Now, there’s a claim. Fear and anxiety are a natural reaction to being alive? Blimey, that doesn’t sound very positive does it?!
But if we delve a little deeper into this idea it makes a lot of sense – and empowers us to take control of how we react to life’s challenges.
It’s about the human being’s survival instinct. Ancient (wo)man had to be on a constant state of alert to the very real dangers around them – being hunted by animals, attacked by other tribes, being on the lookout for poisonous berries, and venomous insects in their environment.
As our bodies are vulnerable (we don’t have sharp teeth or claws to attack, our skin doesn’t have protective covering of scales or fur) human beings have always had to use their mind to develop ways to protect us or defend ourselves.
Over thousands of years our brains have evolved into a highly sophisticated tool which is on a constant state of alertness. But over these thousands and thousands of years the threats to our existence have very much changed.
Wired for fear
In this way human beings are wired for fear. Our sophisticated brain is always on the lookout for what may harm us – and the “fight, flight, freeze” message it sends to the body is still operating on that hair-trigger response to our surroundings.
Our brain remembers past instances of hurt or danger hypothesizes about what’s going on now, worries about what’s coming next.
Nowadays it’s fears about our health, jobs, money, relationships which trigger the fear response. Fears about the wider world and what’s going on socially and politically. And of course, there’s the constant and cynical prodding of our fear of not being good enough used in advertising to get us to keep spending.
And when we’re feeling particularly anxious or stressed this state of scanning for dangers goes onto really high alert and any unexpected noise or movement in our environment can set our heart’s racing and the stress hormones coursing through our body.
Our capacity for imagining the worst can make life very challenging, unless we learn to let go of the unwarranted anxiety.
My practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness has taught me that we do not have to be at the mercy of our worry-filled mind.
We can use our body and breath and yes, our mind too, to be aware of and by-pass the instinct to expect the worst.
From fear to safe sanctuary
Here are some yoga and mindfulness techniques to help you out of fear-based thoughts and into the safe sanctuary of the present moment:
Walk with the fear
A simple walking meditation is a wonderful way to bring you out of your mind and into your body – and the feeling of stability and security that connecting with the earth brings.
Do this outdoors if you can, in your garden (no matter how small!) or in your home if you don’t have any outdoor space.
Stand still to begin. Feet hip-width apart; knees soft; draw in your lower abdominal muscles to support your lower back; let your spine length; soften your shoulders; let the crown your head lift subtly towards the sky.
Really feet your feet on the ground. Know that the solid earth is beneath you and that gravity will always keep you connected to that support.
Then slowly begin to walk, peeling one foot up and then placing it down heel first, and when the toes come down then you begin to lift the heel of the other foot.
You might like to really focus the mind by silently or quietly saying “lifting, shifting, placing” (thanks to Patrizia Collard in her book Journey into Mindfulness for that tip!).
Take maybe 10 steps and then stand in stillness, before slowly turning around retracing your steps. Breathe. Feel into each step.
Be in the present moment. Let the thoughts subside. When the thoughts intrude, return to the feeling of walking: lifting, shifting, placing.
Build inner strength and resilience as an antidote to fear
Warrior Pose is a great way to build resilience.
Start in Mountain Pose (as above)
Step the right foot back and bend the front knee. Engage your core. Raise your arms overhead. Firmly ground into the back foot but avoid collapsing into the arch of the foot. Look ahead and keep shoulders relaxed.
Repeat: “I believe in myself, always”.
Repeat to the other side.
Breathe with the fear
When we feel fear, the breath goes tight and shallow.
We can help to release the fear by consciously focusing on our breath.
You could do this by watching the physical sensations of your breath – the cool in-breath at the nostrils and the warmer out-breath.
Or bring movement and breath together. Breathe-in and raise your arms slowly overhead, breathe out lower them back down again.
Be with the fear
When fear arises, are you able to sit with it? To watch it, without wishing it to go away?
Sit comfortably, close your eyes (if that feels comfortable – if it makes the fear worse lower your gaze towards the floor instead but your spine gently upright).
How does the fear feel in your body? Where do you feel it? What words would you use to describe these sensations?
What words describe the fear? Is the fear an habitual reaction? How does it feel to sit with the fear? Can you feel its grip lessening? Breathe.
Fear underpins so many of our reactions. But aside from the fears related to our environment, personal circumstances and the wider world a lot of our fearful behaviour comes from deep-seated feelings of not feeling good enough.
In a blog article in the very near future I’ll examine the pernicious feeling that is all too often what’s behind the more subtle fears when we doubt ourselves and offer insight and practices into how you can gently and mindfully deal with this wide-spread issue.
In the meantime, remember that you have all you need inside you! You ARE strong, secure and confident.