Minding Expectations So We Don’t Mind
More often than not, my yoga practice and my dad’s brain injury are teaching me the same lesson.
2011 was expectations.
I had been reading a lot about living with a brain injury survivor, what to expect and what not to expect. But it was my yoga practice that introduced me to the idea that maybe what my mother and I needed to do was let go of our expectations about his recovery.
I couldn’t do it. I’d solidified myself in his non-recovery. My dad forgets birthdays. My dad gets in trouble. He says inappropriate things. He doesn’t do the things that we ask him to do. He can be mean. Sometimes he throws things…like milkshakes. For 15 years these expectations had kept me safe, in control, on top of my sh*t, unbreakable.
2011 was Teacher Training.
Being the seasoned yogi that I considered myself to be, I had this four week Intensive TT in the bag. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, knew my strengths, knew my weaknesses. I knew exactly what to expect—yoga, morning, noon, and night, a soul-deep cleanse that will ring you out like a dirty dishrag.
Then, somewhere in the middle of week two, I fell out of Ardha Chandrasana. It happened just as I was thinking: I always rock the sh*t out of these Flow 3 classes. And I don’t fall in yoga. Sure, I teeter, wobble. I slip. I stumble. But I don’t fall. The next day was worse—I tweaked my lower back in Crescent Lunge, and a cramp in my left foot ruined every standing pose.
“What the hell is happening?” I asked my teacher. “I don’t even recognize my own practice anymore.”
“Nothing is happening,” she said. “Your expectations are just getting in the way. You need to let them go.”
“Huh?” I said.
Yeah, right, is what I was thinking.
“Tomorrow, roll out your mat and be okay with anything that happens. You may fall. You may sail. But, no matter what, you will have practiced yoga.”
The next day I fell out of Vashistasana. I nailed Titibasana. And uncontrollable tears rolled down my face when I received a deep assist in Double Pigeon. I didn’t know how to release my expectations, but I thought if I could leave class without having assigned one adjective—awful, exhilarating, cleansing, clearing or difficult—to it, I could return to my next class with a blank slate. This became my practice—show up, with a blank slate.
I’ve since taken this practice off my mat, into my life, into dealing with that brain injury that my mother and I have to live with. I choose to be the person that expects little of him, not because I don’t care, but because I really do care. I simply choose to show up for whatever my father has to offer.
And when he and I have the chance to practice yoga together, we bring that attitude, that expectation-less existence, to our mats, and lately, he has been surprising me with his increasing awareness and his growing compassion. And I have no doubt that I’ve been surprising him, too, as I no longer expect him to remember all the ways he needs to act so that we may think he has less of a brain injury.
After all, our expectations are unnecessary pressures that we put on ourselves, and those around us. They put in place stagnant standards. How are we ever going to rise unless we let go of them—on and off the mat?
I’m a yoga teacher in Brooklyn. I am currently working on publishing my first novel and also creating a place where yoga and brain injury professionally meet. Concerning the latter, I am certain that a yoga practice will not only help survivors of traumatic brain injury, but also their families. As I practice with my father (a brain injury survivor) my family and I are learning that yoga not only helps his mobility, but also his mind.
Editor: Edith Lazenby
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