Fear of the Unknown

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

-H. P. Lovecraft

Seems appropriate for our current global crisis, right?

The uncertainly of these current times lands me somewhere between low grade anxiety and full on freak out these days.

You too?

H.P. Lovecraft’s quote also makes me think of something that happened many, many years ago, when I attended a weekend yoga workshop in a hotel ball room with nearly 200 participants.

I barely knew anyone else in the workshop but I ended up with my mat next to an amazing yogi named Carrie Ganz. At the time, Carrie and I were part of the same yoga communities in the DC area but I didn’t really know her well. We connected with some easy chatting before we started and shared our excitement over what was to come.

Then, about midway through the practice, the instructor announced that we were going to do drop backs. (If you are not familiar, this is where you start from standing and bend backwards until your hands hit the floor in a wheel pose.)

I had done plenty of wheel poses in my asana practices but I had never once even attempted a drop back. I was gripped by sheer panic. I felt myself searching the room for the exit, planning my escape to the bathroom or maybe even to my car for a full-on getaway.

But there was Carrie. So calm and sure, she turned to me and said:

“I’ve got you. I’ll help you. I know you can do this.”

And I did.

Even now, so many years and drop backs later, I honestly still have that moment of panic when I consider practicing drop backs. It often happens when I do camel pose, too.

Do you know the feeling I’m describing?

Even though I know I can do it physically, even though I know exactly how to manage my body and even how to manage that panicky feeling, it’s an experience that’s always worth reflection.

What’s so scary about these types of backbends?

They require us to literally move into the unknown, where we can’t see what’s coming or where we are in space.

When we are scared like this, our body sends a message to our nervous system that we need to protect our most vulnerable parts. We experience a tightening in our belly, a rounding in our shoulders, and a pulling in across the front of the chest. The major flexors of the torso kick in and make our bodies curl forward. In other words, stress and fear of the unknown makes us want to hide under the covers in a fetal position.

Not only do drop backs and camel pose require skill, strength, and flexibility to over come these additional challenges of our evolutionary response, but they also require trust and faith.

This is the message of our yoga practice right now. We have to trust that we are tenacious and patient enough to make it through these challenging times.

We are called to notice how we feel, to breathe more deeply, to reach out and connect with each other in all the ways we can even if we can be together in person.

And I promise to continue to offer all of you the encouragement and support I felt from Carrie so long ago. I channel her and her wise words daily:

“I’ve got you. I’ll help you. I know you can do this.”

I’m teaching a pile of online classes these days. Come see me virtually. It’s actually pretty great. Join me and you’ll see.