That day, I picked up the keys to my new apartment.
I walked inside, boxes in my arms. Suddenly, they felt too heavy. I set them down and slowly turned around twice, taking in my new surroundings. I felt a lump rise in my throat, and I swallowed hard. Now was not the time for fear.
At other times in my life, I had allowed fear to impede my evolution, even paralyze me. Not anymore. There were other times where I felt fearless but was really acting with reckless abandon. This time I know the difference between the two.
I silently recited a quote, from American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön: "Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."
Then I told myself: "If I’m ever going to reach the truth, my truth, I have to face my fears. I will never fall if I never try."
With that, I spun on my heel and locked the door behind me. I was going to be late for yoga. In the car that night, I observed this change in myself. Driving in silence, I honored it. I recognized that this was a time for bravery, for taking chances.
And it would begin with that night's yoga practice.
Outside it was dipping into the teens. The studio's heated floors warmed our toes as we chanted "om" to begin the practice.
For the next 75 minutes, we breathed as my teacher counted in Sanskrit... ekam, dvi, trini, catvari, panca... knowing the routine by heart allows you to let go of the mind, focus on the breath, and just be. The body knows what to do.
Through the warm-up sun salutations, standing, and seated poses, I felt strong. I gave each pose everything I had. My mind was quiet.
Then came the closing, beginning with backbending in wheel pose.
I like this pose, but it's not my strongest. And tonight, of all the nights, when I had committed to facing whatever fears presented themselves, it was time to face fear. With just six people in class, we were given the option of practicing "dropbacks."
As in, we would start by standing, and, with the support of the teacher, take hands to heart, then overhead, then to the floor. After a few breaths, we would rise up again.
Despite almost four years of yoga practice, I'd never tried it. In the past, when offered with the option, I shied away. I wasn't ready. I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't flexible enough.
What I was really thinking: "I am going to fall. What if I hurt my neck? What if my wrists give out? I'm scared."
This time, I couldn't say no. I am strong. I am ready, at least ready to give it a try with assistance.
She began at the opposite end of the studio. I took this as a sign. With all that time to wait, all that time to be alone with my thoughts, all that time to chicken out, this was a test. But I had made a decision. I gave my word. I wouldn't back down. Not this time. Not tonight.
The woman just before me opted against dropping back. She wasn't ready. I could say no, too. But we're all on different paths in life, and her choice was the right one for her. Mine would be the right one for me.
Finally my turn came.
My teacher--my friend--looked me square in the eye.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
"I've never done this," I reminded her, my voice shaking slightly.
"It's OK," she said. She talked me through the steps, held behind my legs and coached me. Once, I faltered.
Twice, I caught myself and bolted upright.
Thrice, I let go. I fell. I caught myself, and she was there to catch me, just as she promised.
From the floor, the pose felt so comfortable, so normal. It was the same wheel pose I did almost daily, just from a different perspective. I breathed and stayed there a few moments.
With my teacher's arms firmly in place, I prepared to rise up.
One, two, three, and up I came.
I was back on my own two feet.
I hugged my teacher with tears in my eyes. I felt strong. I felt empowered.
I sank into a forward fold, my chest pressing against my thighs, my mind racing, my heart swelling.
I had done it. I faced that fear.
I'm nowhere near ready to drop back on my own, but I'm willing to accept help and let myself fall, in life and on the mat.
And if I fall down, I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again.
What fears have you conquered lately?
NOTE: Never attempt this pose without the assistance of a trained yoga teacher.
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