Overcoming the Fear of Yoga


Overcoming the Fear of Yoga

by: Michelle Finerty


On a regular basis, I have people tell me all of the reasons they don’t do yoga: they aren’t flexible enough, they feel awkward compared to others in class, they can’t quiet their mind, they aren’t fit…the list goes on and on, filled with fear and uncertainty. While it makes me sad that so many people are holding themselves back from experiencing the transformative beauty of yoga, I am also happy that so many people are sharing these thoughts with me because in sharing they are looking for answers.

So, what is fear? In my experience, fear is feeling out of control and letting self-doubt and self-judgment creep in, causing further anxiety and negativity. These feelings can cause us to shrink away from life or to react in unhealthy ways.

For anyone who has ever felt this way, as well as anyone who knows someone else suffering from these fears, here are the answers I give when these concerns are shared.

“I’m not flexible enough.”

Yoga increases flexibility; it doesn’t require flexibility. Very few of us are dancers or gymnasts, who are some of the most flexible people I know, nor do we need to be in order to manage our day-to-day lives. Yoga increases flexibility in body and mind by giving us the opportunity to slow down, listen to our physical and mental response to each pose, and determine how fast and far we wish to grow in our flexibility.

Yoga isn’t about the perfect position or being able to do the latest Instagram pretzel pose. Yoga is about helping you touch your toes and enjoy the journey there.

The next time you feel inflexible, take a deep breath, reach your arms to the sky, and exhale as you fold forward. Allow a little bend to your knees and simply be with where you are, letting each inhale and exhale open you up.

“I feel awkward compared to others in class.”

Yoga is non-competitive, which is a concept that can be tough to swallow when you come from a competitive culture. There is competition in everything: creativity, sports, scholastics, and lifestyles…another list that goes on and on. My point is, it’s easy to look at the people in a yoga class and feel intimidated, but that doesn’t help anyone. The best advice I ever received, which I give over and over again, is that everyone is working on something. We never know what energy they have put into getting where they are. In competing with others, we are robbing ourselves and them from enjoying the moment and the journey that we all take in our own way.

“I can’t quiet my mind.”

To be honest, this is one of the hardest aspects of yoga and the best reason to keep coming to your mat. Due to the fast pace and instant gratification quality of our lives, we don’t get much time to clear our minds, and if we do have time, it can be scary to open up to the inner workings of the mind. It is also easy to feel like a failure at quieting the mind if each time you try, your mind opens up with a chaos of thoughts. This is perfectly normal. Our minds are like a child who has been told to stay quiet while the adults talk. When it gets the chance to open up, it does!

Yoga teaches us that the breath is always there to guide us. Start small and embrace a minute or two of letting your mind quiet, taking a deep breath each time you start to feel overwhelmed by the thoughts that intrude, and letting them go with an exhale.

There are many ways that fear creeps into our lives and there are many ways we can move past the fear and open up to new, fulfilling opportunities. Embrace the strength and the courage within and move forward with grace, awareness, and dignity, knowing that wherever you are is where you need to be.

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