PRACTICING THE EXPECTATION-LESS EXISTENCE
by Janna Leyde
More often than not my yoga practice and my dad’s brain injury are teaching me the same lesson.
2011 was about expectations.
I had been reading a lot about living with a brain injury survivor, and I started to realize that what my mother and I should try to 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. He can be mean. He throws things, like milkshakes, sometimes. For almost 15 years, these expectations had kept me safe, in control, on top of my shit, unbreakable.
2011 was Teacher Training.
Being the seasoned yogi that I considered myself, I had this 4-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 shit out 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 senior 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 in a Double Pigeon assist. 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 my mother and I 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. Lately, he has been surprising me with his increasing awareness, his growing compassion. And I don’t doubt that I’ve been surprising him as I no longer expect him 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?
Janna Leyde is a yogi and writer living in Brooklyn. When she’s not on her mat or at the front of the room teaching, she is working on publishing her first novel, He Never Liked Cake, a coming of age memoir that tells the story of growing up with her father’s traumatic brain injury. Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain offers her perspective on the practice through the lens of the complex human brain.