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What’s that tattoo on your arm? Yoga, midwifery and letting go of expectations …

Anyone coming to my yoga classes will hear me talking about letting go of expectations.  It’s central to why I practice and teach yoga. I believe we all need to find release from determination, freedom from false pressures, liberation from everyone’s ideas about who and what we are supposed to be.  Even – especially – our own ideas. 

Shoshin – Beginner’s mind 
When I graduated as a midwife in 2016, I got my first and only tattoo. It hurt! Why did I do it? The tattoo is the Japanese characters for the Zen concept of “Shoshin” or “Beginner’s mind” . The pain was a chosen rite of passage. It was a permanent reminder to myself of the need always to remain open, receptive and willing to experience reality at first hand.

Rites of passage
Last weekend I graduated again, this time as a Yin and Restorative yoga teacher and therapist. It was another rite of passage. And the tattoo feels more relevant than ever. In fact my yoga journey has helped me understand it a little more.  

As a new midwife, I chose the tattoo to remind myself to remain fully open to women’s real experiences and needs. I knew this would be a challenge, because the healthcare world is full of rules, protocols and pressure to give your first loyalty to the system. 

The power of the system 
Don’t get me wrong –  in large organisations where we do our best to meet the complex needs of large populations, rules and guidelines are inevitable to make sure nothing gets missed. But it is alarmingly easy for the system to become all-consuming.  Then you may forget who you are and why you chose to do this in the first place.

I felt broken
It proved even harder than I anticipated. To my deep shame, I found that I couldn’t live up to my own expectations of myself as a midwife. I was just too tired, too scared, too small and too new to be the compassionate tiger midwife that I had dreamed of being. The system was too powerful and I was too little. I felt broken.

Maybe I did manage to hold onto my beginner’s mind, at least some of the time, because I was able to see a little of the human price, for women and midwives, of a system which seems to demand conformity in the name of safety at all costs. It made me cry – a lot!

Gentle and loving yoga
One of the main supports that got me through that painful time was yoga. Gentle and loving yoga classes where I was constantly hearing, “let go of determination”, “feel whatever you feel”, and “you are enough”. 

By being present in the reality of my imperfect body, I experienced release from expectations. I was not required to save the world, or even myself. Maybe it was ok to be too little and too weak. Maybe, just maybe, it was ok simply to be me.

I began to smile a bit more. I changed my job. I still felt an aching sense of failure, but I could see that failure might just be another name for growth. 

Letting go of self-imposed rigid goals
In yoga we let go of our tense muscles and our up-tight emotions. Yoga is also teaching me to let go of my self-imposed requirement to meet my own rigid goals.

The Zen concept of beginner’s mind teaches that life is far more fluid, ready and limitless than we tend to think. When I set myself impossibly high standards of being compassionate, I was really mostly focused on myself and my self-image. The beginner’s mind is the true mind of compassion, because it opens up our boundless and defenceless hearts to reality. Our own reality, and that of other people and the entire universe.

Support the liberation of others
At my yoga teacher graduation, I accepted the sacred calling to “optimally support the liberation of others”, as it says on my certificate. This calling will most definitely require the attitude of beginner’s mind. How can I liberate others, unless I am being liberated myself? I am still very much on that journey, but I have begun to taste a little of the delicious freedom of letting go, of releasing expectations, of opening up to the unimaginable wonders of the limitless.

Stop trying so hard
So when you come to my yoga sessions, you will hear me saying, “Stop trying so hard”. I am talking about your body, and your life too. That is the gift I want you to offer yourself: the gift of release from expectations – the gift of beginner’s mind.  

Karen teaches Yin and Restorative yoga at The Calm Space Yoga in Stock, Essex. From October 2018 she will also be offering pregnancy and postnatal yoga classes. For more information or to book your space in class, go to

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