How Fear Can Make a Valuable Partner

Well, this has been quite a year so far! I have to admit that a global pandemic was not on my mental radar coming into the year. As I write this, I am fortunate that I have not had to struggle with loved ones and people I care for being stricken with illness. For all of you who have lost your health or lost people close to you, my heart goes out to you!

Temporarily closing my business, Aerial Fit has been hard. It was the right thing to do and I fully support social distancing protocols, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been one of the scariest moments in my life. It makes me realize all the things that are wrapped up in it, things I now see I’ve taken for granted.

My own health… What if I or my partner get sick, how will we run the business? My human connection… What if I can’t get all my students back in, who will I connect with? My livelihood… What else in the world am I qualified to do? My self-identity… This is what I’ve been doing 100% of the time for the past 11 years.

When the pandemic arrived and I closed my doors for the threat of the virus and the measures needed to contain it I, like so many others, put my life on hold and tried to deal with this new reality.

Running an aerial studio means being in charge of a space that puts people in constant contact with each other. In aerial circus classes, students share equipment, teachers manually provide physical support to students, and we celebrate connection. In aerial yoga classes, students and teachers breathe together, move together, and celebrate connection.  I felt like overnight the things that I built my life around had suddenly become obsolete.

But the thing I’ve come to realize is this pandemic isn’t happening in isolation. Both my aerial practice and my yoga practice have prepared me in different ways to deal with this new reality. And since I’ve spent so much of my life immersed in these practices, I can really see their effects at play now that I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone and forced to take a step back from my regular day to day practice.

If you’ve practiced yoga for any length of time then fear has come up in one form or another. In meditation it can be fear of letting the mind quiet, and dis-attaching from our thoughts. In physical practice it can be fear of injury from going into a scary posture, or from going deeper into an intense sensation.

New aerial yoga students often have some fear of trusting the hammock to support them. That’s why we teach students to slowly give weight to the hammock and over time, that trust builds and the fear subsides. When I have a new student who seems fearless it actually scares me a bit as a teacher, because I think trust should be earned and in aerial yoga we build trust with our apparatus just like a new dance partner. We start slow and get to know and trust each other first before fully committing our body.

Besides a long yoga practice I am also a full time aerialist. When I started practicing aerial acrobatics, after more than a decade of yoga, I was already prepared for those fear moments and that process of building trust. Some of the scariest moves in aerial acrobatics are things like drops, where you seem to fall through the air and the aerial silk catches you at the bottom. It’s actually really cool how we deal with fear in those moments.

Here’s how it works:

In aerial acrobatics, when we learn a scary skill like a drop, we learn it in manageable stages so that each step in the process makes sense to our mind and our body. We never simply let go and hope for the best. We actually learn the process so that our trust isn’t just based on inspirational quotes, but rather our trust is earned step by step. Blind trust isn’t trust it’s faith.

We use each little step to build trust in our own abilities, and the knowledge of our instructors guiding us. Then when the moment comes to put all those pieces together and complete the skill, we have tools to deal with the fear. Here’s what my mind does when I’m set up for a scary drop in aerial acrobatics, and pausing at that moment when I need to let go to initiate the movement.

First I notice the fear. It’s hard not to…fear has a way of grabbing your attention! But once I notice it I ask the fear what it’s telling me. It’s not usually saying anything specific, most often it’s a general “this is a bad idea” sort of message.

But is it really a bad idea, or is that just fear talking? Here’s where I have to think back through all the steps I took that got me to that moment, and all the things I know about what I’m about to do. Have I climbed high enough to complete the skill safely? Did I wrap correctly? Do I know exactly how the drop is going to catch me at the bottom? Have I done this move before and if so, did it go well?

If the answer to all of these questions is “yes”, then I thank the fear for keeping me safe, and then put it aside so I can continue forward with the skill. But here’s the thing…if the answer to any of these questions is “no” or even “I’m not 100% positive”, then that moment of fear may have just saved my life! So then I’m really thankful because that fear told me to stop before something goes wrong.

So aerial practice has taught me that fear can be a valuable asset in life, but you have to know how to talk to it. Fear as your partner can keep you safe, but fear as your boss can paralyze your ability to move forward. My aerial practice has taught me how to make fear my partner… not just push it away, disregard it, or on the flip side let it take over.

So in this new reality we’ve entered in 2020, even though right now I’m not practicing aerial the way I was, I’m still having those conversations with fear. If I notice it I try to figure out what it’s trying to tell me. It’s scary to think of getting sick, so I’ve asked myself if there’s anything I could be doing better for my health that will lift my spirits at the same time. That conversation with my fear has helped me discover that simply soaking up 10 minutes of sun every day (something I could never make time for before) has upped my Vitamin D levels and given me more energy. As a bonus, it’s good for the immune system.

It’s scary to think of losing my business, so I ask myself what is truly important about it and how I could adapt that to new realities. I’ve always known that I absolutely love teaching people, and learning from them. So I’m discovering new ways to do that right now that will also help sustain my business once social distancing is a thing of the past.

So my advice to anyone feeling fear, in any situation, is to talk to it. Instead of just pushing through it or backing away from it, stay with it and ask what it’s trying to tell you. You’ve been practicing this already if you practice any sort of yoga, so you’re already well prepared. If you can learn how to speak to your fear, then it can be a really valuable partner that you never knew you had!

About the Author

Jordan Anderson has been teaching Unnata® Aerial Yoga since 2009, she is an Unnata Aerial Yoga Course Leader, and co-founder and director of Aerial Fit®. Jordan looks to yoga teachers such as Doug Keller for inspiration on grounding and anatomy, Andrey Lappa for energy bodies and Dharma Mittra for kindness.

Jordan is a firm believer that the practice of yoga (all 8 limbs of it!) can enhance anyone’s quality of life.

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