Facing Fear in the Face

Have you ever been so sick with fear you thought you were truly and genuinely going to vomit? I have! And I will never forget the day - April 15, 2009.

On that day just three years ago I set out to quit my first, and very much loved, career on a Wall Street trading floor to launch I.AM.YOU., a yoga studio and lifestyle brand in Manhattan. Given it was my decision to resign, I should not have been scared at all. Oh, but how I was. So scared, in fact, that I did not sleep one iota the night before, had sweaty, jittery palms, and a stomach so nauseous I might as well been at sea during a horrific storm. I sincerely thought I was going to puke, or faint, or both.

I clearly did not want either to happen in front of my colleagues, especially on my supposed last day at the office, so before I set to meet my boss to explain that was going to leave the firm, I took myself to the ladies room in attempts of composing myself. I stood in the corner, suit, heals, pearls and all, and began some subtle yoga pranayama, or breathing exercises, in attempts to calm my mind through my breath (i.e. the essence of yoga). Not more than a minute or two in, Gloria, the third floor cleaning lady since 2002, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was pregnant with morning sickness. ‘No!,’ I exclaimed, ‘please don’t make me more scared and sick to my stomach.’ She looked at me bewildered, handed me a wet paper towel for my forehead, and off she went, her to her tasks, and me to my fear. A few minutes later, I pulled myself together, marched into my boss’ office and faced fear in the face. I left his office three, yes three hours later, and embarked on what has been one of the most amazing journey’s of my life – I.AM.YOU..

So how did I manage to pull it together, and in a relatively short amount of hidden loo-time? I used two simple, fierce yoga tools that help you face any fear it the face.

I. On the most basic and elemental note, breathe. When we do not breathe fully and calmly, we constrain the amount of oxygen that can get to the brain. When this happens, the brain constricts itself and your thoughts. This, in turn engenders those awful physical manifestations of nausea, sweaty palms, hyperventilation, etc etc etc, which in turn prevent us from breathing. The lack of proper breath feeds the fear, and on it goes. Just a few moments of non-calm breath can create a vile negative feedback loop, that will only feed your fears more. On the other hand, a few moments of calm, ujjai inspired breathing can calm your brain waves and allow you to move through your perceived fears with a more confident, and serene, state.

In the Tibetan philosophies of yoga they say that the breath through the nostrils is the portal to the mind, which is the essence of the body. If you change your breath, you can change your thoughts. If you change your thoughts, you can change your body. So when you are feeling scared, nervous, or nauseous, take a moment like I did in the ladies and just breath, deep, full breaths in and out through your nose. You will likely feel an instant difference.

II. On a more esoteric note, take a moment to deconstruct what you think you are feeling, and reconstruct what you actually are feeling. From there you will be able to live what you want to feel.  Meaning? Once Gloria left me with my wet towel, I realized that I was actually facing was not fear. It was the essence of me. I had labeled myself in a certain way for many, many years. I was happy where I was working, and where I was in life.  I thought society, my friends, and family respected me for it. I was successful. I had accolades, a reputation, and a recent promotion.  And now I was scared to death about losing them, but at my own volition. So why was I actually scared, and what was I actually scared of?

One thing and one thing only – losing those labels, or as they call them in Tibetan yoga philosophy, constructs, and reconstructing new ones, or perhaps even none at all. You see, once I started breathing, I realized I was not afraid of approaching my boss, or losing my routine, or stepping out of my comfort zone, or losing the respect of others; I was afraid of breaking away from what I had defined as ‘me’ for so long. But this ‘me’ I was so fearful of ‘parting’ with had nothing to do with the essence of who I was, and am, and instead everything to do with a thin, off-white business card. What I was setting out to do was to be me, in a more holistic, complete sense, without the labels and constructs, and to help others do the same, through yoga, nourishment, and music (and with a black, thick business card, of course).

So next time you are sick with fear, take a moment to step back, breathe, and ask yourself one simple question: Am I afraid of what is actually going on, my perception of what is going on, or a label I am attaching to myself in that moment? Most likely the label will be the root of your misperception, the perception your allegiance to the label. Deconstruct one or the other, and you will be able to face all your fears in the face, and live a life you once only dreamed of.

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