Confront the Fear of the Unknown
Fear of change often sidetracks people in yoga poses. Fear keeps patients from moving toward goals; from continuing in yoga poses; and from making needed progress in yoga poses. The therapist interprets possible reasons for the fears, but clients are often overwhelmed with fear and cannot work past or through the feelings.
Fear also comes up with yoga. At some point in the process, clients freeze. This happens because clients start talking about issues that raise their anxiety levels, or they start exploring feelings they’ve repressed. Fear of the unknown ties them up in knots. Fear can include concerns of becoming a different person (such as a fat person becoming thin, or a lonely person now adjusting to having someone around), difficulty dealing with a new opportunity (such as a new hobby or a new career), and so on. Ironically, people often fear having their deepest wishes come true. However, too often, people make little progress once they become afraid. Or even worse, they stop working with their coach to avoid the fear. Without an environment of mutual commitment, accountability, and responsibility, it’s very difficult for people to continue moving forward with and through their fear.
So fear is just as likely to surface in the yoga process as in yoga poses, but it’s handled differently. Let me describe my experiences. I can see fear emerging in yoga clients, sometimes as early as in our first session together. Early on, most clients are excited to get going and want to talk, do yoga homework, are positive, and believe there is no limit to the change possible. Sooner rather than later, however, the fear strikes. Saying one wants change and actually doing it are two different things. At times, people stop progressing in yoga when this fear sets in either too much change is attempted or new behaviors are too unfamiliar. The most common signs of this fear emerging are clients saying things such as “I did my homework, but I forgot it.” The night before a session they might e-mail me and say, “I am coming but don’t expect any homework because I have been too busy.” Or they go from being a client who always completes their next-step goals to someone who may take three months to achieve the simplest goal. Less experienced Yogis (and therapists) are sometimes naive regarding these resistances and become frustrated when good clients suddenly don’t do what they say they want to work toward.
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When fear surfaces in this way, effective Yogis embrace this emotion as part of the healing and growing process. In fact, I’m convinced this resistance is normal and that I just have to hang in there with the client and wait it out. Just as naturally, the client snaps out of his fearful state and begins to complete goals again. Or goal completion begins to occur again it just takes longer than it used to. I find that clients just need to know that I am hanging in there with them and all their fear. I honor their fear as real and stay with them until they are ready to move forward again with their goals. When they do, it seems like they take greater ownership of these objectives. There is power in taking charge of their lives in the face of all their fear.
These fears shouldn’t be hidden or avoided as topics of discussion. Perhaps even more significantly, these fears should not be pathologized. Too often in yoga poses, when a patient expresses a fear, it is seen as a symptom of a deeper issue and is often inaccurately interpreted or used as a tool to dig into the patient’s past. In a yoga setting, on the other hand, a banana is sometimes a banana and a fear is sometimes a fear. By that I mean that you have to notice the fear and not pathologize it. In yoga, therefore, the approach is much more practical and respectful and it accepts the fear at face value. It is seen as normal for people to fear change from the familiar.
For this reason, both client and coach must be alert for the signs and symptoms of fear. It takes commitment and accountability to the coach for clients to break through their fears.