experienced pain or uncomfortable emotion. Perhaps we allowed someone else who doesn’t have any Yoga training to tell us to avoid this posture. Perhaps a past trauma remains deeply held in our bodies and has confined us to small box living. An experienced Yoga Therapist will not only be able to help you understand the anatomy, but will be able to teach, model and assist you with posture (asana) so you can safely explore within yourself what is true.
Last weekend I went on my first backpacking adventure and after hiking for 3 hours, carrying 35 pound packs (the Beasts), we arrived right back where we started, having gone South, instead of North! It then began to rain… a cold, steady reminder of sensation. As we finally got ourselves oriented to the proper direction, civilization began to fall away and the trail became quite remote, the sound of the water faded away and elevation loomed. My legs ached and I had no idea what kind of campsite we would find since I knew we would not make it to our original destination, 8 miles away. I sat down for what seemed like a long time. I was in the woods. I was cold and wet and tired. I sat with the knowledge that although we were not lost, we had no idea where we were going. I was imagining my warm home and a cup of tea. My husband then asked if I wanted to go home. There was only one answer, “That’s not why I’m here.” I said. “I’m here to find out what’s on the other side of all this.” I began to think about all of my lessons on the Yoga mat, of Tapas (zeal or challenges in practice), of being in the moment without attachment to outcome. I knew that the other side of the present moment discomfort was unimaginable to me. Why I came was to get there! So I hoisted the Beast onto my back and went exploring. I became fearless and the Beast felt lighter to me. My hiking poles moved through the wet leaves with zeal…with the excitement of a child holding a Cracker Jack box. I couldn’t wait to see what was there.
We came to a clearing at the top of the mountain and continued onward through an open field. When we re-entered the dense forest to descend, there it was! The luxury condo of all campsites! A fire pit, a beautiful flat area for the new tent, which set up in 2 minutes, a prime ENO location and the brilliant decision to remove “the Beast” from my back. I felt weightless. We left the Beasts in the tent and continued to explore returning hours later to make a fire and cook dinner. When we awoke at 5:00am to the sound of a large pack of wolves howling nearby, I sat with that beautiful sound of oneness and I cried…because they sounded fearless… because I too, was fearless.
I imagine the Beast symbolizes all that holds us back in life; our fears, our baggage, and all of life’s disappointments. I imagine if I stayed longer in the woods, the Beast would get lighter and lighter until all I needed to survive could fit on my back with safety and comfort.
What holds you back from exploring that fearful asana in Yoga? Can you abandon fear and old stories, knowing the emotion will come? Can you be with the discomfort, the emotion, the color, the texture? Can you explore the jewels of your practice knowing that what’s on the other side is unimaginable to you now? Can you be fearless?