This past week concluded my 9 month anatomy program. In our last class we were asked to share the most valuable things we each had learned. I cannot fully remember exactly what I said at my turn, but I began to think more about it in the days following. One of the most valuable things I learned was to have a fresh perspective in my own practice and as a teacher…breath and movement together make yoga even if it’s not a pose in a book; it is listening and learning with a beginners mind; an open mind that allows us to grow.
I asked my students to approach practice with a beginners mind this week; to draw upon a positive memory of a first time they experienced something. As we entered into our first Downward Dog on the mat, I reminded students to think about it as if it were their first ever…what could they do to make that pose feel good…and then do it….not to worry about what it looks like. To practice this way on the mat can be a gift because you can strip away expectations for yourself (i.g. to be the best in the class, to get the heels to the floor). Downward Dog can represent a new perspective…a chance to look at your feet in a different way, to turn the world upside down. Even though I encouraged them to have a beginners mind, the practice itself was challenging. Slow moving from High Lunge to Warrior 3 and then Standing Split staying very focused the entire time. We opened the shoulders with deep binds in both Uttitha and Pavritta (revolved) Parsvokanasana and stretched the IT band and hamstrings with Revolved Triangle and Standing Splits.
Pigeon was the pose I used to truly represent the beginners mind. We built up to it using a slow progression; using various piriformis stretches and then moving into a “z sit” position before finding our full pigeon pose; taking it slowly as if it were our first time working towards that deep stretch. All of that prep work along with our open hamstrings and shoulders allowed us to explore Pavritta Surya Yantrasana (Compass pose–pictured above)
Off the mat we can aspire for a beginners mind as well, to find the extraordinary in the everyday miracles in our lives, to practice having a new perspective, the freedom to go outside the box (or the pose on the mat). Sometimes when we know what is coming next we miss what is happening now. To give ourselves the gift to appreciate something as if it is new allows for so much joy along the journey. Nothing helps me to experience that more than being a parent. Getting to see your children experience things (whether “ordinary” or “extraordinary”) for the first time and feel the excitement they have, the willingness to openly accept and live in the moment….that is the beginners mind at its very best.
As we moved into Savasana, the practice changed a bit. The beginners mind in Savasana is often one of angst and impatience. And as we grow in our yoga practice we discover an appreciation for the quietness of mind that can happen once the body is still. Just as our Asana practice this week was physically advanced yet we used our beginners mind, the process of letting go of judgment and expectation, cultivating acceptance and being present in the moment in Savasana is an advanced practice; however each time it happens it is just as special as the first time. It is through that practice on and off the mat that we find the Joy. Namaste