I've heard fear described as a stampede of elephants in your mind. What an ironic metaphor given that Ganesha the Hindu Elephant God is honoured for the ability to overcome obstacles. In the midsts of my fear "stampedes" its all I can do to not bury my head to keep from seeing what, I imagine, is about to trample me. My instincts go to burying and/or retreating.
When a heard of elephants is stampeding towards you its unlikely that you would think to or get any benefit from a vrksasana (tree pose) - although the image is funny to imagine. But what if we learned to look straight ahead at the stampede. Would we see Ganesha helping to overcome the obstacles around our fear? Yoga and mindfulness are a practice that can help you prepare for the elephant stampede, train us to look up and see what is really coming at us. Yoga not only helps move energy it can also help you become more aware of your fear. This awareness is the starting point of overcoming fear. Balance poses are a great way of exploring how fear feels in your body. I find tree is the best pose for this practice because most people can find a steady balance (sometimes with the support of a prop) so the effort is in observing feelings rather then striving to find balance.
- For this practice choose the variation of vrksasana (tree pose) that best suits your ability. Use props if you need to. You want to be steady to start.*
- Start with a steady breath.
- Once you are steady close your eyes and notice what it feels like to get tippy.
- Try as hard as you can to not open your eyes – even if you some out of the pose.
- Stay completely aware of what emotions come up and how your breath and body change when we are drawn outside the present moment. When tough emotions come up we have a tendency to try to jump out of them. When you do this you lose the wisdom that comes with being aware. It may not be fear and that is ok.
- Steady your breath and release tension in your body and observe what happens to the fear. Ideally you will do this holding the pose.
- Try holding Abhaya Mudra instead of Anjali Mudra (hands at your heart in prayer) or hands overhead. Abhaya is the Mudra that Ganesha holds and is the gesture of fearlessness.
* If you have a really strong practice you may want to try a more challenging balance pose like Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose)
Fear lives in the future and draws us out of the present. This practice helps you learn how to get in touch with your emotions and stay with them and be present. When you become aware of your fear and how it affects your body you are bringing your mind back to the present. You can then use your breath to step outside the fear and gain some perspective on it.
For more ideas on how to overcome fears read my blog post 10 Ways to Overcome Fear.
How did you feel in the pose? What emotions came up? Let me know by leaving a comment.