How Falling on My Butt Helped Me Deal With My Fear

Well after 25 years of worrying it finally happened: I fell in yoga today.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t hurt.  We were going into an extremely low squat, where your butt is only a few inches above the ground,  and the teacher suggested if it felt difficult we should put blocks under us to take some of the weight.  As I lowered into a deep squat my legs started to give out. I somehow missed the blocks and fell on my butt.  Oops.

Let me tell you why this is significant: I’ve practiced yoga on and off for 25 years now.  Every time we do a balance pose or a deep lunge or a low squat I think to myself, “Holy crap, I hope I don’t fall!”  That twinge of anxiety ratchets up a bit if I get shaky, like if I’m doing a standing balance pose and I feel myself start to sway.  I’ll come out of the pose more quickly because I’m afraid I’ll fall.

I’m not particularly worried that I’ll hurt myself because honestly, in real life I trip and/or fall quite often.  Once I was hiking with my ex-boyfriend (who was WAY less athletic than me) and I tripped on something, I’m pretty sure it was a leaf or an ant or something equally innocuous.  He shook his head and said, “I swear, there can be a twig 10 feet away from you and you’ll manage to trip on it.”

My fear of falling in yoga is about one thing: the fear of being embarrassed.

I’ve spent a lot of my life either feeling embarrassed, or being worried that I might be embarrassed.  When I was doing a lot of running, I often felt embarrassed that I was slower and larger than the other runners – even though no one ever, not even once, did anything to make me feel embarrassed.  Same thing for things like barre class, spin class and other group workout activities. Yet the fear of potentially being embarrassed was sometimes crippling.

Today in shavasana (the rest pose at the end of yoga class) I thought about why I’m so afraid to embarrass myself in a workout.  And I realized that, like much of my trauma, it stemmed from grammar school.

You all remember grammar school right?  It started out fun with the collages and turkeys made from the outline of your hand and singing cute songs and nap time, but around 4th or 5th grade it becomes a real-life “Lord of the Flies”.  The kids separate into factions and some of the kids find themselves on the bottom.  The bottom of the heap is all the perceived misfits.  In my school it was the fat kid, the kid with the lazy eye, the kid with a growth disorder, the kid who had frequent seizures, the kid who smelled bad, and a couple of other assorted kids who were “different”.

I was the fat kid in class.  I was picked last for any sport.  I was last in every single “contest” we had for the highly traumatic (for me, at least) President’s Physical Fitness Challenge, much to the annoyance of the other kids, and the gym teacher. I was the kid who couldn’t seem to catch the ball that came right to me.  I never could hit a baseball.   I couldn’t touch my toes.  I was the kid who everyone had to wait to finish when we did laps.

Gym class was where the new world order was most evident.  My lack of athletic ability and physical fitness made me super popular in gym class, or as I thought of it, the 7th circle of hell. As time went on, I became increasingly worried about embarrassing myself, and that made me more tentative and afraid to try,  because trying just led to more mockery.  Instead I tried to be invisible as much as I could, or come up with excuses to miss class altogether.

The best thing that happened to me in 8th grade was when I had back surgery to correct severe scoliosis, because it meant I was excused from gym class for most of the school year.  That’s right, a 12-hour surgery followed by an extremely painful 9-month recovery was better than getting a dodge ball whipped at my head in gym class while people made fun of me.

Fast forward to today when I fell in yoga for the first time and…..nothing bad happened.  I looked around, but most people didn’t seem to notice I had fallen. No one was laughing at me. My friend Betty raised her eyebrows and gave me a good-natured smile — Betty has probably run thousands of miles with me and is very familiar with my klutziness.  No one mocked me after class. Nothing bad happened because I fell. It was NO BIG DEAL.

As I lay in shavasana I focused on releasing that old fear.  I radiated compassion for myself, and for the little fat kid who was tormented in gym class.  I gave myself kudos for continuing on my journey to stay active.  And I expressed gratitude to my body for all the times it held me up in class without falling.   The one thing I did not feel was embarrassed.  And that’s awesome.


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  One thought on “How Falling on My Butt Helped Me Deal With My Fear

  1. Brenda Jose
    September 3, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    Congratulations, you’re free falling!


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