Day 1,189 – Thankful for Lessons from Yoga and Confronting Fear

What is one of your biggest fears? How have you found ways to fight it? When have you successfully conquered fear?

Hot yoga on a frozen day like this is nothing short of amazing. When Becky and I went for our run this morning it felt like Spring had sprung and we both had too many layers on. By the time I drove home it felt like an arctic January night. Going into a room that’s kept over 96 degrees was like wearing a thick and soft hoodie and then wrapping myself in a comfortable quilt.

During practice tonight our instructor asked us to try something new. Usually I’m pretty tentative and wait to watch everyone else before trying something new. It gives me the opportunity to see how they are doing it and then I can better attempt it. Tonight I decided to just trust myself. Before I knew it I was in a new pose and it felt amazing!

The reason I am thankful for this today is that it reminds me to trust myself and not overthink. I can often over analyze and attempt to over control a situation. In many cases I need to remember to let go, take a deep breath, and trust. This was an excellent and tangible example of that for me to quickly recall when needed.

One of my biggest fears is a specific kind of claustrophobia. You should watch my heart rate when the conversation goes to being in a very tight cave and there’s an extremely limited range of motion. Not elevators, groups, or anything like that, but just incredibly confined spaces that don’t allow room for any movement (maybe it’s related to the control thing above?).

I still remember back in college hearing a couple of buddies talk about a caving experience when one of them was in a tight spot. The cave was so tight that he has to slide on his belly, exhale to minimize his height, and then slide through to a spot when he could breath again. Even as I type that my heart is pounding and I’m feeling short of breath. As they told the story I suffered what I believe was my first ever panic attack as I felt flush and had a cold sweat.

Once in a while, like the moron I can occasionally be, I mentally put myself in that spot. I’m crawling in a cave on my stomach with the roof of the cave pressing down on me. I have to go forward and I can feel the space getting tighter and tighter as I slowly slide forward. I know that there’s an opening 15 yards ahead, but to get there I need to expel every square inch of air I have in me. With no air in my lungs I have to hope that I have the strength and space needed to get to the opening before I either pass out or freak out. In that moment I can visualize the entire thing and I swear I can feel the weight of the world literally bearing down on me. It freaks me right the heck out.

Why do I do this? Over the past year it’s been a practice for me to learn to control my fear. I work on keeping calm in spite of the deep fear it pulls out in me. It’s an opportunity to push back on a primal fear and harden myself.

At the end of yoga tonight I didn’t go to one of my normal happy places during final rest. I instead shimmied on my belly into the tightest part of the cave. With the towel over my face it felt almost dark enough with my eyes closed. I imagined the scenario I described above and allowed myself to feel the panic and the fear. Then I practiced taking shallow breaths that barely caused my chest to move. I focused my energy on knowing that I would be okay even though I was in this tight spot. A few times I caught myself starting to freak out but I was able to reel my focus back in.

When we went snorkeling in Australia and I panicked I realized that I have a legitimate gap in who I am and who I want to be when it comes to facing fear. In that situation I had to remove myself from it for a short period of time before I dove back in. The best version of me wouldn’t have needed to do that. The best me would’ve kept calm, focused on his breathing, and taken control of his thoughts.

By finding ways to trick my brains into facing my fears I’m hopeful that I can become better at controlling that emotion when I am exposed to it directly. As I continue to get stronger at taking it on in an imaginary setting I’ll then actively look for ways to reality test it further until I know for a fact that I can stay calm.

Whew, that was a way longer explanation than I was expecting to share today! If I were to sum it up in a Tweet it would be something like, “Today I’m thankful for finding ways to strengthen my soul in response to fear. Eventually I will be able to control my fear response. Facing my fears is an obstacle that will help me become the best version of me I can be.”


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