When I first started practicing yoga, I’d stand at the back of the room while my teacher demonstrated a pose that I’d never seen before and silently tell myself that I’d never be able to do it.
I’d laugh nervously, maybe out of fear, maybe out of frustration, and shake my head, and, as the rest of the class began to enter the pose, I found myself working past my low expectations into the pose, too.
Somehow–I still don’t know how–I moved past those low expectations and managed to find my way into the pose.
It might have been Tree Pose. Or Eagle Pose. Or Half Moon. I don’t remember. All I remember are the thoughts that I had when I saw the pose for the first time: “I’ll never be able to do it.”
Self-defeating, negative expectations.
Since then I’ve learned to revise my expectations. Now, as I watch my teacher demonstrate a pose that I haven’t seen before, I no longer tell myself that I’ll never be able to do it.
I watch the way the pose unfolds.
I listen carefully to the description that my teacher offers about where to place my hands, my arms, my legs, my feet.
I say to myself “I may be able to do that pose…” or “I might not be able to do that pose now… but one day I’ll be able to do that pose.”
I know this is true because since beginning my practice I have been able to find my way into poses that at first glance seemed impossible.
It takes time, patience, determination, and realistic expectations.
How do we set realistic expectations for ourselves?
How do we learn to tell the difference between expectations that we set for ourselves and expectations that others set for us?
How do we manage to be ourselves in each pose, rather than trying to conform to expectations?
Our yoga practice and our journal practice can help us be ourselves simply by giving us a chance to notice when our expectations rise too high or when they sink too low so that we can find our balance somewhere between the two.
Find your way into Tree Pose. Start with both feet on the floor and lift the heel of one foot and balance it against your ankle, with the toes still on the floor. Notice how low expectations can limit your pose but can also give you greater confidence to go to the next stage? Now try lifting your foot to mid-calf. Then, lift it as high as it’ll go on the inside of your thigh. How does each shift in position change your expectations? Try it again on the second side. Then come out of the pose and write about how changing expectations in each position influenced how you felt about yourself and your ability to do the pose.