A couple days ago, I spent the morning freediving with my husband off of Crash Boat Beach in Puerto Rico. If you don't know what freediving is, it's diving to depth on one breath--no oxygen tanks involved. Anyway, I'd only had a little bit of classroom education before diving that day, but I made it down to 70 feet many times. I later found out this was kind of impressive for a newbie, but I didn’t know the difference. I was in calm water, enjoying the beautiful day with my hubby, an experienced diver who had a positive expectation of me. He didn't give me the impression that this was going to be difficult or a big deal. So as his student, I internalized that expectation and was able to dive deeply with no problem.
It's the same with yoga class. As students, our teachers’ expectations can powerfully affect our outcomes. In my early days of practicing yoga, I had some teachers that constantly gave modifications for certain “difficult” poses. As a result, I spent an entire year modifying poses I really didn’t need to, which slowed my progress. When teachers send the message that "class is hard" or "these poses are dangerous," students pick up on that vibe and approach the asanas with trepidation, as I did. While it’s healthy to avoid “overdoing it,”that kind of fear is an obstruction for our yoga practice… and the whole point of yoga is to REMOVE obstacles in the mind.
On the other hand, a teacher who views students for their highest potential removes the obstacle of fear and enables deep growth. Holding belief in a student is powerful and meaningful. People pick up on that bode of confidence and often rise to that positive expectation, surpassing their perceived limitations. I know many of us have done a pose we didn’t think we could do just because our teacher said, “Yes, you CAN.” When I started practicing Ashtanga yoga, the mere fact that postures I thought of as "difficult" were included in the Primary Series made me feel like, "Hey, maybe I CAN do these things if I put in the work towards them." Almost every Ashtanga yoga teacher I've had has certainly echoed that belief, and I was able to do things I never thought possible, such as putting my leg behind my head or binding my hands in a posture like Marichyasana D.
Speaking of Marichyasana D, my husband bound his hands on his own for the first time yesterday. He was stoked over this progression, and I was too! I ALMOST told him what my teacher told me: "Being able to bind will come and go for a while." But I stopped myself, because I didn't want to put that idea in his head. How do I know he won't continue to bind on his own from now on? If I told him it would come and go and he internalized that thought, it's way more likely he would continue to struggle with it. I know my teacher told me that to make me feel better if I wasn't always able to bind, which I am not. But what if I didn't really believe what she'd said (which I do), would it be different?
I think the concept of powerful expectations spills over in our day-to-day lives. Personally, I try to remember to set a positive expectation for an interaction I'm about to head into... especially if it's one I normally don't enjoy. Oh, it's time to visit the DMV. Wouldn't it be great if the line is short, and the person I end up talking to is in a great mood? I'm going to smile at this person and give 'em lots of love right off the bat because I am expecting it to go well. Or, this one's hard for me: Today, my back and shoulders are stiff and I don't feel like doing backbends. But what if it goes well? Joy of all joys! What if I'm able to breathe, take my time, and go even further than usual?! When I remember to set a good expectation beforehand, I am more often than not surprised by the outcomes.