Fear – An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.
Phobia – An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.
I’m afraid of spiders – terrified, in fact I can’t remember a time when they didn’t frighten me; however I’ve never been able to figure out my actual lack of fondness for them. I’m not afraid of them biting or causing me any harm, my mind has somehow created this irrational phobia, to the extent that I don’t even like the word – SPIDER! It could be the speed of them I don’t like, the fact that they have 8 legs or in my opinion just don’t look overly friendly (the reality is that they’re probably terrified of the screaming giant running around). I think a lot of phobias are passed onto us from parents or a family member; my mum is afraid of spiders too, my dad however had a tarantula crawling on him just last week! So when we talk about “phobias” we’re referring to spiders, wasps, birds, moths, sharks, zombies, heights, lifts, etc. Fear is different – it’s an emotion that is triggered by our phobias causing us to panic, cry or scream; I do all three when I see a spider.
Other phobias like flying or deep water are still connected to the emotion of fear but aren’t always the real phobia; take flying for example, what is the actual phobia of? Falling? Small spaces? Death? And if your fear is deep water, could it be the real fear is the unknown or could it be that the one thing all these phobias have in common is “control” or the lack of it. You can’t control the direction a spider will move in or how fast, you can’t control the aeroplane – unless you’re a pilot (but then I doubt your phobia would be flying), you can’t control what is lurking at the bottom of that well or ocean and you most certainly cannot control death. The one thing as human beings we are able to control is our own emotions and to control them we must learn to control our breath and mind.
However, what if our fear in life is “failure” and who decides if you have failed? Who dictates if you have passed? You decide – it’s your mind, your thoughts, and your life – you are the only person who ever decides if you have failed or passed. As humans we have been given a very powerful gift – our minds – and if we are not careful the mind can start to control us, thereby developing fears, anxiety, depression and phobias. The word “failure” has a hugely negative impact immediately on us as human beings – to be told you have failed, to have a failure of a marriage or to be failing as parent – but what if you studied hard for that exam, what if for years you worked at your marriage and what if as a parent you’re doing the best you’re capable of? Should you still think of yourself as a failure?
In yoga we teach pranayama, which consists of different ways to control the breath. To control the breath we must learn to control our diaphragm then over time we make the diaphragmatic muscle stronger. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces the heart rate and brings the body from sympathetic fight or flight to parasympathetic calm and relax – ideal for when you’re ready to board that flight, get in a lift, hold that spider (ahem) or stop yourself from changing into the Incredible Hulk! Pranayama is a physical way of controlling your body; we must then learn to mentally rationalise situations, emotions and negativity through meditation. To mediate is to try to calm the mind and come to a serene almost euphoric state; there are many ways of achieving this – through guided mediation (having a teacher talk to you), thinking of a mantra (a single image that doesn’t change), focusing on your breath, etc., all of which can be very tricky to begin with. Meditating is a truly wonderful way to remove negativity and failure from your mind.
I’d like to say I’m writing this whilst holding a spider – small steps though right!