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Open to What May Come—Moving Beyond Expectations
Moving beyond expectations and cultivating openness of mind and heart means opening to the unpleasant sensations as well as the pleasant; to the uncomfortable moments as well as the comfortable ones, writes yoga teacher Christine Malossi in this insightful article. But once we choose to open up and fully experience these moments, we’ve cultivated mindfulness in a way that prepares us for whatever life throws at us.
Last year I went on a silent retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. In one of the hallways of the main building hung a simple, elegant Japanese calligraphy painting. Each time I passed this painting I paused to read the words written in delicate strokes: “Try not to expect anything; in this way everything will open up to you.” Each time I read these words I thought of the many expectations I carry with me into the various situations of my life, and in particular to my yoga practice.
Each of us comes to yoga for different reasons, with various goals, motivations, desires, wishes, and expectations. Perhaps you practice yoga because your hamstrings are tight, or you suffer from lower back pain, or want to tone your abs, your thighs, or your arms. Maybe you have a stressful job and are seeking a safe space to release anxiety. Or perhaps you enjoy the peaceful glow of serenity that you experience after an hour of asana practice. Maybe yoga is your spiritual practice and you’re seeking no less than enlightenment.
The reasons to practice yoga are seemingly endless. But while each of us comes to yoga for our own reasons, these reasons often set up rigid expectations of what we want to accomplish and what we plan to get from yoga. It’s certainly not bad or wrong to have these goals; in fact they can be invaluable in our efforts to progress in our practice. However, with the setting of goals comes the danger of becoming too narrowly focused on our desires for specific outcomes. When this happens we close ourselves off to a wide spectrum of experiences.
With just a small shift in approach, we can work towards our goals, but also open ourselves up to the full range of possibilities that exist in each moment of our practice. We can fully acknowledge our expectations; then put them aside; then open the mind and heart to whatever each moment brings. We can approach our yoga practice with a playful curiosity: “I wonder what will happen today?”
Cultivating this openness of mind and heart is not always easy. It means opening to the unpleasant sensations as well as the pleasant; to the uncomfortable moments as well as the comfortable ones; to annoyance, boredom and impatience as well as serenity, peace, and calm.
We must open to the sheer frustration of not being able to touch our toes in Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) just as readily as we do to the sweet relief of resting in Balasana (Child’s Pose). With a wide open mind and heart we pay the same bare attention to each and every thought, emotion, and physical sensation without judging, clinging, or pushing away.
Why would we want to open up to these unpleasant experiences anyway? Why not pursue only moments of pleasure and delight? Wouldn’t this be the key to more happiness? No matter how hard we try to create only lovely experiences in our lives, inevitably dark times occur. We’ve all been through them. Sometimes they creep up unexpectedly and blindside us; sometimes they burst onto the scene and are gone almost as quickly; sometimes they linger for days, months, years.
If we’ve only ever opened ourselves to pleasure and pushed away or suppressed the unpleasant, we have no way to deal with these difficult times. However, if we’ve taken the mindfully aware approach towards the annoyances and frustrations we encounter, if we’ve chosen to open up and fully experience these moments, we’ve cultivated mindfulness in a way that prepares us for whatever life throws at us. We can stay and weather the most challenging situations with a calm strength and steady equanimity rather than being swept away into darkness and despair by the powerful wave of our emotions.
You could practice this approach the very next time you come onto your yoga mat. Before you begin moving, take a moment to sit and be still. Contemplate what motivates you to practice. Acknowledge this motivation and then put it aside. Open yourself to whatever might come up today. Try not to expect anything; in this way everything will open up to you.
Christine Malossi, RYT is based in New York City, where she offers a mindful, alignment-focused Vinyasa practice that cultivates balance, awareness and equanimity. In addition to teaching private clients and group classes at studios throughout Manhattan, she also teaches at the Spencer Cox Center for Health at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Institute for Advanced Medicine whereshe designs a practice specifically tailored to patients diagnosed with HIV and other chronic illnesses. Christine is honored to be teaching yoga and to have the opportunity to pass on to others the joy and freedom that she has found in her own practice. Find her at www.christinemalossi.com or on Facebook.