5 Powerful Ways Yoga Helps You Combat Fear

By Stephen | May 4, 2016

yoga can help you combat fear

It might sound weird to say that you can combat fear with yoga.

(Especially if you think yoga is just stretching and breathing.)

But, back when Jane and I started going to yoga workshops and yoga trainings and I started working with students on a regular basis…

We noticed something amazing.

At the end of the trainings, not only were people physically stronger, healthier, and stretchier, but they were also jumping into huge life changes like:

  • Ending unhealthy relationships
  • Quitting their soul-destroying jobs
  • Moving to new cities and new countries
  • Going after their dreams

It happened to Jane and me too.

(Have you seen these 7 Smart Quotes About Fear That Will Make You Braver? →)

After about a year of practicing yoga, I was finally brave enough to end my work with the last few musicians I’d been managing. It was a HUGE step. I was letting go of the previous 15 years of my career — saying goodbye to all the work I had put in and all of the contacts I’d made — to pursue something that really called to me, even though it didn’t seem like much of a career choice at the time.

As for Jane, the year she took her 200-hour yoga teacher training was the last year she worked in a corporate job. The training helped her figure out exactly what it was that was wrong in her life — exactly what she didn’t want — so that she could make some space to figure out exactly what she did want.

Without that training, I’m pretty sure we’d still be leading our nice comfortable lives in LA and Jane would be (miserably) climbing the corporate ladder.

Instead, we biked around the world and are now semi-permanent nomads.

Who's that hot guy in the Helsinki central market?

Here’s me and my bike in Helsinki. Thanks yoga!

That’s what yoga made possible for us.

Yoga can make that kind of transformation possible for you too.

So how does “just stretching and breathing” help you combat fear and take major leaps in life?

As we’ve come to realize:

The best way to get over fear is to take action.

And that’s where yoga comes in. It teaches you how to take action in so many different ways.

use yoga to get over your fears

Pin me please :)

Here are 5 ways that yoga helps you combat fear:

1. You Don’t Know Anything — Yet

To start with, just showing up to a yoga studio is way outside of most people’s comfort zones. There are so many varieties of yoga out there (not to mention yoga scandals and rumours) that you’re not sure what you’re going to get when you step through that studio door.

Any time you start something new — every time you admit “I don’t know how to do this” it’s a huge act of bravery. It takes courage to unroll a yoga mat and sit next to people who “know what they’re doing.”

When you step into a yoga studio for the first time, you don’t know anything. You don’t know how to roll your mat out quietly, or where to put your shoes, or what to do if you have to pee during class. You definitely don’t know why the hell you’re putting your body into all these weird shapes.

And the biggest thing you don’t know yet is…

Admitting you don’t know something is the best way to let go of your fear and learn it — both in yoga and in life.

(Come to one of Stephen’s Adventure Yoga Workshops to experience this process in action.)

should you go on a yoga reatreat

2. It’s Probably Going to Hurt

One great benefit of the yoga poses is that they ask you to move your body in ways it does not normally move. Sometimes these ways are (excruciatingly) uncomfortable. You’ve already stepped out of your comfort zone by showing up, and then yoga throws you even farther into your discomfort zone.

And it holds you there. For ten breaths. Fuck.

Just like Jane wrote in our newsletter a few weeks ago, by submitting yourself to some voluntary discomfort, you learn that a little discomfort won’t actually kill you. Instead, it makes you ready when the universe decides to throw a little involuntary discomfort your way.

And yes, it also makes you stronger.

That strength is a key ingredient when you’re trying to combat those killer fears.

3. An Endless Parade of Death-Defying Feats

Once you get used to going to yoga and doing some of the poses, you might think the fear-busting effect wears off. But no. Yoga constantly asks you to face new fears — and no matter how long you’ve been practicing, there is always another scary pose around the corner.

I first felt this in yoga class was when my teacher Keric Morinaga taught us Vashisthasana (Side Plank) pretty much every class. I had come to yoga after shoulder surgery on both my shoulders, and this is a pose that is particularly hard on your shoulder.

I kept telling myself my shoulder wasn’t up to it. The reality was that one of the best shoulder surgeons in America had operated on me; my body was up to the challenge, but my mind wasn’t. Fear started telling me that this was a crazy pose and that I would surely “break” my surgery if I kept doing it.

And Vashistasana with tree leg and midriff.

I finally got over that particular fear.

It took me more than a year to overcome the voice of fear inside me, but it still appears sometimes, in different poses. Even though the surgery was almost 10 years ago and my shoulders have been (knocks wood) fine so far.

Yoga teaches you that little by little, something that seems death-defyingly scary can become enjoyable. And then it throws something else at you that seems equally scary.

It helps you figure out that the scary little things in life will be a little less scary once you try them (again and again and again).

4. Stepping Stone to Your Dreams

Why was I so afraid of Vashisthasana? Because I was afraid to fail — and afraid to fall. Failure isn’t really embraced in our society. And after we get through our awkward teenage years, most of us really don’t fall down anymore. When we do, it tends to be a painful and embarrassing experience that includes (mean) people laughing at us.

In yoga, the teacher (if they’re good at their jobs) will encourage you to try — and they’ll encourage you to fall (in a safe way). Then, they’ll tell you to laugh at yourself, get back up, and try again.

(Check out my online Learning to Fall & Learning to Fly series on Yogaia. You’ll get 30 days of unlimited yoga for free when you join Yogaia using this link →)

Practicing falling is another way of showing your fear who’s boss. It teaches you that failure is no big deal and that the only way to learn to do something is to fail again and again, until you finally learn enough to succeed.

beat your fears with yoga

This is a powerful skill to have when it comes to beating your fears. When you stop thinking of failure as a devastating blow and start seeing it as a stepping stone to success instead, it doesn’t seem so scary.

5. Come Find Yourself

It’s not very often that we turn off our brains and just exist. I find that doing yoga is the only time during my day when I’m not thinking — or at least not thinking about day-to-day hassles and pressures. During yoga class, I tend to focus on breathing and moving my body.

By the time it comes to Savasana, my usually busy brain has settled down enough so that I can just be without having to think. This is when yoga lets you connect with who you are, behind your thoughts and your persona and all the junk that fills your headspace.

This clarity is the starting point for really figuring out who you are and what you need from life. Being clear on these points is a massive confidence boost when it comes to kicking at your fears and pursuing those adventurous dreams — whatever they may be.

(Try Jane’s excellent article A Quick & Dirty Guide to Mastering Fear for other ways to combat fear →)

Adventure Begins At OM

Not only do people become physically stronger, healthier, and stretchier when they practice yoga, but they also gain the confidence to jump into huge life changes.

We have seen the proof. It’s in the (vegan) pudding.

Without yoga, most of you wouldn’t even know Jane and me. I would still me working in the music industry and Jane would be the CEO of Yahoo (probably).

Instead, yoga helped us discover what inspired us and got over our fears so that we could pursue the things that really matter to us.

Yoga made it possible.

That’s why we say Adventure Begins at OM. Because, without the connection to our inner selves, there’s no way Jane and I would ever have had the courage to embark on the crazy adventure we’re taking now.

We want you to discover your own personal crazy adventure and overcome the fears that are keeping you from it, too.

Sure, it takes work, a lot of stretching and breathing, and time. But we promise you, it’s worth it.

  Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane

4 comments

  1. Comment by Lyssy

    Lyssy Reply May 4, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Amazing post, Stephen! I tried a free Hatha Vinyasa class a while back. It was amazing but I also whined about muscle ache for the next two days! Since then, I’ve been a little too scared to try again. All my courage went towards starting a blog! But you’ve inspired me to try and fit it into my morning routine again. Thank you for this really great post. Your retreat studio looks gorgeous and I hope you and Jane have an really memorable time!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen May 5, 2016 at 1:58 am

      Ah but the muscle ache Lyssy is part of the point. That’s when you know you’ve been doing something your body appreciates, that it is getting stronger, and you’ll be better able to support yourself as you go out living your adventure. The challenge is to keep at it, not to be scared by the muscle ache, but to know it will lessen over time as you face that fear head on. One of my students said to me yesterday, “I can really feel that work between my shoulders today. They’re sore, and it feels great.”

      I wish everyone could join us at the retreat – I expect it will be incredible.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting! -S.

  2. Comment by Karen

    Karen Reply May 4, 2016 at 9:33 am

    Love this! Kicking fear’s a** with yoga is an awesome idea! And the “yoga studio” for your June retreat looks amazing! :)

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen May 5, 2016 at 1:59 am

      Yoga is a great way to kick fear in the butt – it pushes you to question what you know v what you think you know. And I agree – the retreat centre looks incredible – and will have lots of opportunity for us to face fear. Snakes, wild elephants, monkeys, torrential rain is possible… Thanks for reading and commenting Karen! -S.

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