Releasing Our Expectations

Sutra 1.8 A few unexpected events have happened in my week of parenting duties with my children that have fallen short of my "expectations".  They've led me to think about what expectations are and how they play out in our perception of how events unfold and whether we can move on from an event or carry resentment and suffering with us long after the event is over.

Expectations.

Meeting expectations.

Falling short of expectations.

Managing expectations.

Expectations of ourselves and others, at home in our relationships and with peers and workmates.  It's always there.  Expectations are around whenever we are navigating human relationships.

Today my daughter was to receive an award at her school assembly.  Many things happened to lead us to this expectation that we would go to school and see her walk up on stage and receive an award.  She had told us she was getting her award and she was listed in the school newsletter as one of the students to receive this award.  In expectation of this event we organised a late start to work, put braids and extra ribbons in my daughter's hair, she got herself ready so fast in all the excitement, we packed the whole family off with our cameras, super early, plenty of time to settle into our front row seats.

So we sat through all the motions of the school assembly, we were pleased with ourselves that we had a two-for-one assembly deal today with our other child playing in the string ensemble this morning.  Cameras at the ready we filmed all the children walking up to collect their awards.  I could see my girl sitting up a little straighter in anticipation.  We watched as people in her class were called up, as others in her grade were called up, as the grade above was called up.  Why wasn't my daughter's name called?  I expected her to get her award!  She is expecting her award!  My husband is here getting later and later for work!

The assembly missed our expectations.  We were confused and deflated.  This was the state of our mind.

Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras that five activities of the mind are:

1.6 pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smrtayah

These activities are accurate knowledge from direct experience (pramana), incorrect knowledge due to presumptions (viparyaya), fantasy inference and perhaps expectation (vikalpa), deep sleep (nidra) and memory (smrti).

It's worth thinking about how our presumptions based on incomplete knowledge (viparyaya) and how we make inferences about a situation (vikalpa) play into our expectations in situations like the one above and in our relationships with others.

1.8 viparyayah mithya jnanam atad rupa pratistham

Incorrect knowledge is confused understanding [because] it is not based on the real nature of the object

1.9 sabda jnana anupati vastu sunyah vikalpah

Imagination comes from knowledge derived from words, [while] the object itself is absent

While there were many things that pointed to us expecting that my daughter was going to receive her award, our knowledge of the situation was incomplete.  There were things that had to happen behind the scenes involving our teacher and the administration for our expectations to be met.  We are operating from a misunderstanding and incorrect information (viparyaya) and as a result we filled in the gaps in our knowledge to created the picture that we expected (vikalpa).

So why does all of this matter?  Because we were confused and we felt that feeling, of annoyance.  In that moment we were disappointed for our girl and upset for ourselves because our expectations for our morning weren't met.  This is the feeling of mental unrest and discomfort that is referred to through the Yoga Sutras as duhkha.  Suffering.

In the yoga tradition and other traditions, most notably Buddhism, there is much discussion about suffering in our lives.  The Yoga Sutras talk about the fact that suffering is a part of our existence and offers us ways to become aware of when suffering crops up in our lives.  This awareness of suffering and its roots are what can help us untangle ourselves from it.

So what do we do about our mismanaged expectations?  Do we get mad?  Demand answers?  Fume about it afterwards then hold onto the incident for days?  Or do we just drop it, walk away none the wiser, still confused?

Here's the thing, on the other side of falling short of expectations is resilience.  We prepare ourselves for events in our lives the best we can from the information we have at hand.  We prepare for what is expected of us.  We never know the outcome of any situation for sure.  Will it go this way or that way?  Will it be in our favour or won't it?  We prepare ourselves, then we let go of the outcome.  It is in the holding on of the expectations where the suffering occurs.

We prepare ourselves for action based on what we foresee in the future.  Then we should release the expectations. We let life unfold as it will, without our pushing and grasping to mould it into the image of what we expect it to be.  In this process we begin to teach ourselves to let go of the feelings of angst when things don't work out as planned, as is often the case in both parenting and in life.  We also teach our children about resilience in the face of life's constantly shifting landscape.

In the example of my daughter's assembly, I took the opportunity to check in with my own feelings of sadness and disappointment for my daughter to talk to her about her feelings.  We were able to discuss how we had misunderstood the situation (viparyaya) and came to an incorrect conclusion about how the day was going to go (vikalpa).  Then we were able to discuss with our teacher what had happened and fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge about the situation and prepare ourselves for the next assembly.  Without holding onto our expectations, we can approach each situation in a clearer and more equanimous state of mind, then move on without being bound by any suffering that any past event has caused us.

Is there a place where your unmet expectations of how your day will go has caused you angst?  How did you "hold on" to this event and can you release your expectations while being comfortable with the effort you put into making the day go as planned?

© 2015 Sandra Wang theyogaparent.com

On time

Time The typical morning here is very busy.  That may be an understatement.  There are a lot of things that need to happen for a whole lot of bodies, sometimes in a certain order, so that we can make it out into the world.  In our house there are three children.  Two are at school, one is a baby.  And there are two parents balancing all the children's needs as well as our own.  Among the parents there is one who is commuting to work and one who is trying to hold onto some semblance of a yoga practice each day.  I'll let you guess who that is.  (And more on "holding on" later).

Time is something I think about a lot.  You might also have the same experiences I do with time.  Sometimes you blink and it's gone, like it's just slipped through your fingers.  Other times it drags and never ends and you can't wish it away fast enough.  Then there's the times where time expands and you achieve a rhythm in the time you have.  You get your daily yoga / meditation / spiritual practice in, your kids are dressed and ready, lunches are packed, you're at school on time, you get to work on time and hit today's goals, after school you get to all the activities you need to with time to spare, dinner just works, homework time is a breeze and you can put your feet up with your partner while the kids are tucked soundly in bed.

This feeling of capturing the flow and feeling like you're in the zone is what I'm most interested in.  When "time is on your side" and you don't feel like you are "working against the clock".  Definitely when people practice yoga, they are more likely to feel the effects of flow in their lives.  The topic of flow and the manipulation of space and time in our lives is a huge topic that scientists and psychologists have taken an interest in.  I think yoga has a few answers to how and why a person is able to capture flow and how to replicate it.

One thing I'd like to explore here is Asteya.  The third of the Yamas (the first limb of the 8-limbs and refers to how we relate to others) from the 8 limbed path of yoga.  Asteya means "non-stealing" and refers to having respect for others' property and resources such as time and energy.  More on the other four Yama's later.

When you are a parent, life is busy.  Quite often as a parent you experience time as an elusive resource given out freely to everyone but you.  You move from one task to another, switching from the needs of one member of your family to the next, often leaving your needs to last.  Sometimes things suddenly pop up, you get invited to a school fundraising morning, you are asked to bake another batch of cookies, the music teacher is running 20 minutes late, dinner gets pushed back and everyone is a hungry grumpy mess.  The life of a parent is a scheduling minefield with so many occasions in a day where you need to run "on time".  And when you don't run "on time", it disrupts your flow, this disruption bumps out the next event on the schedule and keeps rolling on through the day until everything is a hot mess and the best thing is to just try to do better tomorrow.

So as parents we see time as one of our most precious commodities.  The value of time is almost priceless in our world.  So have a think about where in your day time is being stolen from you or where you might be stealing it from yourself.  If you are always dropping off at school at the very last minute are you being respectful of your children's time, or if they were dragging their feet in the morning, have they been respectful of yours?  If your child's coach is regularly calling to say that training will be late or cancelled, are you ok with this?  If you say yes to attending a fundraising meeting at school because it's the right thing to do even though you are over-scheduled and over-stretched already, is it still the right thing to do?  If your child suddenly changes plans and wants to stay out with their friends an extra 2 hours then wants you to pick them up, do you drop everything to do so?

The push and pull on your time is constant.  Everyone needs to navigate the demands on our time the best we can, not just parents.  We need to recognise that when we treat time with respect and consider Asteya in relation to time, we can start to see where it's being given freely and where it's being taken from us.  We might begin to recognise there are people in your world who will always take your time or there are situations where we are always stealing time from others.  We might find that when we are saying we are "so busy" as parents, that we have actually overloaded ourselves and are stealing time from those who need it from us the most.

There is an endless stream of stimuli in our world grabbing at our attention and time.  In yoga we put into practice concepts like Asteya to draw our attention back, away from the source of noise in our lives, to give our minds some greater space and peace.  We can then start to find where our boundaries are and be in a better place to maintain them, which benefits not just our inner world, but also our children in the long run.

Where in your life are you stealing time from yourself?  Can you do less, open your schedule more, run more on time so that you can make more space in your life?

Quick note: I've signed up on Bloglovin so you can now follow my blog with Bloglovin.

© 2015 Sandra Wang theyogaparent.com

On freedom

Freedom What are we looking for when we are trying to get all the toys and clothes off the floor?  What are we hoping for when we get to the bottom of the laundry basket?  What are we looking to find when all the dishes are done?  Why are we clearing our calendars so that we can run out and make that yoga class?

It's freedom.

Have you considered what is driving the reason you are looking to get things Done. Sorted. Finished. Cleared. Put Away. Chances are you are searching for Freedom.

Space.

Openness.

Clarity.

Liberation.

Most parents I know, including myself, have run through that line, "Remember before we had children?  We could do whatever we wanted!"

The reality is there will be another load of laundry, more toys on the floor, another sink of dirty dishes.  We make it to yoga for that precious hour, and then we are home again with all the chatter, the clutter, the cleaning.

Freedom isn't everything being finished, complete, done.  Because things never are.

Freedom isn't having endless choices.  Think about the days before parenthood.  Did you really feel completely content and fulfilled and free even then when you could, "do whatever you wanted"?

Within each of us is the ability to access freedom.  A feeling of spaciousness and flow in the daily tasks in our daily lives.  It's hanging out the laundry and noticing the smell of the breeze.  It's helping your child in the bath and laughing as they tell you about their day.  It's taking out the trash and realising there's a full moon.  It's finding a way to step back into what we already have and noticing the good stuff rather than wishing for things to be swept away, put away or finished.

"Commitment is true freedom"

Our story in parenting is never finished.  I once heard someone say that commitment is true freedom.  In our commitment to our role as parents to our children, with everything that entails, there is the possibility of finding freedom.  We just need to know where to look.  And that place is the present.

© 2015 Sandra Wang theyogaparent.com

Change

My body feels different.  My body looks different.  Looking at it, it's a whole new terrain, a whole new assortment of textures.  Moving inside it, it holds itself in different ways, there are new patterns in my movement, where there was firmness, there is now softness.  Where there was strength, there is now a memory of it.  But this is my body.  It is strong, it is feminine, it is powerful, it is here.  It has been home to my children and it will continue to be their sanctuary. Mine is the body of a mother.  When a mother carries a baby then gives birth it carries the marks of an incredible journey of change.  One of the greatest changes that can happen to anybody.  A change that happens on a physical as well as an emotional realm.  The journey of a mother is an unbelievably physical and embodied experience.  Your form morphs and changes through pregnancy.  You pass through the crest of the wave that is childbirth for some, other moments in pregnancy for others, facing the unknown and your deepest fears in the process.  The journey continues on the other side, you are forever changed, with your baby at your side.

There is a process of acceptance that happens as you navigate the period after birth.  Your changed body continues to transform over the postpartum period.  For weeks, months, perhaps years.  You might carry and birth another baby and your body transforms again.  Each birth leaving its own unique imprint on your being and your heart.

This process asks of us to embrace change in a mammoth way.  Do you embrace the change that pregnancy, birth and motherhood invites into your life?  Or do you resist it and wish for your previous figure and life back?  Do you ride with the changes and accept that a new rhythm will come?  Or do you use the force of will to fit your new life into the old mould, your new body back into your old jeans?

Many mothers come to yoga to fit back into those old jeans and to try to capture the feeling of their old body.  But what yoga can offer is a far greater gift.  It is the tools to accept things as they are now, to be in this moment with your baby, to ride the wave of change that is inevitable in this life.

My body may be different, and my life may be different, and what I perceive to be who I am may seem different.  But underneath all of that there is a part of me that remains the same.  I can sense it's there.  There's a spark of it.  Yoga can be used to cultivate the acceptance of the change that has happened in our lives as we grow into motherhood.  It can also be a tool to peel back all the layers so that we can find that spark of "who I am", and turn it into a flame.

© 2015 Sandra Wang theyogaparent.com

Yoga's Eight Step Mindful Parenting Program

Map It’s all very well to talk about how yoga can help us become better parents for our children but how?  Do we really think that a bunch of yoga poses and a nice relaxing Savasana at the end will turn us into zen parents, oozing loving kindness for our children at every turn?

Well, lucky for us, behind all the yoga classes, the poses, the Namaste’s and Om Shanti’s there is the Yoga Sutras.  Written many thousands of years ago by a guy called Patanjali, it is a Sanskrit treasure trove of aphorisms that explain what yoga is, what it can do for you and how to go about it.  The "how to go about it" part is tucked away deep in the second chapter as a sort of ancient 8-step program to enlightenment, otherwise known as Ashtanga Yoga, or the eight limbs of yoga.

These eight limbs are:

1. Yamas - how we relate to others, a code of ethics

2. Niyamas - disciplines relating to your self, your own personal habits

3. Asana - the physical practice of yoga

4. Pranayama - breath control

5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses, the direction of attention inwards

6. Dharana - concentration

7. Dhyana - meditation

8. Samadhi - liberation, bliss, transcendence

While I've referred to them as an 8-step program and listed them in a certain order, they are not a hierarchy and it's not necessarily a prescription of the order that they need to be practiced.  I have also learned that we don't want to see any one of the eight limbs as being more or less important than another.  We literally want to see the limbs as limbs of a tree and not as rungs on a step ladder.

If you are a yoga practitioner in the West today you are more than likely familiar with #3, Asana.  This is really the part of yoga that we can see and it is the most tangible and physically relatable part of the yoga practice.  While it is only one of the limbs, it is an important one as it shows that yoga is an embodied and experiential philosophy.  This is one aspect of yoga as a spiritual tradition and philosophy of the mind that differentiates it from many others.  Having Asana as one of the eight limbs of yoga highlights that here is a tradition that is to be lived and accessed with our physical body.  We engage with the words and ideas and concepts of this philosophy through our lived bodies.

The eight limbs of yoga is a roadmap to how we achieve a state of yoga in our lives.  A state of yoga is where our thoughts and activities of our mind are brought under control.  Our actions are more conscious and deliberate and feel less like we are being dragged and thrown around by whatever comes up in our minds and lives.

This is the lesson of yoga in our lives and we can take this eight limbed roadmap as a guide in the more defined area of parenting.  Parenting is an area that can challenge the calmest and most organised person.  It is a job that demands our focus and attention for more hours a day that we care to count.  It is physical, it is demanding, it is constant and it is personal.  Many of us feel that when we became parents, we were unprepared for just how much of our physical and energetic reserves we have to draw on for this role.  Yoga is an ancient technology that has been used over millennia to explore the human mind and the human condition.  While it is an Indian tradition that has been mostly practiced by men and now in the West it looks like a stretchy bendy aerobics mostly practiced by women, the philosophy of it is universal and I have found it's practices to be a helpful approach to relating to my children and my family.

I will explore the eight limbs in coming weeks, I hope you'll join me.

© 2015 Sandra Wang theyogaparent.com

You are your child's first guru

Guru Being both a yoga practitioner and a parent, I found it useful to look to the idea of the Guru in Indian traditions as guidance in this role.  As a parent, you understand intrinsically that your role is more than a functional and practical one in your child's life.  It is a "job" that encompasses the wellbeing of your child on every level of their being, physical, educational, spiritual, emotional.  This is where the idea that you, as a parent, are actually your child's first Guru comes in.

In yoga, the guru is beyond a teacher, he is a master.  The guru is a personal spiritual guide that takes his student from darkness to light, from ignorance to understanding, from misconception to illumination.  In fact, the very word guru, literally translates as darkness "gu" and light "ru".

In modern yoga today, there are so many teachers to be found.  More than likely you have found some great yoga teachers who's classes and words have resonated with you.  You felt that they have passed on a message that you needed to hear at that moment.  You can tell that there is something more to this yoga practice than just the exercise.  And you can tell that there is something different about the role of the yoga teacher as compared with a fitness instructor or personal trainer.  You would be correct in this assumption because central to the transmission of yoga throughout millennia is the idea of the teacher-disciple relationship.  That the art of yoga is learned through direct contact with someone who has walked the path already and can take your hand as you pick your way through the practice.

You are your child's first guru.  This sentiment is echoed in Sanskrit texts that refer to the mother as the first guru and also compare the guru to a mother and a father.  Some go as far as to say that the relationship between parent and child, like that between a guru and disciple, extend far beyond the present lifetime.  The parallels drawn between the role of the parent and the role of the guru highlight the importance of these guiding teachers in an individual's life.

Our job as parents often seems unrewarding and relentless.  The piles of laundry, the constant meal preparation, managing tantrums and sibling arguments, being the chauffeur to sports and music lessons, homework coach.  We wear so many hats in the job of parent and sometimes it seems that it would be so much easier if someone else could come and take over some of these roles.  Add to that the fact that you can't take a day off from this job.  However each of the moments you have with your child presents an opportunity to see yourself as your child's first guru.  In a stage of rapid development there is always a chance to use the moment to be the guide in life that you would hope your child would choose for themselves.

Thinking of yourself as being your child's first guru can seem daunting considering that the word "guru" contains so many heavy connotations from the image in our heads of what a guru looks like to all the recent news stories cropping up of yoga "gurus" gone awry.  It's important to remember that these were not true teachers to begin with, and a true guru is one that will take each individual as they are, that they lead the disciple from a place of ignorance to illumination.  Now isn't that the kind of parent you would love to be?

© 2015 Sandra Wang theyogaparent.wordpress.com

The Yoga Parent

The idea of The Yoga Parent was ignited during a time when yoga has reached a popularity high in the west.  A time where every major city hosts dozens of yoga studios offering yoga in a myriad of forms from the more traditional to more curious variations such as "hip hop yoga".  Yoga has become a class at your local gym as standard as a Pump class.  It is as trendy as CrossFit.  Our intense desire for a lean, fit body is a major force to driving yoga to its current level of popularity. But peel back the glossy outer image of yoga in the West today and you will find there exists an immense body of ancient philosophy and psychology that deals with primarily shedding your baggage and becoming more in touch with your true nature.  This is the place that allows us to live fully, openly and honestly with ourselves and the people around us.

We are also in a time where parenting has become a heated arena of differing styles, types, opinions.  Fuelled by a boom in the number of children being born and the power of the internet to perpetuate and dispense parenting advice, the average parent finds themselves bombarded with thousands of perfectly curated, Pinned, Facebooked and Instagrammed nuggets of parenting perfection.  If only I could dress my child in the hippest fashions, whip out the most engaging crafts, be completely attached and bonded with her, but also enjoy my skinny soy latte during my healthy dose of me time, all while executing the perfect warrior pose.  Believe me because I've tried...

Pinterest fail Angelina Ballerina

Seriously, parenting is a tough gig.  It's probably always been a sticky zone for comparison and self-judgement.  But now it's all so out there.  All the good bits from not just our facebook friends but complete strangers are out there for you to measure yourself against.  All of this taking us further away from our true nature.  The place where we can parent our children whole heartedly, guided by the force of our love and intuition into this uncharted territory of parenting your unique child.  As mysterious and terrifying as exploring the corners of your own mind and body.

So The Yoga Parent was born.  If you're looking for parenting advice, how to tame your tantruming toddler or how to overcome before dawn wake ups, you won't find it here.  But you might want to stick around to see how some practices from this thing called yoga, a 5000 year old Indian tradition taught by a bunch of men for men has anything at all to do with this soul shifting gig called parenting.

I don't claim to be "The Yoga Parent" or some expert dispensing advice on how to raise your child or run your family.  The Yoga Parent is an idea, a concept that encapsulates what it is to parent from the essence of your being.  It explores what yoga means when you take away the poses, the movement, the sleek sexy body and throw in a baby, a child, a partner, a fun fabulous family life.  What is that yoga all for in the web of our relationships with each other?

© 2015 Sandra Wang theyogaparent.com