"Don't let fear stop you from doing what you want to do."

Mom looks at me across the table at lunch. I have a few hours alone with her for the day and feel lucky.

Fear. Yes. The tears well up in my eyes and start slipping down each cheek. Fear of trying something new. Fear of starting. Fear of letting go. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. And, even though it sounds ridiculous: Fear of success.

Where did all this fear come from? Is it just me? Why can we breeze ahead on the expected, the straight, the narrow... but not leap easily into new paths, uncharted courses, different ways of living? Ways that speak us. Beckon us, again and again.

"Fear in the absence of danger has no purpose," someone once told me. "Let it go."

And it's true. This fear doesn't serve you or me or anyone. It eats our physical and mental energy. Makes our hearts tired. Leaves us living within the confines of what is easy or seems certain and safe.

But it only takes one look around to know that the world is anything but certain and safe. There is no sure thing. The universe is a system of organized chaos. Chaos that works. Balances things. But that also can shred dreams, turn lives upside down and hand us challenges we never thought we'd have to deal with, much less survive.

Outside the big picture window in the living room is a wide expanse of our little street. Flowers are in bloom everywhere and butterflies – yellow, orange, black – flit about. Their delicate little wings are a flurry, as they move from bloom to bloom and then set off for somewhere else in the world.

In this simple sight, I think, is the answer.

Yes, life hands out hardships. Even in the most safe situations, we could fall flat. There are no guarantees of ease or joy.

But we cannot let that stop us. Fear should not stop us. Fear should not hold us back from trying new things, from leaping into the unknown, from doing what that little voice inside us says to do.

So: Listen. Listen to what calls to you. Spread your wings. 

Release your fear.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

On the yoga mat, though, it's a different story all together.

When the asanas get tough, the yogi keeps breathing.

Many years ago, when I was new to yoga, I bent my body into beautiful, strong postures...and that was it. All that there was to my practice.

Class was about ego. I channeled my willpower into mastering alignment. Pushing to the most advanced variation. Holding things longer than I should. 

It felt good, being so accomplished. Getting praise. Compliments. 

Before I started teacher training, I met up with a new acquaintance at Acropolis, a little Greek restaurant in Ybor City. We sat outside at a little café table, steaming bread, kebabs and orzo in front of us. Waitresses dancing Zorba's Dance around us. Napkins fluttering down through the air.

I told her I was drawn to yoga, that I was planning to become a teacher. She looked up, her eyes looking right into mine, and said, "I'm one too."

"You are!?" I exclaimed, taking in her calm, light aura and thinking, awed, "Of course she is."  

"What's it like? What's it...about?"

"The breath," she replied. 

And that was it. Her entire answer.

Breath. Prana. Life force. The heart and soul of yoga. 

Missing from my practice.

I looked like a yogi. A good yogi. But I hadn't even begun. Couldn't even accomplish the most fundamental piece. Embarrassment crept up from my feet and flushed my face. I felt uncertain. Regretful. Empty. 

There was only one thing to do: Start breathing.

It was hard. Prana is subtle, internal. It does not get us any attention. Compliments. Praise. Envious looks for talent or a job well done.

It is...ego-less. Motionless. And the benefits seem...impossibly simple to our complex and doing-driven bodies and minds.

But there are benefits. And it does change things. It quiets the mind. Gives us a refuge.  what it offers is far more valuable than applause – or anything external. 

Sooner or later, prana becomes a place to go. In a store, restaurant or with or without whenever asana is available. Prana becomes home.

Slowly and slowly.

I've been lucky to study breathing techniques – pranayama – with, who I believe, is one of the nation's best teachers. Even more than taking her intermediate-level workshops, I love sitting in on her beginner workshops. The questions are honest, open, philosophical. Broad.

"How do I build up a pranayama practice?" her students always ask, all eagerness. "How do I get where you are?"

"Slowly and slowly," she answers...slowly, of course. Each word drawn out. Each syllable carefully annunciated.

The simplicity of this wisdom – of the way she says it, the corners of her lips edging up – always makes for more smiles. (And a few good-natured eye rolls.) 

There's no better moment, though, to scan the room. To watch the students. To see them process her advice. So far, the reaction has always been the same.

Because "slowly and slowly" doesn't follow our society's aggressive need to advance, here and now, the students' chests and shoulders inevitably lift with a deep inhale, exasperated. What follows is an exhale – let out with a whoosh and a sigh of acceptance.

And I smile at the irony, because there it is, in that single controlled breath: pranayama. They've begun their practice in an instant, a second. 

"Quickly and quickly," I say to myself.

That said, our pranayama teacher is right. Slowly and slowly is the best way progress – to move through yoga, breath and...yes, life. We should be aware. Mindful. Present. We should advance our studies, physical practice and pranayama piece by piece, without elbowing our way forward and threatening our physical, emotional and spiritual health.  

Quickly and quickly, though, is the way to begin. Pranayama. Yoga. Anything. Whenever something is new, looming or anxiety-inducing, starting should happen somewhat fast...or time slips by and we might not act at all.

Two weeks ago, I was chatting with a yoga teacher training student in the studio lobby. He's also a brilliant grad student, and I asked him about his doctoral thesis. 

"It's going," he tells me. "Slowly and slowly, right?"

I laugh, because, clearly, we all adore and carry this little wisdom.

"Slowly and slowly," I echo. Aware. Mindful. Present. 

"I've had writer's block lately, though," he confides. "You're a writer too, right? What do you do to get past it?"

My nose crinkles. "Uggh...writer's block. Sucks." We stand there nodding for a minute, commiserating.

I think for a moment and say the only thing that ever works, despite all the advice out there. "I guess...the only thing to do is...start writing," I tell him. "Don't cling to whether it's good or bad. Just...begin."

"Quickly and quickly," I add, laughing again.

Slowly and slowly...that comes later.