An Antidote for Anxiety? A Yogi’s Approach to Overcoming Fear

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by Anna Palmer

With the increasingly turbulent nature of the world today, that ranges from devastating fires that engulf homes and forests, to hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters that wreak havoc, one can’t help but sense that this is a time of transition in the evolution of the planet. For some, this shift may have brought about the hope of entering into a higher consciousness but for others, it may have ignited the flame of fear. This fear of the future or of change exists at the heart of anxiety, says Jim Vassallo, nationally certified yoga instructor, once featured in Yoga Journal.

“Our world is in a tremendous time of transition. Humankind wants to evolve. Those who live in fear and darkness sense they are losing control. They cling to the past because that is where they feel secure. Now, they have turned their fear into vile hatred that is poisoning our society,” says Jim.
“The battle between light and darkness has been going on since creation. It is the law of duality. Duality causes wars, yet without duality, there could be no creation,” he says.

As a construction worker, Jim struggled with anxiety until one day, convinced he was having a heart attack, he drove himself to the hospital. It wasn’t until two months later when he returned to the hospital with similar symptoms that he realized the universe was trying to get his attention. Ending his 20-year career, he walked away from his old life and entered the world of yoga. As his yoga practice deepened and penetrated into his life, Jim felt called to become a nationally certified yoga instructor. Utilizing the teachings of yoga philosophy and other great masters, he changed his lifestyle to be more peaceful and harmonious than his previous state of anxiety would ever have allowed.

“After teaching nearly 3,000 yoga classes during the past ten years, my body is telling me to quit. Since I’ve been here before, I am not in a panic about it. This time I know who I am,” Jim says. Though he has stopped teaching the yoga postures, he has used his own life experience as well as the vigorous study of nutrition and various spiritual teachings to pinpoint several origins of anxiety.

One of the most apparent is that of fear, which lies at the root of all anxiety. Fear can take many forms: financial fear, fear of the future, fear of failure or fear of economic or political instability. Though fear can be a reminder that inner or outer growth is needed, to get wrapped up in it only strengthens this habitual response. When one takes a step back into a state of awareness, one can see that most of one’s fears have been irrationally amplified. Most fear results from a conditioned response learned in childhood, often from a traumatic experience. This fear sinks deep into the subconscious mind, beyond conscious awareness. “The goal in confronting fear is to bring it to conscious awareness, question it, understand it and finally, surrender it,” Jim says.

Another origin of anxiety exists in the realm of idleness or lack of action. Anxiety may surface at times when stagnation is present and no progress is being made, especially in terms of one’s spiritual growth. Jim believes ridding the body of this anxious energy can relieve this perturbation of anxiety. Relief can come from something as simple as going for a walk, journaling, meditating or practicing yoga.

A toxic environment, whether it be a stressful job, an unhealthy relationship or any type of negative environment is yet another source of anxiety. Many feel anxious when they perceive that they are trapped in an environment where toxic people surround them. In certain circumstances it may not be possible to put up an invisible boundary to ward off the constant negative energy, so one must decide if it is worth the anxiety induced. “In any negative relationship or situation, there are only three choices: get out, change it or accept it,” says Jim.

Frequently, anxiety originates in a feeling of being “here” but wanting to be “there.” This is in essence, the living in the future mentality− always doing or striving to do something more or different, whether in work or day-to-day tasks. Jim explains that by focusing energy on the road ahead the simplicity and beauty of the present is lost, causing the fear of the future to perpetuate. These days, so much time is focused on the future, whether it be getting an education, a job, a promotion or finding a partner. This constant striving toward something leads to dissatisfaction with what exists in the present moment. When time and energy is wasted on preparing for the future, an always-changing one at that, it is no wonder one feels anxious in the present.

What can be done to overcome this pervasive anxiety? In his teaching, Jim outlines a multi-step program to deal with anxiety. The most obvious solution, he believes, is to maintain a steady yoga practice in order to reconnect with body, mind and spirit. Through yoga, a sense of grounding and presence can be found to counteract the anxiety and ramblings of the mind. The practice of meditation is yet another key to overcoming anxiety. Meditation, if practiced regularly, can lead to a more balanced sense of being, where one is able to simply witness the anxiety rather than become wrapped up in its tight grip. By objectively observing one’s way of thinking and behaving, a sense of detachment from the anxiety and fear can be experienced, he adds.

Jim also teaches his students to cultivate a sense of humor and not take life so seriously. This may be challenging for those who are more problem-focused. However, living lightly can really make the difference between existing in a fearful state and resonating in a more joyful, blissful state. Another tool to overcome the anxiety is to seek out like-minded people. By connecting with those who share the desire to strive toward self-awareness and growth, one can lessen the burden of anxiety and also enjoy camaraderie.

Simplifying your life and getting rid of any clutter can also help. By clearing out the clutter in the home or workplace one can gain a greater sense of control over environment-induced stress. Simplifying and downsizing unnecessary material possessions may offer up more peace of mind and appreciation for the true necessities in life.

To combat anxiety, one must also begin to explore his or her true purpose in life and to start aligning the soul’s desire with external manifestation. “Our head (ego) will tell us we need to make lots of money and have a secure job. Our heart (essence) will tell us what we love and what we need to do to be truly happy,” Jim says. “It takes courage to follow your dream. If you are very lucky, you will make a living doing what you love.”

He hopes that through his teachings people are better able to cope with the increasingly violent, stormy and random world. Though most people attempt to block out fear and anxiety, it still has an impact on a deep, psychic level. The goal is to bring these fears to conscious awareness and face them head on with courage and determination. “I have seen the hopeless leave with hope, and the meek leave with courage. I try to give them hope. That is the goal of my teaching.”

Jim Vassallo leads workshops in and around Colorado, seeking out those who are interested in gaining more insight into these origins of anxiety as well as gaining the tools to overcome it. Contact Jim Vassallo for information on future workshops at yogawarriors48@gmail.com.

Anna Palmer has a B.A. in Journalism and a B.S. in Psychology from Colorado State University. She wrote for CSU’s College Avenue magazine and presently maintains a personal blog “Conscious Living” (anna-palmer.blogspot.com). She is looking for opportunities to explore her love of writing, yoga, meditation and deeper connection <aepalmer@rams.colostate.edu> or at (719) 640-6954.