yoga mind, beginner’s mind

- - Inspiration

girls bike with training wheels

“You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you.” — Barbara Sher

On Sunday in YTT, we delved into How to Teach Beginners. A large part of this was to experience our asana practice with a Beginner’s Mind. Kia (my mentor) said, in her simple-yet-profoundly-beautiful way, “Think of someone you love who has never practiced yoga. Now practice today as though you were inhabiting their body.”

As I’ve divulged before, I’m a pusher, a perfectionist, a Type-A. This concept of masquerading as a beginner created chaos in my brain. How can I practice like I don’t know what I know? Will my ego step aside for two hours while I explore this? Can I trust that I’ll take something away from this experience without feeling gypped? Will I think less of myself for being gentle, green, and beginner-esque?

The Universe divinely intervened on my behalf. Sometimes it knows that I need a firm hand to help me soften. Dichotomic, but true. I woke up yesterday before class with the most pain in my neck I’ve ever felt. My fault, I’m sure. I think I overextended my neck in Pincha. Either way, this neck pain FORCED me to practice like a beginner. It was there to remind me that I couldn’t push myself too far. My neck literally wouldn’t go back or too far to either side. No delicious full Bhujangasana, no looking at the ceiling in Triko, no uber-bendy Uttanasana. MF, I was really going to have to do this noob-style!

Yoga as a Beginner:

  1. Beginning bodies (and all bodies for that matter) have limits that should be respected.
  2. Certain poses advanced practitioners view as simple can be an incredible amount of work when drilled down and explored the way a Beginner would. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge)!
  3. Preparing a class for Beginners and teaching them is much harder than upper level classes/students. It takes an incredibly sophisticated teacher to facilitate and cultivate an excellent introduction to yoga.
  4. When you settle in to practicing like a Beginner, the mental chatter actually dissipates, shifting to curiosity, empathy, and exploration.
  5. Props (and their intelligent use) are crucial to making poses accessible for Beginning bodies.
  6. Yoga teachers have a great, great responsibility when teaching Beginners. You can either introduce someone to the beauty of yoga with a moving experience or chase them off forever with a bad one.

I’m not glad my neck hurts (as I type, I’m currently sporting a Bengay heat patch), but I am thankful that I was able to practice in a new way, to see yoga through different eyes, feel it within another body, and take the journey in a contrasting mind-set.

Do you ever practice like a Beginner? What kind of perspective has it given you?

photo credit: Schwinn

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soothsayer. illusion slayer. intj/mastermind. writer + artist + strategist + innovator. california born, city of angels bred. gypset world traveler. la face with an oakland booty. queen of the jungle who doesn't lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.

7 Comments to yoga mind, beginner’s mind

  1. I love these thoughts and have seen the positive effects a number of times.

    In Weight Watchers we refer to the beginner’s first months as the “honeymoon period”. There is a eagerness and excitment (especially if things are going well). As leaders we strive to remind people of this. I use the example of learning to play a piano. The early songs are all new and its exciting to be progressing, later to some it just becomes practise and the progress is less noticeable. That becomes the trap!

    Same with Yoga practise. Don’t force it, be relaxed, and especially have fun. With my surgery I had three weeks completely away from the mat. When I got back on a week ago I had a whole different attitude. I relaxed into every stretch – not forcing anything. The mental feeling is so satisfying. I have swore to myself to remember this and never force things again.

    Just as in weight loss, there is NO finish line. You just keep doing the same because its the right thing to do for you body and soul.

    So I am a big believer in going “Back to Basics” or “Yoga Bootcamp” – we all need to remember why we chose this path and never stray.

    Great writing Mystique

  2. i’m sorry your neck had to step in and help with the beginner experience. i hope it feels better today.

    have you ever practiced blindfolded? blogasana (@michelmarlahan on twitter) teaches that way sometimes. brilliant! takes the striving away and really turns the focus inward.

    i absolutely LOVE teaching beginners. in fact, i love teaching people that have never been to yoga before because most people i’ve met have some preconceieved idea of what yoga is (bend-a-thon, who can put their legs behind their head contests) and i’d like them just to enjoy the self-care, quiet mind, playfulness, inquiry.

  3. Teaching beginners is definitely a challenge but it is so fun! I love seeing that post yoga class glow on them and then seeing them turn up for another class. Fun!

  4. It wasn’t even that long ago that I was a beginner, but sometimes it’s still hard to remember. What was it like to feel that my body just COULDN’T do tree pose, or revolved triangle, now that I can? It’s like trying to remember why everything was so frustrating when you were a teenager : )

  5. Mmm, sorry about your neck. Tho, totally relating to what you’re experiencing about it — my past injuries have been my best teachers. As has learning to play guitar … it’s helpful to suck at something and remember what that impatience and frustration is like!! I think those are the things that help me relate to beginners. And when I use those stories in class, they can hear how I am relating to them.

    Hope the neck heals swiftly! xo

  6. In way I do practice like
    a beginner due to my limitations because of CP
    I am always doing modifications and creating my own practice

  7. Great tips! I teach too and always have to remind myself to think with beginners mind! Love your blog, btw! Very peaceful, yet fun here ;-)