On Yoga, Expectations and A Day Well Lived

In my professional life (Read: The one that pays the bills), there is always extensive talk about “managing expectations,” which is often best explained by the well-worn cliché, “under promise and over deliver.” I used to be a major proponent of this practice. No so much anymore. Like “personal branding,” I find the whole thing disingenuous. (If you need to feel like you have a “brand,” just be yourself. That’s your brand. More on that in another post.)

Instead, I much prefer to think about the best possible outcomes and speak enthusiastically to that (professional and personally). In other words, I don’t do managing expectations so well. Yes, this sometimes means that I’m disappointed, but the high I feel from dreaming of and executing on the BIG VISION usually outweighs any disappointment. (And, in fact, whatever disappointment I may feel usually stems from not starting things earlier, or going for it bigger.)

So, when I started a yoga practice (which is how yoga-folk say, “doing yoga”) a month ago, I had high expectations. I started this yoga practice because, well, it should come as no surprise that I have a tendency to get stuck inside my head and it was high time I found my way out.

As I’ve previously written, however, I despise working out in classes. Exercise is my private, quiet time. It’s time for me to innovate, explore and, probably counter-intuitively, get WAY inside my head. So, how was I going to get outside my head while feeling insecure about doing something totally new AND during my traditional “me-time?” I wasn’t sure, but I had high expectations.

But regardless of these expectations, I was still scared. I was still self-conscious about being the least flexible person on earth. I still remembered the only other time I tried yoga (15 years ago) and pinched a nerve within minutes of the start of class. A pinch that caused such severe pain that, besides a broken leg, remains the most painful experience of my life (and the reason why I hesitated to “do yoga” all these years). So, I started with private one-on-one instruction to better understand what the experience would be like. And…OMFG. That was what the experience was like. Beyond anything I could have possibly expected. Way beyond.

The very first time I was guided through what is called “corpse pose” (Shavasana), I was hooked. It’s a kind of guided meditation and total body/mind/breathing relaxation that has led me to a variety of incredible visions – not visions that caused me to think, but instead made me see. The first such vision was one of a dragonfly. Throughout the practice, this dragonfly was zipping around, frenzied, uneasy, nervous. And during Shavasana, it landed. Not only did it land; it landed on a cairn. I knew I was the dragonfly. Yoga made me land. Maybe for the first time ever. Certainly for the first time in years. I broke down…and cried all the way home.

Since that time, I’ve seen visions of records on a turntable (searching for my groove), slide shows of incredible experiences, remarkable colors and, maybe most notably…absolutely nothing. Nothing. When asked by the instructors to think of a word that defines my intention for each practice, I always think of the same word: Peace. Nothing defines that intention like, well, nothing. When the dragonfly landed on that cairn, the next image was total stillness. Peace. What an incredible, meaningful and powerful feeling nothing can be.

There’s a documentary called, YOGAIS, that chronicles a woman’s journey to find her own peace after her mother passes away. Russell Simmons is among the celebrities interviewed in the film. He describes his first reaction to yoga as “I’m fucked.” His reasoning is that he believed uneasiness and anxiety to be the core drivers for his success. Yoga, he discovered, removed all of that and he thought his business empire would collapse (of course, it hasn’t).

Turns out Russell Simmons and I have something in common. (Who knew?) In just a month, I feel like yoga has completely changed my life. Maybe that’s a stretch; I’m not sure it is. Initially, all the quiet I felt inside created so much more noise outside. What I mean is that gossip, “huge problems,” silly conflicts, fear and more, simply seemed, well, silly. I instantly had no tolerance for conversations that focused on petty drama. Such dialogue echoed painfully in my head. To be fair, I didn’t expect this.

The opposite side of that coin is beautiful, however. It’s one of patience. It’s about tackling difficult conversations. It’s about transparency. It features far less fear (though, not a complete absence of it). In just a month, it feels like I’ve been more focused and able to handle what previously felt like daunting challenges – both professionally and personally. I’ve tackled more problems head-on and, more importantly, those problems and challenges no longer seem so difficult in the first place. There’s a complete lack of frustration where it used to be found regularly. Maybe it’s not ALL about the yoga practice, but the timing points to it.

The most surprising result of the last month, however, was the discovery of something even more elusive than peace: The Moment. That mystical place where we find ourselves able to actively experience what’s right in front of us and all around us. The place where we are able to accept ourselves (good, bad and ugly) for who we are at any given time. Any given moment. And, in discovering this mystical place, all that noise that I initially heard in the first days of the practice has disappeared. Because it really wasn’t noise. It was judgment. I was judging people for experiencing drama where I didn’t see any. So, I was annoyed. Now, I can listen, and, if asked, comment. Otherwise, I can just listen.

And what else happens when you find the moment? No more need for expectations. There’s nothing to manage. And any day spent in the moment? Well that’s the very best of A Day Well Lived. I’m still the least flexible person on the planet, by the way. At least physically. It’s only been a month after all. What could I expect?

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