Anytime we are attempting to jump into something big in our lives, or find that we are facing a big challenge or change, Fear often appears. It grabs us up and sometimes we get so stuck in this place of freeze that we don’t know how to move out of it. This is because freeze is one of the three ways our autonomic nervous system responds to a traumatic event (big or little trauma) or anything that threatens us in the moment : Flight-Fight-Freeze. Do you recognize when you are stuck in “freeze” response?

The thing is, we may not be feeling threatened when some kinds of fear hits us. We are just trying to step into something we really want to do and similar feelings and bodily responses like stomach churning, heart beating, throat thickening. What do we do with this kind of fear? It affects our body differently and we want to be able to pay attention. Not all change is bad, right?

I’ve found it is often helpful to distinguish between these 2 different experiences of fear in our body because they are different. And when we notice which one we are feeling….we can move forward with clarity and take charge.  Otherwise, we can easily be misled by our fears.

Tara Mohr in her book Playing Big:Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead describes these two kinds of somatic or bodily reactions of fear:

1) Pachad (Hebrew term for Lizard Brain Fear or our fight/flight response to an emotional threat. This is the kind of fear that we usually respond with fight-flight-freeze because it’s coming from a part of us that was traumatized in the past. Our response is to react from our Lizard Brain, the Amygdala, and often this reaction happens before we can slow down and rein it in with the Prefrontal Cortex (Modern Brain).


2) Yirah (Yi-‘rah) (Hebrew term for awe or life-giving fear which comes up when we leave the comfort zone of the familiar and take the emotional risks of playing bigger)* (-pp.65-67)
Here’s her definitions of Yirah:
a) The feeling that overcomes us when we inhabit a larger space than we are used to
b) The feeling we experience when we suddenly come into possession of considerably more energy than we had before
c) It is what we feel in the presence of the Divine

Wow, I can really relate to this concept of Yirah— can you? I felt it so much as the “fear” I talk about on my climb up Mt. Killimanjaro almost 2 years ago. I thought at the time I was just dealing with the same fear I had been stopped by or shut down by earlier in my life. When I got into feeling it somatically, breathing it and allowing it to be there, I saw not to be fearful but to be curious. It was guiding me to a greater sense of myself than I had ever imagined. And, I had already stepped into it. I was on my new path of transformation. I’ve learned this by exploring these different manifestations of fear.

I see it happening in my coaching clients who are moving through the phases of their Midlife Transitional Voyage to Transformation at Phase 3-4 which is the mid-stages of Diving into the Deep (Grief work) and Rebirthing, or the women who are honoring their struggles in my Rebirthing the New You Group. When we actually allow ourselves to tap into our huge well of inner vitality and passion, creativity and intuition, we can actually go for our authentic dreams. When we finally learn to uncover and rebirth our true longings and desires, we find yirah. Yes, it’s a little scary, but it’s the kind of fear that we want to lean into, not run away from..

Pachad, (Pa”h”ad) on the other hand, haunts us.  It ignites us anytime there is a potential threat to our emotional comfort zone coming in the future.   This kind of fear leads us astray and distracts us from what is real, because we can really handle emotional discomfort.  We just have to show ourselves we can.  Here’s three steps to working with this kind of fear.    1) Get Curious!  This will immediately shift you so you can move the fear over and no longer let it run you. 2) Second, Label it and separate from it.  3) Third, bring yourself into the present moment out of the future scenario and notice you are here and not there. This might take breathing, mindfulness, yoga or some other activity to get you into your body and the present moment.

So how do we know which kind of fear we are feeling? Here’s the best way to tell….allow yourself to stop and experience the feeling in your body. We call this a “somatic tool” or letting your body help you instead of trying to figure out everything in your mind. Let your mind relax and focus on your body. Your body can hold this feeling and as you breathe into it, you can explore it with curiosity. Trust yourself to try this and see what you notice. Working with your fear, no matter which kind it is, is crucial to exploring and allowing more Yirah into your life. It’s really there a lot, but we refuse to notice it or allow it. Pachad often clouds our vision and takes us over and we don’t take the time to explore which kind of fear we are feeling.  Start being curious with both kinds of fear!

You can explore Yirah and Pachad in my SELF-COMPASSION ADVANCED SKILLS Group this summer. This 8 -week woman’s group is open to anyone who has explored some self-compassion or mindfulness tools and wants to build on these. You will be introduced to the IFS System of finding your inner parts and expand on your loving kindness practices.

Learn more about whether this group is right for you. Come to the FREE CLASS on Tuesday, May 22 at 7 pm. Register here