by Mary Baker, ERYT-500 yoga teacher
As I sat on the edge of the boat holding tightly to my scuba mask and regulator, the fleeting thought of "Oh my god what am I doing??" popped into my mind. But rather than allowing that thought to take root and run rampant, most likely causing me to freeze and abort, I paused, took a slow long breath in and out and fell backwards off the boat into the warm, Caribbean Sea. My first official dive had begun and the first hurdle cleared.
Now allow me to stop right here to explain to you that I am NOT a water person. I do NOT consider myself a mermaid, a fish, or any other aquatic creature. I am a firmly grounded, earth bound yogi who has always been much happier viewing the beautiful ocean from land or kayak. I grew up in San Diego, but as the youngest child of two parents who were not water lovers. They were also seriously burned out on sitting in the bleachers by swimming pools for hours on end as both my older siblings were on the swim team for all of their younger lives. By the time I came around, mom and dad decided the bleachers by an ice rink were more attractive and ice skating became my sport of choice during my younger years. Lack of exposure to swimming combined with way too many scary movies about sharks, and ta-da: my BIG fear of deep ocean waters was born. Had you asked me a year or 10 years ago would I ever try scuba diving, my answer would have been a firm but polite "HELL NO!". So what changed, you ask? In a nutshell...everything has changed.
It all started back in 2017 when I finally decided I was fed up with allowing FEAR to run my life. The BIG turning point for me was when I decided to dig deep and dive into the soul searching journey offered by Gabrielle Bernstein in her book, The Universe Has Your Back. In her book, Gabby does an amazing job simplifying and condensing the teachings from "A Course in Miracles", adding her own personal journey of overcoming big fears and embracing love and trust in the Universe. With journal and pen in hand, I began to work though the steps of recognizing and releasing my fears and creating powerful personal intentions focused on who I am and what my purpose is on this planet. Simultaneously, a friend of mine turned me on to the teachings of Tara Brach. Tara is a Buddhist meditation specialist and offers weekly podcasts of her lectures and meditations. I found myself spending my sleepless nights in the spare bedroom listening to Tara's wise teachings on overcoming our fear stories, getting un-stuck, releasing judgement, and living your best life according to the teachings of Buddhism. These proved to be an invaluable tool for me allowing me to finally face my fears and choose love instead. As Gabby says in one of her first "prayers" in her book, "Thank you Universe for helping me to perceive this Fear through the teacher of LOVE."
Fast forward to May 29, 2019 and my trip to Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya for my second teaching vacation. Along for the adventure, my boyfriend and expert scuba diver, who was very excited to dive in an area he had never been and to hopefully introduce me to scuba. Now remember, I'm the girl who was afraid of deep water, but I'm also a FEAR slaying bad-ass yogi, so this time I said "Game on!" I was going to give it a try and see what happened. The dive instructor at our resort was a lovely, easy going Italian named Georgia. She immediately put me at ease and made each step of the learning process seem effortless. I spent 1 1/2 hours in the pool with her getting used to the equipment. One of the key components to SCUBA is breath - maintaining a smooth even inhale and exhale at all times and never holding the breath. "Well heck! I'm a yoga teacher", I thought to myself. "I can do that!". I learned how to remove the regulator and retrieve and replace it in my mouth without taking in water, how to clear my mask when water crept in, and how to stay in a level, horizontal position. By the end of my intro lesson, I felt confident and even more importantly, I was enjoying myself!! (and that was just cruising around the pool checking out everyone's swimsuits from down below - lol) Both Georgia, and my boyfriend, were a bit shocked when I emerged and declared, "Let's do this! I want to schedule an ocean dive!" We set a time for the next day at 1:30 p.m. and off we went to relax and enjoy the rest of our day.
In hindsight, I probably should have just hopped on that next boat out and gone for it that day (which would be my recommendation to anyone trying scuba for the first time). Instead, I had the whole night and morning for that nasty old fear story of mine to do it's best to sabotage my new found bad-ass fear-slaying confidence. When I woke in the night with my stomach churning, instead of giving in to all of the dark fears hiding out in the recesses of my mind, I took a few deep breaths and created a mantra for myself. "I am safe, I am calm, I am peaceful" came to mind and I started repeating it slowly as I breathed my way back to sleep. I kept it running throughout my morning yoga class, at breakfast, and as we prepared to head out on the boat. As I tell my yoga students, our mind is fairly simple. It just wants something to process. We can spend hours chewing on negative thoughts, which in turn radiate out to our entire body in the form of stress hormones, or we can plant positive thoughts or even just simple mantras, which radiate out to our body as calming hormones. Now because of our mind's "negativity bias", we've had A LOT of practice chewing on all the negative stuff. So, rewiring for positive can take a lot of work at first and is a constant practice. You will find, though, that over time just like your yoga poses get easier in your body, so does your mind get easier to shift.
Ok, back to the dive.
Step two...the underwater descent. So I'm bobbing in the water getting my mask cleared and set in place and now it's time to slowly start to go down. Like WAY down . 30-40 feet under water (insert wide eyed emoji here). Georgia slowly let the air out of my BCD (buoyancy control device) as I focused on sinking under the water with the aid of a rope that extended down to the bottom. I got about 2-3 feet down, felt my chest start to tighten in panic, which of course messed up my breathing, so I gave the "go up" signal and headed back to the surface. At this point, the "old me" would have scrambled back on that boat and said, "No thanks, I'll be here waiting for you guys. Go have fun." Thankfully, that voice is not nearly as loud as the fear slayer who promptly said, "Take two slow breaths in and out and try it again. I am safe, I am calm, I am peaceful." I repeated my mantra, reset my mask and slowly headed under the surface. As I reached the bottom, there was my sweet man waiting with hand outstretched ready to guide me on an amazing undersea adventure. For 40 minutes we cruised around exploring the reef. Beautiful, colorful fish of all sizes, amazing coral and crystal clear water surrounded me and, although I was VERY focused on my equipment and doing everything properly, I was for the most part able to relax and enjoy my maiden voyage under the sea. The highlight was a huge sea turtle who came to rest on the bottom complete with two huge remoras cleaning her shell as she calmly rested and we floated above her carefully. Before I knew it, it was time to head back up and we made our slow ascent back to the boat. "Holy crap!! I did it!!!" I thought to myself and I want to do it again!
Kicking a fear to the curb is one of the most satisfying and freeing experiences ever. And once you get started, I think you'll find that like me, you too can become a bad- ass fear slayer! It starts with one moment. One decision to let an old story line go and to start a new chapter. I almost typed the word rewrite, but changed my mind. I don't want to rewrite my story, My past has led me to this very moment as I type these words and share a small part of my journey with you. Every decision I have made, even every fear I believed, has made me into the person I am today. I can in this one moment decide I've had enough of something. That something no longer serves me and I can choose with one exhale breath to let that shit go! Give it a try. Take the plunge, take the leap, take the chance. You, my friend, are here to enjoy ALL of this amazing life while it lasts!
Until next time,
Mary Baker - ERYT-500 yoga teacher, adventure lover, fitness junkie, doughnut snob, whiskey & wine sipper