“Conquer the fear!” has become a mantra for many an achievement-focused spirit. It’s splashed across internet memes and blog posts, pushing us to work harder in the face of this sometimes paralyzing emotion. “Get out there and hustle,” they say — subdue the fear, and you will achieve great heights.
This way of thinking is, actually, pretty far from the truth.
Paralysed by Fear
Keith Mitchell is the poster-boy for the next wave of yoga practitioners, and he has a different relationship with fear—and paralysis. He was an NFL linebacker until his career was cut short by an injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. But rather than descending into fear and depression, he was inspired to take up mindfulness and yoga as a path to healing. Let’s just say Keith knows fear, and has chosen a more liberating perspective.
For starters? The intention to vanquish fear is misguided! “I think that if we’re aiming to totally, absolutely get rid of fear, then we’re delusional!” says Keith. “We will always have fear. I had fear before every football game I played.”
And if the rest of us are honest with ourselves, we know this to be true. The practice of yoga teaches that relating to our emotional body isn’t about choosing one feeling over the other, good versus bad, liked versus disliked. This is where the paralysis creeps in, as we judge our current experience to be negative. Instead, the practitioner can focus on expanding into each emotion, engaging with them, and allowing that energy to move through.
Transforming the Fear
“If we see ourselves and all the aspects of our world as energy, then fear is just another energy to engage with. We can learn how to access the energy of fear and transform it using intention. If fear is a knife, then our intention can be a hand. If this hand is skilled, it can use the knife to protect, but it can also use the knife to do harm. If we transform our relationship to fear and develop the ability to use its energy, then fear can be something beautiful.”
And in our yoga practice, the path to that freedom — our simple, but oh-so-complex, focus — is to not take ourselves so seriously, and instead, drop into the breath.
“We get way too serious about ourselves!” says Keith. “My yoga practice has helped me to not take myself so seriously. My mantra this year is ‘play’ – just to play and let go! I think the whole idea of the yoga class is really meant to physically break you down so that you can just surrender to the breath.”
As yogis and yoga teachers, we witness that moment all the time: the release. The let go. The surrender. Where all of the intensity, fear, and emotion that was making everything feel so hard suddenly transforms into ease and beauty. The fear will be there… but we can either choose to contract, or to let it transform.
So rather than try to force your way through and conquer fear, wield that energy consciously. Allow it to shift. Work with, rather than against it, and you can encourage fear to blossom into something far more beautiful.
Keith Mitchell is the poster boy for the next wave of yoga practitioners. Keith was an NFL linebacker until his career was cut short by an injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Rather than descending into depression and disease, he was inspired to take up mindfulness and yoga as a path to healing. Keith is on a mission to share the possibility of personal transformation with people who might never have heard the word ‘yoga.’