What does fear feel like in your body? Being held down and tickled. A bike accident – that moment when you know it’s happening and nothing can be done. A crick in the neck. A shallow breath. A populated mind. A sick loved one. A tummy ache.
This year – I chose fear. That’s what being out of my comfort zone brought on at age 55. I can push myself in my career – that’s not too scary. But taking on Kundalini yoga teacher training and a biking challenge simultaneously – that was by choice. I dove into the deep end on both fronts – however –at times it feels more like diving into freezing water – shocking, breathless. And then liberating.
This Saturday as part of the yoga Kundalini Level One Teacher training certification, we have an all-day white tantric event in Worcester, MA, where over 200 people will be participating in a variety of meditations from 13 to 62 minutes each. My neck is tight and stiff. Will I be able to hold the position? Will I get enough air? I can’t say too much about it because I haven’t done it yet but last weekend was Mind and Meditation weekend in our training at the Ashram and we got a bit of practice. One of the meditations was 13 minutes, called “Sodarshan Chakra Kriya” which brought out fear in me. The Kriya involves chanting in one breath before an exhale through one nostril and inhale through the other and repeat. The fear it brought on reminded me of being held down by bullies - not enough air. Two times, I took big gulps, rather than breathing through the single nostril, as guided. “Your Capacity for Infinity Meditation” was a very different experience. The fast pace of the mantra, accompanied by our instructor Dr. Sham-Rang Khalsa’s uplifting commentary during the group inhale helped me relax. I felt a smile emerge on my intense expression. I had trouble with the proper pronunciation, due to the speed of the mantra. This forced my mind to let go and stop trying so hard. When I relaxed and smiled, it was like allowing myself to coast on my bike down a hill – with no brakes – which is something I don’t do. It created a safe space to virtually withhold brakes and trust the words to come from my mouth. When I did this – and let go – the words flowed and it was a more satisfying experience. A reached a new place through this meditation – to let go, not worry about it and trust that the words would come.
On the biking front – I love biking and I love exercise. I don’t remember when I decided that I wanted to bike up a volcano in Maui called Haleakala. I don’t recall when that came into my mind. It is about 38 miles and a 10,000 foot elevation. It takes about 5 or 6 hours and it’s comparable to a 100 mile ride on a regular road. (I’ve only biked 50.) But the goal has been set and I’ve been spinning all winter and going to the gym and trying to prepare myself. I need to get out on the real roads but that’s not happening just yet, due to New England weather. I have a guide, I’ve plotted my course. It’s definitely doable – people do it every day. But now that it’s the month after next – I’m asking myself why I chose to bite into fear like that. I think I know the answer, though. I’ve been road biking for about 5 years now and find that the physical experience of pushing up a hill, imitates life. Slow and steady – keep the head down – find the pacing – this leads to success. But the opposite also holds true – going too fast – looking too far ahead – this can lead to fear and doubt.
Since I started the yoga training last October, I’ve been rising each morning at 3:50 am for my short splash of a cold shower (as instructed, not by choice haha) and morning sadhana or practice. After practice I have been training for the bike ride. I’ve been fine – I’m an empty nester, single – I like it. Others get a puppy – I do yoga and biking. It’s fine. I’m breathing. I’m going to bed early. I’m taking it slow -- focusing on the day and trying not to look out too far.
But now I’m getting scared. I haven’t picked this big a challenge yet. I’m 55 years old – I have to be careful. I know what it feels like to fall off my bike. I don’t think it’s by chance that I have taken on Kundalini training and this bike challenge at this time in my life – a time of healing, pushing through past pain, finding renewed strength and adventure – and tackling discomfort. Doing something by myself and for myself.
Wendy, my therapist and my friends wonder why I’m so hung up on getting to the top when it’s the effort that counts. I used to tell my daughter that trying out for a play was the cake and getting a part was only the frosting. And I meant it. Why did I believe that for her and not for myself? If the hill imitates life, then I guess that’s it – fear of failure – of losing momentum, and running the risk of heading backwards and down. But it doesn’t have to be losing momentum. It doesn’t have to be falling back. It could be getting off the bike. Looking at the view and then cruising down the hill – with brakes. Or getting off the bike and slowly walking to the top.
Pushing through fear is important right now. Chewing it up and digesting it. Diving into it. Because it’s been sitting in my belly for a long time. It perches on my neck. It startles me. Maybe these experiences can help me engage with it in a new way. It’s cold. It’s shocking. But it’s freeing. And could be joyful. I’ll let you know in May after the bike ride and June – when I receive certification as a Level 1 Kundalini Yoga Teacher.
What does fear feel like in your body? When did you last choose fear?