A Beginner's Mind
A Beginner's Mind
One of my students, an accomplished equestrian, was sharing her experiences from a recent competition. The horse she had ridden for many years had retired from jumping, and she had been jumping for a few months on a new horse, a young one. She was telling us how fascinating it was to experience the joy, courage and trust that the young horse had. Unfettered by bad experiences, the horse could approach each new experience free from fear and anxiety. In sum, a horse with a beginner's mind.
When practicing asana yoga we have an opportunity to choose to taste the beginner's mind. We can, through choice and intention, determine how we experience our practice. When we are faced with a familiar yoga pose, we stay open to exploring the impact of the pose with no assumptions. Each time we practice a pose, we have a unique independent experience. Each day, we can feel something new.
We avoid operating on automatic pilot by exploring how we enter and how we exit each pose. We can study the rhythm of our breath, we are aware when we are holding it. We can focus on a different part of our body each time we practice a pose to receive a new perception. Changing the physical reality can help evoke the beginners mind. We can use props to reframe our body in the pose, practice next to a wall or use a barre. Sometimes circumstances can change our reality, practicing with an injury can force us to have a new experience when practicing common poses.
Students find that the ability to harness the beginner’s mind keeps their practice fresh and helps them avoid falling into a rut.
Practicing without a beginner’s mindset, can lure us into falling into habitual patterns that are composed solely of muscle memory. We can unconsciously repeat misalignments and fall into previous patterns. The lack of awareness makes us vulnerable to repeating damaging habits that risk our safely and sabotage our ability to extract the best experience out of our practice.
Accumulating experience does have its advantages. As we practice, we learn. We accumulate positive experiences that bring us back again and again to the mat. The positive experiences that we feel while practicing yoga are instilled in our body, breath and mind. This shift we feel is the result of the routine called asana yoga. There is a routine! The more we repeat it, the more we can deepen it, and the self-journey is endless. We become effective, and because of our familiarity with the process we can divert our gaze to new points or areas to focus on.
Where is the balance between building on our experiences and keeping a beginners mind? How do we build on our experience and accumulated wisdom with a beginner's mind? Our beginner's mind is similar to an internal guard that reminds us to always stay open to whatever arises. The beginner’s mind is able to breakout of the rigid structures created by our experience, and to extend beyond past experiences to make new discoveries and learn more about ourselves and our practice.
Off the mat, in our daily lives, being trapped by our previous experiences manifests itself in how it can limit our perception and our ability to see the world in its entirety. Depending solely on previous experiences, colors our new experiences and present encounters. It masks our own eyes and taste buds and blocks our ability to sincerely learn, grow and change. It is true, that relying on our experience helps us cope with by using accumulated wisdom to try and predict that outcome of familiar events, but looking at the world through narrow lenses will not help us cope with new and novel situations and may blind us to the world around us.
A beginner's mind enables us to maintain a natural flow that helps us manage the impermanence and constant evolution found in nature. Everything is constantly changing, sometimes slower and sometimes faster. Regardless of the pace of change, change is a phenomenon we need to accept and work with in accordance to a changing reality.
The beginner's mind is a golden tool for facing our fears. Experience can evoke a set reaction of self-doubt and anxiety. We are all susceptible to moments of weakness. The beginner’s mindset helps us look beyond fear and self-doubt and build new positive experiences we can use as a catalyst to move forward.
Adopting a beginner's mind when relating to our own pattern of ingrained reactions is a gift. Here, we can choose how to perceive the self-doubts. Instead of seeing our fears as an implacable enemy, we can appreciate the wake-up call and remind ourselves not to take anything for granted. We stay awake and open to exploring what we can learn and what new perspective we can take from each experience. We have the courage to learn from it, respect it and move forward from the experience with a chance to grow and pick a different route in life.
Instead of wearing our experience like a heavy suffocating mask, we leverage our experience to have a light touch, allowing us to play, explore and taste each experience to the fullest.