I was teaching a yoga class the other day. The name of the class is Hot Flow. Up until I took over this time slot a few weeks ago it was called Hot Power Flow. What about that isn't intimidating?? Not that I'm trying to intimidate people; in fact quite the contrary is true. I try to make people feel comfortable, at ease and in a friendly mood to practice yoga together in such a way that we stop judging and comparing ourselves and just get embodied already! Now, that isn't to say that this class is easy, but I don't make it excessively hard or show off, I just present a challenging sequence for people to come together, work hard, commit to their practice, their concentration, their focus and intention. I consider it my role to create a setting where we can feel truly like the channels; the conduits and containers for this ever changing and flowing life force that we call prana in Sanskrit to flow through us and simultaneously take us away with it's epic tidal wave, and also to bring us home to our breath and bodies. Ok, so enough with the esoteric yoga talk...apparently I'm on a tangent of setting the stage for you.
This particular class doesn't have a level associated with it. At least not on paper nor in the google machine. In my mind this is a solid level 2 class. So I suppose I should've anticipated some beginners to join in the fun at some point. And Murphy's Law never disappoints. And it is always an amazing reminder of beginner's mind...this mixed level class conundrum. And a humbling one at that, as I realize that the true qualities that I associate with beginner's mind - I still have, and quite unconsciously too. So let's now talk about Beginner's Mind.
There was a time in my practice where it seemed like out of every one of my teacher's mouths came the words "put yourself back in Beginner's Mind!" (The exclamation point is necessary, because this was always an imperative and not a suggestion). And it was always well received. I always tried to remember that open, curious, spacious quality of knowing absolutely nothing about this practice and making my mind open and spongy to receive whatever messages my teachers, my mind and body had to give. It was a lovely reminder.
That is not the beginner's mind I'm talking about now.
There's also a not-quite-beginner-anymore-but-not-too-far-into-this-practice mind that is super dangerous. And that is definitely the one I'm talking about. The mindset that says, "Hey, I've seen this shape before! Even though my mind isn't comprehending right now the process to get into it in an integrated and safe way, I'm gonna approximate it based on what I see around me anyway!" And here my friends, we exit onto the Highway to the Danger Zone. Cue sexy, bad boy Tom Cruise, before he got all culty on us. This smarty-pants-beginner's-mind is the one that ignores the warnings of the teacher when she says - "if getting here is not quite what your body or practice is ready for today, please back off to a variation of this pose that has previously been shown, that is still challenging but makes sense to both your body and mind". But oh, no...what does this particular bit of ego do with this warning....uhh - throw it out the window as the car hurtles down the highway to the danger zone. This aspect of beginner's mind is especially pernicious, because it makes us compare ourselves to others, despite how we actually feel in our own bodies. It's the little devil on our shoulder that says "hey, I know you're tired, shaking and so slippery because you're sweating profusely but everyone else is doing that third really deep backbend, so you should really try too". No, no, no, no NO! No you should not. You should listen with care, kindness and love to your body. This is what "advancing" in yoga looks like to me. Not how steady your handstand is. That is only a measure of how much time you've given a pose. Just like that, though, how steady your mind is, is a measure of how much time you've given it. And it shows.
So, when we check in with our ego every time we are hearing this little devil on our shoulder, and choose kindness instead of competition, when we are so embodied that the flow rocks our world and we notice nothing but our breath, movement and mind aligned in a oneness that is God her-gracious-and-mighty-self rocking our practice - this is the off ramp. This choice of kindness is the choice of a mature yoga practice. And may we all come to this place - because, at least the few times I've experienced it, it sure is a glorious relief to let go of the self-judgment, and dive into the compassion that yoga practice teaches us at it's heart.
Go forth and enjoy your practice yogis! Stop comparing yourself to someone else and chill out. It'll take you leaps and bounds further towards being an "advanced" yogi than a killer arm balance practice!
With infinite love - A
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As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!