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Give up to grace
The ocean takes care
of each wave
Till it gets to shore
You need more help
than you know
-Rumi

It was just over a week ago while driving to attend yoga teacher training with Doug Swenson at Lake Tahoe that I decided it was time to overcome a nagging fear I’d had for years. Neither climbing frozen waterfalls in Switzerland nor having a child soldier in Africa point a machine gun at my chest caused as much fear in me as a simple handstand (adho mukha vrksasana).

Five years ago, I’d crashed from a handstand, dropping my head straight onto a tile floor and leaving me with a mild concussion and a sore neck which lasted for months. Ever since that time, I’d been wary to even kick up against a wall, fearing another drop onto my melon and the ensuing months of pain. I always dreaded a yoga teacher announcing that we were going to do the handstand and did my best to muddle at the wall waiting for everyone to finish so we could move to the next asana (pose).

For some reason, I never found a teacher willing to help me try it again and in one case, encountered a rather dismissive one who remarked (as she turned her back and walked away), “oh, I see you have some fear issues.” So, somewhere between Albuquerque and the Eastern Sierras I figured that if I was going to be a yoga teacher, I needed to overcome this fear and get some part of my handstand mojo back. Upon arrival in South Lake Tahoe, I found myself with an incredibly supportive teacher in Doug Swenson, not to mention my fellow students. So, I figured it was time to give it a go. At first I thought it would take the entire month to get past this barrier of fear but on the second day of training, with the help of my roomate Simon Moseley and a few other fellow students providing me a good bit of lift, I got into a (supported) handstand for the first time in five years.

I got up into it a few more times (against a wall) and my fear of the handstand started to fade as our first week of training came to a close. This got me thinking about fear and how vital it is to have support to help us overcome it. It seems the independent Aquarian in me was slow to realize that sometimes we need help to bridge the mental gap between thinking you can’t do something and believing you can. With the help of a supportive community, we can fill that gap.

It also etched into me a lesson I hope to remember as a yoga teacher, to sense when a student is dealing with fear issues and to provide them the support to help them overcome it, just as my classmates have done for me. And perhaps even more importantly, to apply this same lesson in life every day.

This article was originally published on May 16th, 2010