Gasping for air – fear and practice

When I was 5 years old, like many parents in our small town Southern Indiana community, my parents enrolled me in swim lessons at the YMCA. I was tiny growing up. Seriously, tiny. My next younger brother Josh wasn’t particularly large, and even at 3 years my junior, we were frequently (like daily) assumed to be twins. And I wasn’t brave. I was scared of my own shadow. Growing up, Josh and I shared a bedroom. I would NOT step one toe out of bed in the dark without him going with me. Get the picture? Total weeny. 

So, the idea of going to the Y for swim lessons was terrifying, but, as was the case fairly often in my formative years, I suppressed my fear as best I could and did as expected. I don’t think we were poolside for more than 5 minutes before my friend and neighbor, James (a year younger and much bigger), pushed me in. I don’t think he did it to be mean, it’s just something little boys do. I have never been so terrified in all my life. I sunk like a lead weight (or at least this is how I remember the event) into the deep end. I remember looking up and freaking out because I couldn’t breathe. 

The lifeguard/swim teacher was in the water and covered with other boys hanging from his limbs (again, this is how I remember it). It seemed like eons passed before he put them on the side of the pool and came down to retrieve me. I don’t really remember what happened next, but needless to say, in my mind, I almost drowned. I couldn't“swim”, aka dog-paddle like the water was trying to eat me, until I was 13 years old.

And you know what? For the last 14 years, this event has surfaced within me pretty much every time I do urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) and now, kappotasana (current bane of my existence)?! 

Look out. First time I drop back I may as well be plunging into that deep end again.

FEAR. It’s huge. It’s a hindrance to yoga – an obstacle to LIFE. Little by little I am overcoming this, my albatross of hindrances. That’s what it takes. Confronting the aspects of ourselves that prevent us from gaining an understanding of who we are. Going headlong into the deep end and appreciating the moment when we come up on the other side. 

I am grateful to James because, at nearly 46 years old, I am gaining a better appreciation for the samskaras (patterns, tendencies, predispositions) in my life that are related to this one seminal event. It’s making me stronger, it’s allowing me to do things like quit my secure government job and devote myself to my true passion – connecting with my higher Self and drudging up the courage to share it with all of you. To take the sacred seat of a yoga teacher. To be the most authentic version of myself I can be – all the time, not just when I’m at Flow.

One of the tools that is fundamentally changing, for the better, my ability to go in, do the inner work, harness my breath (instead of fight against it and panic when it is hard to find) and come out the other side, is PRANAYAMA – the 4th limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga system.  Prana – our lifeforce represented by breath; and yama – to control or restrain – the process of gaining mastery of one’s own most precious body and spirit function. 

It's truly fascinating to explore the limits of my body and mind by consciously, purposely manipulating the breath and gaining confidence in my ability to BREATHE - even when the limits are being pushed….

*Join me on April 23rd at 11:00 am to begin or further your own use of the 4th limb – pranayama.