In Yin yoga the winter season focusses on the emotion of fear.
Fear often places restrictions on us, it can tamper with our energy reserves and render us frozen. In winter we can notice similar sensations when stepping out in the cold weather, the body automatically builds itself an armour and curls inward, restricting full breath and often lowering our mood.
When working with fear, it’s important to remember that it is the mind that creates and fuels the fear.
The Buddha taught that there are 5 common fears that we are all subject to:
1. The fear of death - in particular the death of the self, the sense of ‘me’, the personality and identity that we spend our lives cultivating, expressing and reinforcing.
2. The fear of illness - this fear is the most powerful marketing tools used to sell us all sorts of products and services. We forget that getting sick occasionally is normal and sometimes desirable in building our immunity or forcing us to stop and rest.
3. Fear of losing the body - ageing, decaying and ultimately the death of the body becomes extremely difficult if we believe that our body is all that we are. Again this is a common fear that marketers exploit to sell us stuff we don’t need.
4. Fear of losing our livelihood - hence the suffering of many souls who remain trapped in unsatisfying jobs and careers.
5. Fear of public speaking - it’s interesting that this fear was also evident in Buddha’s time reminding us that our primal fears are largely universal and shared with humanity throughout the ages.
Interestingly, I read recently in a study that one of the most prominent fears of recent times is the fear of having a meaningless life. More and more, younger people are understanding the power and value of contributing to society and to fully explore their passions and true calling. It may be that the fear of a unfulfilled life is becoming stronger than the fear of risking financial security.
A useful way to work with fear in meditation is to embrace the feeling of fear fully, and not just focussing on our own personal fears but the fears of all beings. By imagining all the universal fears felt by all past, present and future humans, we can observe how this powerful emotion manifests in the body as a curious bystander. Try this until you are so engulfed in fear that you almost become the fear itself, at that point you may notice the emotion naturally disintegrates. This technique works by removing the personal sense of “I” from the equation so that the fear is no longer personal, but universal. By allowing ourselves that distance we can work with fear in a way that is harmless to us because it’s not just about us. This also allows us to develop more empathy and compassion towards others.
If you try this and find that the fear is too strong when you sit in meditation then perhaps a physical practice is more appropriate. In the natural world, animals physically shake off their fear and we can do this too. I often use shaking in my yoga classes when we have just tried a difficult asana such as an inversion which often brings up fear in students. Shaking is effective in releasing the stickiness of fear that can linger in the body, it’s a wonderful way to literally shake off limiting thoughts and toxic energy away from us.
From a yogic point of view no emotion is inherently good or bad, they all exist to communicate with us. Fear sometimes warns us against danger but it can also let us know that we are about to experience something new that will help us to learn and grow. It’s our job as yogis to observe our emotions, become familiar with their patterns and learn to interpret what the emotional body is communicating in order to use this information for our highest potential.
“Some of the worst things in my life never happened” - Mark Twain