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Coming to the Mat as a Beginner

Recently I completed a six-week yoga class at work. When we started the series, my co-worker and instructor made it clear that we would be approaching the six weeks with a beginner's mindset. I had never heard that phrase before.
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"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

-- Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

Recently I completed a six-week yoga class at work. When we started the series, my co-worker and instructor made it clear that we would be approaching the six weeks with a beginner's mindset. I had never heard that phrase before.

YOGA WITH A BEGINNER'S MINDSET

I started out doing yoga from videos years ago. Going to a live class intimidated me. I didn't have the different Warrior stances memorized, let alone the other more complicated (to me) sequences.

It was only when I joined the YMCA and prioritized movement and exercise that I started attending a yoga class on a weekly basis. My instructor was humorous, welcoming, and encouraging. I started feeling comfortable with the sequences of movements and the flow of each class.

It was easy for me to approach yoga with beginner's mind because I knew I was not an expert. I did not expect myself to be able to do a headstand, but was open to learning the steps to be able to do one eventually. It's easy for me to assume a beginner's mindset when it comes to yoga because I still feel like a novice.

WHAT IS BEGINNER'S MIND?

Beginner's mind is:

  • approaching something without any preconceived notions or expertise.
  • being open to experiencing something in a different way.
  • being open to changes.
  • not doing something on auto-pilot, increasing awareness.

YOGA: AN INVITATION

The first week of the six-week series at work, we spent a lot of time breathing. We laid on our mats and just focused on our breath. We consciously expanded our stomachs, ribs, and chests as we inhaled, and fully exhaled with our mouths open and stomachs caving in.

We also did some of the foundational poses -- cat/cow, mountain pose, down dog, and child's pose. He went over tiny details about positioning in our hands and knees and feet. These were details that would be brushed over in a larger class. I had never been so carefully instructed in the details. I was grateful.

As a beginner I have been intimidated and self-conscious about my practice. These questions have run through my mind:

"Where should my hand go?"
"Am I supposed to breathe in or out with this movement?"
"What was that sequence?"
"Is the person behind me watching (and critiquing) me?"

I would be looking around at the other folks around me feeling lost. I would never ask those questions of the instructors during class, and they would not necessarily think to address them.

BENEFITS OF A BEGINNER'S MINDSET

When I approach yoga with a beginner's mindset, I'm giving myself permission to make mistakes, perhaps look a little foolish, and to experiment. As a result, there is freedom of judgment and joy in moving and stretching in ways that my body needs but doesn't often get.

This series has prompted me to reflect on other areas of my life that I can approach with a beginner's mindset. How would that change my interactions? How I feel about myself and others?

Originally published on Setting My Intention.

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