– by Helen Laird
“Tension is who you think you should be,
Relaxation is who you are.”
– Ancient Chinese proverb
How much time do we spend trying to live up to our own expectations? How much time do we spend trying to live up to the expectations we think others have of us?
Many of us naturally fall into the role of our own harshest critic. We tell ourselves we’re letting the team down, when the truth may simply be that we’ve set the bar far too high. Either way, when we fall short of the mark we end up feeling disgruntled, upset and tense.
The Yoga Sutras, the first yoga text book written over two thousand years ago, warns us that expectations only lead to disappointment. Our mind loves to race off into the future, predicting a great future for ourselves. But more often than not it just ends up tripping over itself. We paint a glorious and detailed picture of that imaginary future, then attach large portions of our self-worth to that vision coming true. When it doesn’t, we feel a sense of loss.
Expectations are not inherently a bad thing – if you never set targets for yourself, how would you know what to aim for? – but the trick lies in not getting tied to our expectations. Or rather, not tying our sense of self-esteem to whether we have achieved those goals.
To free ourselves of attachment to our expectations, yoga suggests that we learn to live in the present moment. Yoga practices, including the poses, breathing techniques and meditation, all aim to keep us centered in the “now”. They teach us how to calmly observe what is happening in our body, our breath and in our mind. Living in the present moment, we develop a sense of relaxed peacefulness.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t get to a yoga class to de-stress after a day of the toddler terrors. You can still learn to live mindfully in the now. Here are three simple yoga techniques to try:
- As you chase after the kids, cook dinner, or keep in touch with family via email, take the time to observe the sensations in your body.
- Before you begin any new task, take one full nose-belly breath: watch the breath as the air flows down to fill the deepest part of your lungs, and watch again as it flows back out.
- Take a step back from whatever you’re thinking about. Witness your thoughts as they pop to the surface of your mind. Watch them come and go without judgement or prejudice.
Every time we practice these simple techniques we are bringing our mind back to the present moment. In the present moment there is no space for our past to worry us. Nor do we get pent up about the things we are yet to achieve.
Letting go of our expectations and learning to live in the now helps us to relax and discover who we really are. And that’s the greatest journey of our lives.
Author Bio – This post continues our yoga series by guest blogger Helen Laird of Yoga in One Syllable. Helen is passionate about helping people see where yoga already exists in their lives and inspiring them to bring more yoga into it.