Photo: CC Vikings.
Sometimes I get scared. And that’s OK.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST JESSICA LESLEY
There is a hint of fear before every class I teach, but I put on a brave smile, act sassy and keep moving ahead. Unfortunately I can’t seem to shake this negative voice in my head. The one that says I’m not good enough, or that I somehow don’t deserve the opportunities that have been presented to me.
The voice that makes me panic when asked to sub for or take over a class of a more experienced teacher. I wonder if their students will like the music I play? Will my sequence be challenging enough? Will they discover that I can’t do handstand in the middle of the room and strip me of my teaching certificate!
This negative chatter is not new to me, but it seems to get louder when it is time to teach.
Choosing our response to strong feelings
It may sound as though I’m going through life terrified and waiting for the sky to fall (that’s actually true on some days), but oddly enough I get a strange rush out of the fear.
After a long weekend anatomy immersion I have been exploring how our breath parallels feelings of fear and the rush that comes along with facing it. I learned that our ability to consciously choose to breathe is something that makes us different from any other species.
Taking a lesson learned on the mat out into everyday life is what makes this practice so life changing.
Breath and the nervous system
A quick anatomy lesson will introduce us to the phrenic nerve.
When suspending an inhalation or exhalation the phrenic nerve is what forces you to take a breath, it’s your body’s emergency system kicking in to save the day. Impulses from this nerve arise from three distinct areas of the brain: brain stem, cerebral cortex, and the limbic lobe.
For the most part our breath is on auto pilot, automatic rhythms of breathing originate in the brain stem. Nerve impulses providing voluntary control of the breath are then sent from the cerebral cortex (responsible for thinking and perceiving). Non-volitional influences come from the limbic area, responsible for many of our emotions (including fear) and motivations.
Psyching out fear
We can breathe from three areas of the body: Abdominal (restful, belly breathing), Thoracic (rib cage expanding and contracting) and Clavicular (panic, chest heaving, collar bone rising and falling).
External factors can change where we are breathing from. External factors can also stir up emotions that we react from.
I am completely in awe of this nerve and how it mimics everyday situations. Just as we can consciously choose to breathe and override the auto rhythm of the body, we can also choose to override the phrenic nerve.
In breath retention what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t take another breath? Well you could die, but honestly that is already going to happen one day. There is certain surrender in overriding the phrenic impulse to breathe, for those few seconds of choosing to remain calm you surrender to the possibility of death.
When you take the next breath feeling the life flow back into your lungs you find that you are still OK. All is still well, life continues to go on.
Lung capacity and life capacity
In addition to being able to override the phrenic nerve impulse, I have also become fascinated with “dead volume” in the lungs.
All of us carry liters of impure breath in our lungs every day. As we exhale our breath, not all of the air is pushed out from our lungs; subsequently the next inhale is intermixed with the unused portion of the previous exhalation, and so on. There is a constant reservoir of deoxygenated “dead air” floating like a polluted cloud at the top of our lungs that is constantly remixed with the next inhaled breath”.
~ Mel Robin: A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers: The Incorporation of Neuroscience, Physiology, and Anatomy into the Practice (Jill Miller requires us to read this 1100+ page book as part of her Yoga Tune Up® Training…talk about FEAR!)
Seriously! How much dead air am I carrying in my lungs – in my life? This negative chatter in my mind is simply dead air left over from past hurts, and insecurities. “Our bodies simply do not have the physiological need to utilize our full lung volume for daily mundane activities,” writes Mel Robin.
Ridding myself of dead air is not necessary for a mundane life – I don’t want mundane!
I choose excitement, I choose to be scared and forge ahead anyway. Not once have I regretted taking the risk. The rush of overriding fear is always worth it. This rush is what I long for my students to experience.
Super sweet and super smart, Jessica is quadruple certified in yoga and in fitness! Trained in anatomy, asana and positive practice, she’s experienced in supporting her students as they get present to their challenges with compassion and courage. When you visit her website jessicalesley.com be sure to read her surprising and powerful personal journey. Watch for Jessica’s adventures in teaching column monthly in The Magazine of Yoga!
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.