Starting a new workout — or starting exercise in general — can be scary. When I first started my own fitness journey, I was nearly paralyzed by fear. The general anxiety: "What if I fail?" The self-consciousness: "What if I'm so bad and everyone is judging me?" and "I'm going to be the slowest runner, that's so embarrassing." Then, the fear of injury: "What if I hurt myself because I'm so physically inept I can't keep up in class?"
So how do we overcome this fear and get on our way to being healthy and strong? To get some expert insight, I asked a woman who has had to overcome some seriously scary obstacles — think back flips on ice skates, flying through the air on silk ribbons, tumbling, headstands on horses . . . getting the picture?
Ashley Vargas is no stranger to tackling terrifying feats and embracing bravery. The star circus performer and aerialist with Ringling Brothers has been taking on new challenges since she was in college, where she learned to figure skate and eventually started training with an "equestrian bareback-riding family from Italy" who did stunt work on horses.
From there, Ashley started doing trick riding, before joining The Greatest Show on Earth, where she's been a part of a crossbow act, has ridden horses, performs on ice skates, and does aerial work (sometimes aerial work WITH ice skating). She does a little bit of everything when it comes to the stunt performing — she's been learning to walk the wire and do trapeze stunts — and it's a wonder to behold (I got to see her in action shortly after our interview).
To me, every one of the performances that she listed sounded like they'd scare the absolute sh*t out of me if I were to attempt them. I can barely ride a horse sitting down, let alone try to do a headstand on its back while it was moving!
So I asked her, since these incredible physical stunts and activities are so scary, how does she get past that when she's trying something new? Two factors weigh into Ashley's fearless attitude: fun and trust.
"You want to have that rush of adrenaline . . . of fun," she said. Evaluate how much fun you're going to have in that activity — sort of like a cost-benefit analysis. Is it more fun than scary? If so, focus on the fun part to get past the fear. As Ashley began to add more physical activities to her performance repertoire, she concentrated on how much fun it was going to be.
Is your new activity going to be more scary than fun? An example of this: if you have a serious fear of heights, acroyoga might not be the most fun activity for you and you'll probably want to skip it and pick an activity that feels a little safer.
Bottom line: find an activity that looks really fun to you, whether it's swimming, dancing, or maybe even acroyoga (assuming you're not afraid of heights)! The idea of having fun with your activity will get you past the initial hurdle, which eventually will open the door to even more activities.
Ashley also makes sure that when she's trying something new and daring, she has a safety net. "I put a lot of trust in my coaches," she said. "You have to stop thinking about what you can and cannot do, and put your trust in what the coach or trainer is saying."
The takeaway I got from this is that we can trust our trainers and instructors in the gym or in class. Personally, I remember my first few yoga classes ever, in which the instructor wanted me to try Crow Pose. Thinking "There's no effing way that's happening" got in my way, but once I started trusting the instructor who was saying, "It's all in your mind, you can do this," I easily hopped into Crow. Did I fall a few times? Sure. But that's all part of it. Ashley agrees: "If you fall, no big deal, just get back up!" Trust your trainer, and trust yourself.
Focusing on fun and having a trainer or instructor you can trust can help you overcome what's setting you back and eradicate the limitations that are inhibiting your ability to live your best life and be your healthiest self.