Agoraphobia is the fear of public places (and practicing public yoga can be quite scary!). Described by the Mayo Clinic, agoraphobia is when “you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.” Reid Wilson, author of Don’t Panic, explains phobias as being an irrational, unreasonable, and excessive fear of objects, places, animals, or people that pose no real threat. If you have a phobia, you know how real that stress and internal pain can actually be. Your breathing becomes erratic and your heart pounds so hard that it’s all you hear.
When it comes to yoga, most of us think of controlling our breath and finding relaxation. Sure, we hear excuses not to practice like, “I’m not flexible” or “I am not balanced enough,” but we all know that flexibility and balance is not a prerequisite for yoga. Those are traits to be gained as you practice. What is actually holding people back from practicing?
Yogic agoraphobia is real. You don’t dive into panic attacks while sitting on your mat in the studio, although it may have taken some internal urging to move your practice away from the privacy of your living room. You may practice comfortably in the studio on a regular basis now, or you may even set your mat up in the first or second rows.
I was extremely comfortable with my at-home-living-room-yoga-practice when my husband and I moved to a new state. I had no friends here, no job, and no reason to expand my practice beyond my own four walls, except for the desire to become more outgoing and find comfort in this new, unfamiliar place.
Getting into the Studio
Although I didn’t want to admit it at the time, I was afraid of practicing in a studio. My first experience at a public yoga studio had not been a pleasant one. In order to convince myself to get out of the house and meet people, I paid for a beginners workshop at a local yoga studio. I had been practicing for about four years at that point, but wanted to be sure I wasn’t the only one who would make mistakes. I feared being outed by the instructor or stared at by the other students.
When I arrived to my first class, I set my mat up in the back of the room, close to the door, so I could make an easy escape if things weren’t going well. The room was perfectly cozy and warm on that October evening. The lights were bright and I felt welcome. I continued attending the beginner’s workshop for 8 weeks, inching my mat toward the front of the room, noticing that no one was staring at me and if the instructor came over, it was only to silently adjust my alignment. My fear melted away just as the workshop series came to an end. I considered signing up for the workshop all over again, but with the urging of my instructor, I decided to try almost every class that the studio offered until I found a couple that worked well for my personal practice.
You’d think that my yogic agoraphobia ended there, but you’d be wrong. With summer around the corner, I wanted to spend every moment I could outside. I wanted to soak in the sun and feel the natural nutrients in between my toes. I was terrified. The idea of moving my practice outside where strangers could watch me made my heart and stomach knot up. I would put on my yoga clothes, grab my mat, step outside…then turn around to find myself back in my living room.
It wasn’t until my husband and I were at the park and I noticed a woman practicing out in the open space that I began to reevaluate my fear. She was clumsy and fell often, rolling on the ground laughing while her boyfriend took her picture. She popped up into warrior II and exuded strength and confidence. I looked around and I was the only person watching her. Sometimes a child would point as they walked past, but mostly, no one cared. She just did her thing.
I began to realize the utmost importance of an outdoor practice in my life this summer. The more I practiced out in the grass, the more confident I felt in my own body. I’ve brought my practice with me to the airport, to the pool, to concerts, and even my husband’s baseball games.
My point is, so many people suffer from yogic agoraphobia. Practicing public yoga makes you feel vulnerable and embarrassed, but you need to remind yourself that no one is watching! It’s just you and your mat. Allow yourself to have fun in your practice. The only way to kick a fear is to face it. Don’t let fear overcome passion. You got this!
Have you overcome a fear to deepen your yoga practice? Tell us in the comments!