By: Christine Chen
In my experience, there are two primary faces of fear. Fear number one keeps you safe from harm; fear number two keeps you from realizing your potential. Rather than sweep all fear aside, which lets you leap but can also leave you in a free fall without safeguards, what if we made direct eye contact with both faces of fear for a collaboration that could balance survival instincts with the vulnerability of exploring what's possible?
We need fear number one, the one that protects us, so we don't make irrational decisions that could really hurt us, like hugging a grizzly bear running toward us. We need to make peace with fear number two, the one that makes up stories in our heads, throws up barriers to growth, and blocks our path to possibility. Confronting and understanding fear number two can help us break through to new territory.
It took me several years to learn how to let fear collaborate within me, especially when it came to the inversion practice in yoga. After nearly two years of rehabilitation and strengthening to function daily and feel pain free with my compressed, degenerative disc (C5/C6), bone spurs, and spinal stenosis in my cervical spine, I was petrified of regression. I avoided inversions in the asana practice altogether, worried a single fall would send me into surgery that I had avoided so carefully (or something worse). As a result, I missed out on some of the grand benefits of inversions: changing my perspective, developing great trust in myself, and soaring toward new horizons in my life.
Related: A Yoga Sequence for Embracing Fear
One of my earliest teachers taught me a "headless headstand," stacking blocks to lift the body high enough so my head didn't even touch the floor. This supported headstand gave me the much-needed spiritual uplift to invert without any painful compression in my neck. In fact, it actually gave me some relief, creating a form of traction for my neck while stretching my shoulders, which tended to be overly tight from protecting my neck.
Fear number one was satisfied, because I was safe. Fear number two got quieter as I got stronger and more confident. Working with blocks, both mental and physical, this headless headstand gave me space to be present with each building block and proper time to develop my back, arms, core, and legs for an eventual freestanding salamba sirsasana, supported headstand, with no pain and all sorts of courage. Collaborating with my fears, rather than letting them freeze me, set me free to fly in other ways in my life, too.
Ready to set the foundation for supported headstand? Follow this step-by-step tutorial to help you collaborate with your fears.