Yoga Rockford: It’s yoga — what do you expect?

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

Yoga is a vast and amazing subject. No matter what you might look for from yoga, it is bound to be there … plus a whole lot more. It can touch your body, your mind and the whole of your being. You just have to be willing to let go of expectations and open up to learning all it has to offer.

When I started yoga, it was not yet very popular, and I had no idea of what it was or could be. I went merely to stretch out stiff muscles. However, it has taken me to places I never dreamed of: I’ve gone from hating every class that challenged my all-too-stiff body to traveling to India to study with one of the world’s most celebrated yoga teachers.

I believe it helped that I had no expectations about yoga when I started. I tried many styles, and experienced and studied different aspects of yoga before choosing a method I felt held true to the ancient traditions of the path. Even today I am amazed almost daily about what yoga brings to every aspect of my life.

With its popularity, now we are told what to expect from yoga: inner peace, meditation, physical and mental health, etc. We are not encouraged to explore the subject on our own, and we develop a strong idea of what “yoga” is before we even step into the classroom.

From our first experience, we expect to be more centered or even enlightened, led by a teacher who guides us on an amazing journey of inner discovery and peace. Or, maybe we just expect the class will give us a work-out, that through the practice we will look and feel like the people on the front cover of Yoga Journal.

Unfortunately, expectations can be tricks of the mind that typically lead us toward disappointment and distress. When we want something from a simple act of doing something else and that “something” doesn’t happen, then we are disappointed, and maybe just give up. We do this with a lot of situations, and we even do it with yoga.

As a yoga teacher, I have encountered many a student with common media-enhanced expectations of either a sweaty workout through fast-moving poses or a quiet experience of guided meditation.

Iyengar Yoga, the method I teach, does not focus solely on these certain advertised aspects of yoga, though they are included in a well-rounded practice.

In teaching Iyengar Yoga, we aim to cover the whole of yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and we are guided by techniques developed by BKS Iyengar. Class time is the opportunity for students to learn what they need to carry yoga into their own life.

Iyengar Yoga is typically taught in sessions of eight or more weeks of classes in which all aspects of the physical postures are taught in progression. Starting from the basics of physical poses, classes gradually incorporate breath work and meditative contemplation. Students learn gradually to quiet the fluctuations of the mind, the true definition of yoga.

In the land of instant gratification, it is difficult to let go of our expectations. We want the results we want, and we want them NOW! So, if we do not like what we experience at first, how do we persist to experience the unknown benefits?

I wonder this a lot, since I thought many times about quitting yoga when I first started. If I had stopped going before my paid eight weeks were up, before I had the experience of the subtle quieting of my mind, where would I be today? If I had only stayed with what “felt good” in my practice, would I ever have developed the amazement and awe for yoga that I have now?

Enduring the short-term pain of stretching tight muscles and the frustration of working out bad physical habits somehow brought me to more self-awareness and the long-term benefits of mental quietude and contentment.

Letting go of our expectations — of our attachment to what a yoga class should be or how a yoga teacher should look or act — allows us to open up to experience every possibility within the practice of yoga — and within our own self.

The Bhagavad Gita reads: “For fickle is the thought-organ, impetuous, mighty and hard. The restraining of it is very difficult, as of the wind.” Yoga is ultimately the practice of quieting the mind, and the first step is restraining the mind tricks of expectation. Take that first step, and give yoga a try! A new session begins at Pranayama Yoga Studio June 18.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the May 30-June 5, 2012, issue

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