Fear, You Mighty and Magical Beast

*February 2019. Back at the same book in August. :p
Recently, I’ve been diving back into yoga philosophy to grow my roots of understanding of the rich historical writings. I’m currently reading a modern translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Paralleling this, and almost in contrast, I decided to try out aerial yoga for the first time. With my background in dance, yoga, and flow arts, I thought nothing about this fun twist on my typical mat practice. Um, guys? It was a GAME CHANGER.

Admittedly, I went in wondering how juju, heartful, and soulful the class would be. It was a beginner workshop and, frankly, I knew we’d be focusing on basic safety. I was somewhat skeptical but ready to challenge my body in a new athletic way. I had made plans with a friend to meet up at the studio where she has been practicing on the silks for several months (and casually suggesting that I try it!). I arrived a few minutes before she did, and I was greeted by a very friendly and gentle-mannered teacher. As I gathered my props (clueless how we’d use a bolster with the silk), it began to sink in – had I made a huge mistake? The surprise anxiety that came when I first tried rock climbing came flooding back. That surprise that whispered, “Hey, you’re not so comfortable being this high up” was now whispering “Hey, you’re not so comfortable being upside down”. As a kid, I was fearless. Climbing, swinging, hanging by my feet. That whispering anxiety also used to try to tell me I couldn’t run a race, but I shut that ish right up every time I signed up for a race and crossed the finish line. So now, here we all are: this very trustworthy teacher, my pal Jess, me, and my frenemy, Anxiety. Cool group-hang vibes.

I’ll jump ahead for a beat and let you know that I didn’t fall on my face, or head, or get tangled irreconcilably in the silks (but I’m not certain I didn’t come close!). I finished the class with joy and pride (and then released all attachment to those outcomes :p ). So what happened between? I faced some fears because I trusted myself. At the start of class, we began by hopping up into the silk as if it was a swing – more difficult than I thought. We came to lie down fully in the fabric, fully enclosed in the silk – more nausea-inducing than I thought. So much of the simplicity and familiarity of physical postures that I took for granted was stripped away as soon as my feet left the ground. I laid there feeling pleasantly held by the fabric, gently swaying (as I had in our hammock a thousand times as a kid), and realizing that even this grounding posture (aerial savasana) was not grounding. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t ease my breath, and I couldn’t close my eyes. My body was in a new world. I was a beginner again.

Did I creep and crawl into aerial child’s pose awkwardly, with a tinge of embarrassment? Yup. Did I jerk and flail a bit to fix the silk beneath me because I wasn’t centered in it? You betcha (what’s up, safety and comfort). I didn’t care about looking silly, I didn’t mind flowing to my own beat to honor my playfulness, learning, and exploring in a new realm. I tried all of the options that were presented. So what if this was all new? I’d get it soon, right? Towards the end of class, we were offered the chance to try out a simple inversion that involved wrapping our legs around the silk, leaning back to dangle upside down, and releasing our hands to heart center. I death-gripped the silk with my hands during the inversion even though my legs were wrapped tightly, and this was the one moment when I accepted that the fear had won. I wanted so badly to conjure up my self-assurance. I know how strong my legs are, I knew the integrity of the equipment, but where was that trust and playfulness? It got buried beneath the anxiety, newness, distraction, and uncertainty. I hadn’t felt this uncomfortable in a long time. Mind you, as a brand new ninth grader entering high school, I approached upperclassmen with a huge smile every time I was lost to ask them where my classrooms were – “new” and “embarrassing” never really got me. How had my yoga practice and trust in my body and mind disappeared so quickly? Fear, you rascal, you are a mighty and magical beast.

The sweetest part of that 60 minute rollercoaster was simply this: I kept cheering myself on, laughing at my neuroses, challenging my fear, and being kind to myself when things didn’t go as planned. These tiny love notes that popped into my mind came from years of yoga practice. From physical coordination and strength and flexibility, to patience, bravery, and self-compassion, here I was. I had done the thing. I walked out of the studio feeling joyful, excited, stronger, braver, and ready to push my edge. I now have the fire within me to pursue those challenges again, and the grace to accept what arises on the way. Hanging upside down isn’t about what it looks like, but rather opening the garden gate to the inner self and chopping away the thorny vines that keep us from getting in to nourish the growth and joy. The beauty of the aerial practice does lie, in part, in the gorgeous color, texture, and flow of the silk; in the lightness and elegance with which we float through the practice; in the celebration of strength of the amazing machine we call the human body. Juju, heartful, soulful – this floating playground is rich with opportunities to deepen the yoga practice. I’m so excited to return and play with the fear, to see what else it can show me.