Fear, Neural Pathways and Expansion

Carol Webster, June 2022

Having "blank spots" in the brain is a necessary preparation for a new neural pathway to build. This is expansion. This is what thriving humans experience.

I was standing about 3 feet from the wall behind me. A few inches further away than the previous times.

My hands in prayer at my chest raise over my head and I look at the wall behind me as I allow my body

to arch back toward the wall where my hands will catch the wall.

Simultaneously, my brain was calculating the distance that was 2 inches further away this time.

I felt a little panic and my hips and legs tighten creating a block of energy. My heart surged extra blood.

I came immediately up instead of holding the position.

"What happened?" I mused out loud to my yoga teacher.

I explained the catch in my hips that stopped me from easily completing the half backbend. She answered,

"That was a blank spot in your brain--some people call it fear--as a new neural pathway was forming."

She was right.

It was so simple. The first time I attempted this falling backward toward the wall was filled with "blank spots"

in my brain. Fear was the exact word I would have labeled it. I had faced that fear a couple of dozen times until

this day when 2 inches different made it new all over again to my mind.

I could think of endless examples of "blank spots." No wonder children tend to feel *fearful or excited so much!

Having "blank spots" in the brain is a necessary preparation for a new neural pathway to build. This is expansion.

This is what thriving humans experience.

They are constantly faced with new experiences to build neural pathways.

When we get in the habit of avoiding new experiences, our brain and the nervous system contract and weaken.

Expanding--building new neural pathways-- is a choice we can make intentionally. I observe that the older people get, the less they tend to choose expansion. (For a fun way to look at the neural pathways topic, check out this engaging animated video which explains the science behind making new brain paths especially around habits and routines.)

The purpose of the kind of yoga I practice is specifically for the purpose of expansion

(not just relaxing or stretching). What are other practices you can do to intentionally expand?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Go to a new location
  • Eat a new food
  • Talk to a new person
  • Change a habit

Within the Holding Space Practice, there's a principle we teach of Gently Noticing with Curiosity. It's a way of approaching new experiences. Rather than coming into the experience with hard expectations of what we're going to do or gain, we can instead be open to letting it unfold more organically.

Notice the things about the experience that are pleasant, uncomfortable, interesting, fun, frustrating, etc. and simply note the feeling without becoming critical. If the experience becomes difficult to continue and "blank spots" surface, it's OK to stop and let it be for a time. You have come to your growing edge, congratulations!

Now the joy of growth is circling back to the experience and picking up where you left off. Try the backbend again... try visiting another new location or eat a new food... or return to the new habit. As you do, your blank spots will begin to fade and be replaced with new knowledge/understanding/appreciation. This is expansion. This is how you work on growing your inner container to be able to handle new or intense emotions while you experience new things.

The result? For starters, you get to experience MORE in life and that makes it more interesting and fulfilling! What this growing process also leads to is the ability to navigate future unknown experiences from a more calm and stable place.

So, embrace your blank spots! They're a sign you're growing, and the sweet rewards of trying something new will come.

*Fear and excitement are the same vibration in the nervous system. Our brain interprets the vibration to be one or the other depending on it's interpretation of the circumstances.