As a teacher, a mom and just being human I see it all the time. I see it in my students, my friends, my kids and most often in myself. Expectations. Expectations kill the moment, harden us and set us up for failure. But we continue to have them and hold them close to our struggling hearts.
Expectations are about waiting for the other shoe to drop, about attaching feelings to outcomes, about desire. Expectation is about the opposite of being present in the moment. It is about suffering from past regrets or anxiety about future endeavors. Expectations are about wanting life to be a certain way, instead of accepting things as they are.
I see this most clearly with my students and their practices. People come into yoga wanting certain results and sometimes they get them. Sometimes a student needs to work out the creaky/cranky/sore places and as she glides through a series the body heats up, the muscles release and alignment is restored. Sometimes a student may need to quiet her busy mind. This student is always most interesting to me. This is the student who is oftentimes twitchy and restless in the quietest part of class. Sometimes this student does get quiet and clears her mind.
But here’s the danger in getting on the mat with expectations, or getting anywhere for that matter. First, by arriving with desires these women focus on their wishes instead of opening themselves to those moments of surprise, that unasked for gift that yoga so often gives us. Instead of being with what is, they are with what they want and as much as we all like getting what we want, it’s not always what we need or even all that is good for us.
More importantly and possibly more damaging, by expecting an outcome these women set themselves up for disappointment. Because there will be times when you get on the mat and you will not get the desired affects, for lots of reasons. Sometimes your creaky/cranky/sore places have a purpose. Your body is talking to you about a larger issue and trying to work out the kinks can actually make your pain worse. Perhaps working on the core issue is really the only way to heal the creaky/cranky/sore place. We don’t need to know how or why, we just need to stay present with the practice and let the yoga do its work.
Thinking that yoga is going to calm you, even if it’s done so 1000 times before can be really disheartening, because when you’re ready for it the practice may surprise you by making you really unhappy and uncomfortable. The practice is here to serve you. Sometimes it serves us in really unexpected ways.
Let’s say Lisa is not dealing with her grief issues. She has a busy mind, frequent headaches and a tight upper back. She comes to class twice a week and stretches at home at least once a week. At some point the practice is going to open her heart, no matter how she tries to resist. And sometimes that heart opening, especially when there is grief work to do, can be incredibly uncomfortable. If Lisa isn’t present with what is, and sometimes even if we are, she’s going to resist that uncomfortable feeling. If it’s bad enough she’ll start to resist yoga and eventually stop practicing. Three years and $5,000 later she’ll be back in that same place at her therapist’s office so full of uncomfortable grief she can barely breathe.
Let me be clear, I’ve done my fair share of therapy and I’m not suggesting it’s not good/necessary/helpful. In this case, though, Lisa was there. She was in that healing place of growth. Cause every time we’re uncomfortable, every single time, you can be absolutely- no-doubt-about-it-sure that there is growth happening. Every single time.
She was there and she resisted and it cost her three years of carrying around the heaviness of grief and put a dent in her savings.
If I can accept what is on the mat and just let the practice be, I can heal body, mind and spirit. But I’m me and when I see that opportunity for growth, I’m the five year old with the sticky band-aid, I rip it off. Except when I don’t. Cause I’m human and I resist pain, and I like life to be light and easy and joyful. Except when I don’t.
Because I’m human I think I like light and easy, but I’m still addicted to the drama. I still like to make it difficult. Deep down I can’t believe that it’s easy to be happy. I think I need to have suffering and angst to really find happiness.
Because I’m human, I like life to be easy and fun without the work. And then time after time I find myself on the mat with terrible back pain/headache/hip pain. And time after time I’m reminded to just let the practice do the work. I’m just here to do my job. My job is yoga. When I decide that I need to practice certain poses cause that’s what my body really needs, then I’m no longer in the present and no longer practicing with an open heart.
Surely we all have days when we have ideas about how the day should go and there’s nothing wrong with that, but practicing life with an open heart brings us
delight and joy, surprise and possibility. An open heart is how we fall in love, how we get new jobs, how we follow our passions and how we heal ourselves. Regardless of how tightly we hold on to our ideas, habits, routines and relationships we’ve all had an open heart at one time or another and it’s brought us good things more than once.
For poses to help open the heart and more about staying open, go to A Yogi Kitchen where we’ll be exploring the idea for a little bit longer.