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How Yoga Can Teach You to Manage Expectations

Yoga4Life_ColleenSplit_400Creating expectations and then feeling you’ve failed is a sad way to start motherhood or any other passage or process in your life. It’s fine to have a plan in your head, but you need to be flexible enough to change course without regret. From Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom.

One of my mentors, the Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax, asks her students to do an exercise: “Write down the most horrendous death that you can imagine,” she says. “Now write down the most ideal death that you can imagine. Now,” she instructs, “tear up both pieces of paper. Because your death will probably be neither of these.”

Disappointment occurs when there is attachment to outcomes. One of my favorite Sutras is 1.12: abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tan-nirodhah. My understanding of it is: Practice diligently without attachment to the fruits of your actions. This kind of effort without expectation trains the mind to stay rooted in the present moment. If we practice hip openers every day for years, we may still never be able to get our leg behind our head. Can we find tranquility in our daily practice and not be disappointed if we never attain mastery of a certain pose?

In life, expectations create a seesaw of satisfaction and disappointment. Most of us have a checklist of “I’ll be happy when I have a perfect spouse, career, house, etc.” Ironically, we can experience disappointment when we attain these things. It’s like being a kid on Christmas morning. I thought if I only had an Easy-Bake Oven I’d be the happiest girl in the world. I got my oven and was thrilled for about twelve hours. Then I needed something else to make me happy.

I had an expectation about giving birth, and I was disappointed when it didn’t turn out the way I had fantasized. We all have small daily desires. Something as insignificant as expecting ripe avocados at the market, then finding they’re all hard, can make us irritable and impatient.

When you count on a future-based result, you’re not living fully in the moment.

Expectation can keep you locked in a narrow tunnel with no broader vision. Joy is right here, right now. The key is mindfulness, noticing when your expectations have taken you out of the present and made you unhappy.

Another expectation I created before Rachel was born was to return to work as quickly as possible. I thought I could do it all. I had no idea what I was in for. I dieted and worked my ass off to get back to a size 4. Six weeks after giving birth (and taking advantage of the fact that I finally had boobs), I accepted a five-day swimsuit assignment in California. Before I left, I pumped what must have been one hundred bags of milk so Robin could feed Rachel while I was away.

The minute I got on the plane, I was miserable. During the shoot, I spent a lot of time “pumping and dumping” breast milk, which felt like flushing liquid gold down the toilet. If this was having it all, it felt lousy. By the time I got to the airport to fly home, I was in a state of near hysteria. So when I heard the announcement that my flight had been canceled due to weather in New York, I had a full-out meltdown. I started sobbing and shaking. People rushed up to ask what was wrong. “I need to breast-feed my baby!” I cried.

They must have thought I was crazy. I called my agency even though it was closed and screamed at the answering machine, “This is CK1!” (CK1 was my agency moniker.) “Put on my chart that CK1 does NOT travel anymore! Do you hear that? I will never do another trip!” I went on like a madwoman. I needed my baby on my breast, not some stupid swimsuit.

I made it back to New York and to my family. And I kept my vow. I only took day-long modeling jobs until Rachel started nursery school. I went from making $400,000 the year before she was born to $12,000 the year after. I had saved some money and we lived off that, but it was a stressful time. My obsessive work ethic was in conflict with my instinct to stay close to my baby. Unrealistic expectations had shoved me into a corner from which I had to work to extricate myself.


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