What is fear, how can we define it? Or, let’s ask this: Why do we fear? From what, when, and how do we fear and how can it open new doors?
Noun: an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.
Verb: being afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful.
”Fear is the cheapest room in the house,
I would like to see you in better conditions.”
Basically, fear is a feeling that arises from a dangerous situation or threat and causes changes in the metabolism and eventually in behavior.
Fear is the natural and necessary reaction of the body to situations where it feels danger and wants to survive; which actually thanks to fear, the race of human being survived until today. But in our daily lives – let’s say ‘most of the time’, we do not deal with or confront the things that truly threaten our lives. At least for most of us, these situations are less than before. But we still deal with an unnecessary feeling of fear daily, and maybe sometimes we do not even understand where it comes from.
According to research, most common fears in society are; failure, being alone, rejection, flying, heights, spiders, clowns (I can relate to that) and death. Fear of the unknown. For example, why are we afraid of a spider? Probably, we do not know if it is going to harm us or not, so we react with fear. But for some of us, spiders are not a source of fear at all. But why?
Because most of our fears also depend on our lifestyle, country, family, traditions and so on. Seth Norrholm, a transnational neuroscientist at Emory University, states that; “You get evidence from your parents and your environment that you need to be scared of these things.” Drastic, isn’t it?
Sometimes, we can feel all the reactions of the body to fear. Even in a ‘normal’ moment without any special situation, we can feel like something serious is happening. Increase in heart rate, a butterfly effect in the stomach, sweating. These are the fight or flight responses of the body to deal with danger. I can easily write these down because I have been there before. I have even experienced fear of having fear. And this is where we tend to call these moments anxiety or panic attacks. But fear, this very basic human feeling, is it something that we really need to be afraid of?
If we let it affect our lives negatively, the answer is yes…
But we can use our fears as a source of change, as an opportunity to grow.
Can fears really open the doors to new paths?
My answer to this is: Yes!
Let’s look at what ancient yogic texts say about fear?
Patanjali says in Yoga Sutra 2.3 that; ”Ignorance, egoism, attraction and aversion, and fear of death are the afflictions which cause suffering.” (Interpretation by Swami Vishnu – Devananda).
Sutra 2.9 explains more about ‘abhinivesah’ which is translated as ‘blind clinging to life’ by Swami Venkatesananda and ‘attachment to life’ by Iyengar.
Iyengar interprets the Sutra 2.9 as follows: “Self – preservation or attachment to life is the subtlest of all afflictions. It is found even in wise men.” He continues, “While practicing asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breath) or dhyana (meditation), the person penetrates deep within itself. S/he experiences unity in the flow of intelligence, and the current of self-energy. In this state, s/he perceives that there is no difference between life and death, that they are simply two sides of the same coin. Through this understanding, s/he loses his attachment to life and conquers the fear of death.”
Can yoga, when practiced with all its limbs, be the way to deal with our fears? My answer to this also, yes…
In my past, I had a huge fear of death, which now I learned to deal with. The fear was coming from the unknown. Not knowing what’s going to happen after it. And without any awareness by my side, this fear restrained me from many things, affected my social life, and in the end came to a point of anxiety.
I cannot say to you that all fears come from this, and you can handle them the way I did (in my case, yoga and meditation were the tools to cope). But I firmly believe that attachment to life and obscurity of death hinder us from many things; especially using our full potential for life. Most of the time we may not even be aware of it. Isn’t it ironic that attachment to life makes us unable to fully live our lives?
Yoga practice brings us to the moment, to the here and now. Where there are no worries of tomorrow or resentment of yesterday.
Fear is such a personal feeling that it is not easy to define its reasons in general for every other person. Generalizing it might be dangerous and we ourselves need to get to the roots of our own fears. It is not an easy journey for sure. And there might not be short cuts.
Fear in yoga practice:
I remember my first yoga asana class. I stepped into the studio with fear, with the hope of finding a solution to my fears (ironic, isn’t it?). I lay down in my first Savasana, in the dark class, hearing the noise of my heart, beating with fear. But I knew that there was something special on that mat, at that moment that if I wouldn’t give up, would take me to another path. Which it did…
This doesn’t mean that now I have no fears. I still have, A LOT! But yoga taught me to look into its roots and how to deal with it. And only if I want to deal with it…
We can start by labeling the fears – do they come from survival instincts or are they irrational? And we need to keep in mind that one is not less important than the other one. If it affects our life, coming from a survival instinct or not, fear is fear!
And let’s remember. We are human beings that have all types of feelings, even if we tend to call them negative or positive, most of the time. But the important thing is; what that feeling tries to tell you, and are you brave or willing enough to look at it? That’s where the game changes.
Derya’s passion for lifelong learning and her curiosity about different cultures, different bodies and energy work brought her to Southeast Asia 3 years ago. She started her yoga and Thai yoga massage journey in Turkey and has been sharing her love for these two abroad in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Once she found “home” within herself, all countries became her home. Derya’s passion is movement and her goal is to show the strength, gracefulness and beauty of being in a body when it is aligned inwardly and supported by a steady breath. She wants to inspire her students with the possibility of waking up every morning with an enthusiasm and thirst for learning new things.