Archive | June, 2016

My Fear Recipe

While out on the lake yesterday, I stepped out of the comfortably sized launch.  That may not seem like much.  But to be clear, we were out on the lake, I was in a boat, AND I GOT OUT OF IT to get into a different boat.

As I’ve mentioned, my greatest fear has everything to do with water – but in this moment of navigating from one boat into another boat and completely surrounded by deep dark water, I was not afraid.

How is this even possible?Boat_bow

Fear is a protective response to a threat or danger – and threatening situations come from life experiences.  We are only born with two fears, I wrote about them in this blog post.  All other fears, whether it be spiders or small spaces,  are learned fears.  Water is not one of the two…

A small part of the brain, the amygdala, captures sensory information and elicits immediate behavioral responses. Interestingly, it is considered the part of our brain directly involved with emotions.  So, fear is an emotional response.

Fear triggers physical reactions that are specific and predictable AND happen before we have fully assessed the source of danger.  This is because the amygdala is part of the limbic system, located in the middle of our brain, and processes environmental input *before* the awareness centers are piqued.  Fears are stored in our memory, having been formed from two vital components:  A deep emotion attached to an experience.

Because the amygdala can be triggered well before our rational mind even has a chance to analyze, we can steer clear of fear inducing situations without us evening knowing or recognizing we have a fear.  This describes my behavior for years and years.  I wouldn’t go into the deep end of pools unless I could touch the sides.  I wouldn’t swim in lakes or oceans past where I could touch the bottom.  I somehow justified that I wasn’t afraid of water because I had no trouble playing with my cousins in the shallow end as a kid or later, playing in the shallows with my own kids.

Our brain has the incredible capacity to hold within it many details of a bad experience.  These impressions serve as the ‘ingredients’ that cooked up to make the bad experience.  If in a later situation, our brain recognizes the ingredients from the bad experience ‘recipe’, the amygdala sounds an alert of the ‘pending doom cake’.

The telltale signs of the recipe for our fear are immediately recognizable:  Our heart begins to beat faster shunting blood to our muscles, we may sweat, our eyes dilate to take in more visual information, and our reflexes become heightened.  This is our brains way of getting our body prepared to take an action dependent on its survival.

Rowing_oct_1The experience of being on a boat rocked by shuffling bodies and lapping waves, wearing a life vest, and surrounded by rowers are not items from the ingredient list for my fear.  This is a different recipe.  A recipe for ‘move your body better cake’.

Taking a float test in deep water, floating on my back, eyes open and looking up *is* on that ingredient list.  My amygdala definitely knows I’m baking ‘pending doom’.

This is a practice in observation.  Investigating the source of my greatest fear, I’ve come to realize:

1  Fear is a normal, natural safety mechanism
2  Fear can completely paralyze both physically and mentally
3  One may never be rid of fear

Yet, fear can be a sort of prime to getting the engine started, to taking forward moving action.  Using it in this way can improve your presentation to that large crowd.  It can get you to make that difficult phone call to your family.  It can get you to sign up for a class requiring a float test.

I’m living my life more fully now that I ever have before.  Understanding my fear has demonstrated where I have fear in other parts of my life.  Identifying how fear shows itself in my thoughts is permitting me to make different choices.  Seeing my fear in an open light, allows me to help my children to handle their own fears.

How will you use your fear?


The Fear You’re Born With

We are born with only two fears.

I have a fear of water.  It seems this fear has been with me for a very long time.  My grandmother told me that she would put me in her lap when I was a very young child.  She would sit with me in shallow water and hold me and play until I became more comfortable.  I don’t remember it.

What I do remember are the multiple instances of playing games in the water with my older brother and sister.  One time, I agreed to get on the inner tube and we three bounced up and down.  I didn’t anticipate them bouncing themselves completely off.  I myself fell backward, legs still clamped over the tube, head and torso under, gazing straight up through the shimmering water.  Scary experience.Under_water  Over the past 10 days I’ve investigated this deep fear and what it really means.

We are not born afraid of water.

This makes sense, considering our bodies develop in a fluid filled environment.  Not only that, we are even known to move this same fluid into and out of our lungs prebirth.  We’ve all seen pictures of infants in pools swimming effortlessly.  Fearlessly.

In fact, we are born with only two fears:  The fear of falling and of loud noises.  In some publications the fear of falling is said to develop at 9 months but most of these are making false conclusions based on the Visual Cliff study.  I’ve experienced my kids being startled by loud noises and crying.  I don’t have proof of them being afraid of falling as infants.

Neither of my childreIMG_3096n are afraid of water and both submerge themselves with ease and joy.  Like my grandmother, I would hold my kids while in shallow water and we would play until they were comfortable.

A few supportive friends have commented on how brave I am to get in a boat with such a strong fear.  I’d like to come clean on this matter.  I am not the least bit afraid of boats or of being in boats.  I am just as strangely comfortable in large boats, as big as a cruise ship, as I am in small boats, as little as a rowing shell.

Understanding the phenomenon of fear in water has been a long time coming.  As a matter of fact, I would not have admitted it were true before that float test on May 26.  I actually never put myself to the test – I’ve been able to avoid being in deep water for most of my life.  I never suspected because I can go in and out of shallow water with ease.

I arrived at the pool to take my test and was told the life guard on duty was the head of the life guard program and I felt a little better.  When Rose took me to the back room to get fit for a flotation device, my feelings took a nose dive.  The only adult size they had was an XS and difficult to put on even before I got in the water.  I questioned her about it and she just gave me a big sigh adding ‘Just do the best you can.’  I was not entirely convinced.

With that, Rose turned toward the pool and asked me to walk past her along a narrow platform in the direction of what she laughingly referred to as ‘the tank’.  Oddly, moving along that 2 1/2 foot concrete strip made me think of ‘walking the plank’.  I couldn’t recall what movie that idea had come from.

The moment I stepped down the ladder into 8 feet of water, I began shuddering.  The warm water was only a little comfort.  I was relieved to discover the test did not require treading and that any type of floating was acceptable.  My sister taught me how to back float and I was confident I could sustain it for 10 minutes.  What I realized too late, in the water and feet sinking, pulling me down, is that all my previous back floats included paddling slowly using my feet.

Clearly, I had not prepared properly.   In a moment of panic, I added fear of failure to my already big fear of water.  And then there was the panic feeling to cope with as my thighs began dropping below the surface.  I don’t mind being IN water, but I do mind very much water being IN ME.  Just as I thought “I shouldn’t be here.  I shouldn’t be doing this.”  voices came to me.  First came the voice of my husband saying ‘Remember, full lungs float.’  and I took a deep breath. Reaching to overfill my capacity of air, my back arched – driving my hips down.  The panic shot up several notches.  I wondered if this was it, if this was the end.Submerged_leaf

I didn’t think of the children I would leave behind.  I didn’t think of the business folding.  I didn’t think of breathing.  All I could think of was that image of gazing straight up through the shimmering water.  My legs immobile around that inner tube and the bright sky through the rippling water was actually quite beautiful.  I was stunned at the clarity of that memory.  The second voice I heard was that of my sister, ‘Stay flat, let the water hold you up, relax.’  My submerged lower half began to rise and I floated, easily.  My sister had saved me then and she saved me now.

What did the float test tell me about my big fear that being in shallow water could never have?

TRUST.  Trust that you’ll get what you need when you need it.  Trust in the wisdom already in your body.  Trust that people who love you are helping you.


Experience how much you can still trust your body when you attend the next ‘Don’t Exercise, Move’ workshop, June 18, 3pm.  We’d love to develop your trust!




Little Boat, Big Fear

I learned quite a bit about my own big fear after spending 3 hours at an event yesterday called Row For A Day (RFAD). This, in preparation for the month long Learn To Row I signed up for at the Sammamish Rowing Club which starts June 7.

After registration, there was a brief introduction to Rowing terms and parts of the boat. We practiced the Rowing motion on erg machines and went down to the dock.

I lowered myself in an 8 person shell with 4 other novice Rowers. I was shown how to keep my single oar snug to the lock, told Never let go of it under any circumstance, and how to use it to keep the boat balanced. As we pushed off, I noticed the shell wasn’t really that much wider than my hips.


The winds were high. The water was choppy. The bow rowers were having trouble getting us out of the sleugh and onto the lake. I was seat 7, one of the stern pair. For obvious reasons (that I hadn’t clearly understood before), rowers always work in pairs. Because I was paired with an experienced rower and the boat needed more power to prevent it from being blown into the shore, we were called by the coxswain to row.

Not realizing it, I had been preparing myself for this moment. Rowing is, in actuality, a pushing sport – the leg push is the motion that gives a stroke its power. I had been lifting heavy weights in virtually the same way, by pushing my legs really hard. In a boat, all I needed to do was push against the foot plate in the same way I pushed against the floor to lift weight.

Number 8, the rower with his back to me, set the pace. All I had to do was follow, but of course, pushing is not the only movement to master – the water has a way with one’s oar. 1. Left in too long, the oar continues to push its smooth end directly into your ribs (and could potentially break them). I felt the beginnings of several rib-crusher strokes and I quickly learned to avoid them. 2. An oar with too little depth wastes the strong stroke from the legs and throws off your timing, not to mention how it completely off-balances the boat and steers it off course.

Oddly enough, during this whole experience I didn’t feel any gut-wrenching, forehead-sweating fear. Instead, I realized the importance of many transfer-to-life things like

A. Focus on the current stroke – one can’t worry about the last one because you end up with two bad strokes in a row. Or worse, a stack of poor strokes.

Forgive the mistake, learn from it, and focus on now.

B. The boat needs you – you must row when you are needed to row. You can not stop to catch your breath or take a rest. When the coxswain calls you to action, you must take action because the boat will not move forward without all rowers rowing.

Every seat has a role and is necessary. Life is a simplified form of rowing.

You an important contributor – will you be ready when you are called?

I choose to be afraid

I’ve been studying fear lately. Fear can be paralyzing or it can be motivating… Too often, I choose the former and give in to the fear – unaware of its power or its source. There is a book entitled “The Gift of Fear” which describes how fear is a tool we can leverage. Oddly enough, I’ve been afraid to read it.

What’s the best way to use fear to move ahead? Here are two suggestions:
1. Be aware. Notice when you feel it, pay attention to what triggers it.
2. Make a choice. Realize that fear doesn’t have to dictate your actions.


I’ve been doing specific things to prepare myself. Workouts have had a singular focus. Thoughts have been unwavering.

Tomorrow is my big fear debut: I start Rowing. In a boat. In deep deep water. Without a life jacket.

My desire to learn to Row is greater than my fear of water. I’ll carefully step into a rocking boat tomorrow wondering if that intense, gut wrenching fear of water will ever really go away. I do know, however, that my longing to Row will propel me onward, to become greater than the fear that grips me.

Find your fear. Let it be a source of growth for you, too.

If you need help moving past a fear, try moving your body with a BODYWISE workshop or one on one programs. It will change you for the better.

I saw a man dying today…


I was pushing myself to do something that was scary to me.

I have been wanting to learn to row for quite a few years and up until now, the kids were too young for me to be gone in the early mornings. In order to row, its required to take a float test to ensure one doesn’t drown if the boat capsizes.

I’ve had near drowning accidents as a child and while I love being in the water, I’m also afraid and never really learned to swim. I was nervous and on my way to the pool when I saw the squad cars.

As I drove past, the officers were shaking the arm of a man collapsed on the sidewalk. I saw his ashen face, closed eyes, pain etched into his laugh lines. He was alone and dying and the policemen ripped open his shirt to use an AED.

I was afraid to take a float test – and I’m still alive to tell.

Life is too short. Live it well. Be grateful. Love the people around you.

We need to move to live.

Please, please, move more.