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Overcoming Fear & Self Doubt with Imagery

By Dawn Morse MSc
As published in Om Yoga and Lifestyle Magazine

At the start of a Yoga journey many adults look forward to the possibility of being able to complete inversion postures such as the headstand (Sirsasana) or handstand (ahdoh mookah vrksasana). The thought of completing these postures can fill many of us with excitement and often child-like joy.

However, as weeks or months of yoga practise pass by, many adult yogis often start to doubt their ability and fear of completing these postures can often set in. Alternatively, when starting to transition into these postures other yogis may experience ‘the breaks’. In this instance the sub-conscious mind can literally put a break on the pose, and the physical self is unable to move upside. In these instances, our adult mind can quickly let go of the excitement of transitioning into an inversion posture, and replaces this feeling with fear; which inevitably makes us pull away from the posture.

There are several reasons for this, which include; fear of failure, fear of injury, lack of confidence and having our feet firmly routed to the ground.

As fear and self-doubt are linked to our state of mind, we can use psychological skills training such as, imagery and mental rehearsal to help maintain that child-like excitement and joy when transitioning into inversion postures.
Imagery and mental rehearsal involve re-creating an experience in the mind and the process is seen as a simulation of a past or future experience. Through the use of imagery, you can recreate positive experiences or picture new events in order to prepare yourself for performance, such as transitioning into challenging yoga posture.

Imagery has been widely used within the field of sport for many years with athletes such as Tiger Woods, Andy Murry and Serena Willams reportedly using psychological skills training and Imagery prior to competition. As far back as 1977 Chris Evert a leading tennis player at the time stated that “I see myself hitting crisp deep shots. This helps me mentally prepare for a match and I feel like I’ve already played the opponent before I even walk on court” (Cited in Weinberg & Gould, 2015).

Imagery practice has been shown to;

Improve concentration, enhance motivation, build confidence, control emotions, help acquire new skills and help prepare for an event or competition.

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Therefore, this skill can be used within yoga practice to help develop confidence, concentration and the motor skills needed for inversion postures.

When practising imagery for a successful headstand, or handstand, you should focus on the vividness of the image and controlling the experience that you aim to have.

  • It’s important to move through the scenario in your mind whilst you are in a relaxed and comfortable state, such as lying in Shavasana, or a meditation position. Imagine with yourself either taking part in the experience or watching yourself complete the posture successfully.
  • Take your time with the scenario and build as much detail into the event as possible.
  • Build in vivid colors, smells and sounds, to the scenario. Think about the layout of the room and the feeling of your yoga mat on your arms and feet as you prepare for the posture.
  • Finally consider how you will feel as you are about to start the posture, during the posture and on successful completion. Build in feelings of excitement, confidence and the exhilaration of your successful headstand or handstand.

It’s important to imagine the whole event from start to finish. Therefore, if you are focusing on developing your confidence and motor skills for the headstand, start at the point of entering the mat. Work your way through the experience until you are successful in the inversion. Hold that image for a few seconds and then draw your focus to successfully moving out of the posture and lowing your feet back to the mat and
into child’s pose.

Your confidence and motivation will grow each time you practise these imagery skills.

The great thing about imagery and mental rehearsal is that it isn’t just confined to use within sport or Yoga practise, but can be used for any scenario where you doubt your own ability or lack confidence. Just relax, imagine and rehearse the event within your mind.