How to be Less Afraid

“Be not afraid.” – The Bible

Did you know that the invitation/instruction/admonition “Be not afraid.” is in the Bible 365 times? There are enough “Be not afraids” in that one book that we could read a different one every day of the year. That is how important this message is to anyone seeking a full, spiritually deepened life experience.

Interestingly, while yoga philosophy doesn’t phrase it quite the same way, “Be not afraid” is a central message to seekers on and off the mat. In fact, Rolf Gates writes in his excellent book, Meditations from the Mat, that the entire first of yoga’s eight limbs (the yamas) are “a fundamental renunciation of a life based on fear.”

In other words, one-eighth of our yoga practice is designed to make us better able to “be not afraid.”

What are we so afraid of?

What are we afraid of? Feeling bad. Failure. Bad things happening. Dying. Not being smart enough. Not being good enough. Not measuring up.

I could go on, but I won’t because even in that short list a theme emerges. Fear is a sign that we are looking outside for validation, affirmation, our sense of worth, happiness, security, and peace of mind. Fear is a manifestation of the fact that we are not firmly grounded, something yoga’s third limb (asana) teaches is critically important.

Finding a solid foundation – physically

In fact, let’s start there, where the gifts of stability, foundation, and being grounded are easy to see and feel.

In a seated posture, there is little risk of falling over, so it would be easy to assume that the foundation of the pose is of little importance. Au contraire. In the most elementary of seated postures, staff pose (dandasana), a solid foundation is everything.

In staff pose we are seated upright, legs extended, with our hands pressing into the mat near our hips. Though it may not look like one, I teach it as a forward fold. Imagine standing with your hips bent at a 90-degree angle. See? Folding forward doesn’t require more than sitting up straight.

To receive any benefits from the posture, we must find the foundation. We must make sure that our pelvis is positioned upright and that we can feel the two bony protrusions at its base, the ischial tuberosities or “sits bones.” If you have tight hamstrings, it is likely that you will need to bend your knees to find these bones.

Without a solid, upright foundation, the space that staff pose offers through the belly, ribcage and chest will not be available. Unless we are firmly grounded, any extension that the posture offers along the backs of our legs will be similarly unavailable. In short, being solidly grounded opens us to all good things in dandasana.

What is a not-physical foundation?

As you and I both know, the lessons we learn while practicing asana are rarely (if ever) confined to our yoga mat. Checking in with our foundation, even when it seems unnecessary, is always a good plan. In fact, it is only when we are firmly grounded, that we are open to the richness of all of life’s experiences.

What could this foundation be? I believe it is encapsulated in the words “Be not afraid.”

It is the certainty that you are enough. You are loved. You are valuable. Without you, the world would lose a little of its shine.

With this certainty, we have the courage to be exactly who we are. To live authentically. To be different. To follow our own path. We also have the courage to say really scary things such as “I was wrong” and “I need help” and “I am unhappy and do not want to be unhappy anymore.”

How do we develop such a foundation?

How do we develop this foundation? Practice.

Because saying scary things such as the ones above takes a great deal of bravery, it is best to start small. Yoga starts us really small – by teaching us, day after day, to accept our bodies as they are. Too tight, too weak, too thin, too thick, too short, too tall, too …

With practice, we realize that each of these judgments comes from fear. Yoga teaches us (again a day at a time) to celebrate our bodies for all they can do. To nourish, love, and value our body. Yoga frees us from fear and returns us to a foundation of love.

You can also practice “being not afraid” without a yoga mat. Meditating provides us with the silence and space to recognize our tendency to harshly judge ourselves. It also reveals our habit of doing rather than being. “Just” being is frightening when you’re seeking external validation. It is incredibly freeing when your foundation is secure.

When you are standing on solid ground, when you know your value, when you are not afraid, it is much more likely that you will be able to gracefully accept whatever life brings your way – even the things you fear. Knowing that you are loved and that you are strong makes it possible to trust that you are enough – to bravely take the next step, whatever it might be.

P.S. Don’t worry if you sometimes have to chant “Be not afraid” like a mantra. After all, that’s pretty much what the Bible does.

Are you interested in learning more about the yoga philosophy and spirituality? Check out my self-paced on-line philosophy course or contact me to sign up for my brand new 5-week course “Demystifying The Yoga Sutras” held on Zoom beginning in April.