“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” ~Shunryu Suzuki
I saw a therapist and spiritual life coach for a decade of my life due to an anxiety disorder. She recommended the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. We used guided meditation to sort through my extreme resistance to being still and calm. Over time, I became comfortable in my meditation practice. With this comfort came the feeling that meditation had “stopped working,” as anxiety seemed to creep in through even the smallest crevice of my consciousness that still needed healing.
I always loved the premise of this text, which is the insight that we can always keep a beginner’s mind as part of our practice.
I just recently transitioned from an exclusive Bikram yoga practice, and delved into a hot Vinyasa yoga teacher training program. While I love my heated room, this new sequence has reminded me of the wisdom that I was encouraged to uncover many years ago. Practicing from a beginner’s perspective is a beautiful awakening to our body, mind, and ego.
The beauty of yoga is that there is no end. There is no finish line that we cross when we practice yoga. Yoga is meant to challenge our body and push past our ego in order to evolve in our practice. Keeping a beginner’s mind can serve us and improve our focus.
Finding Comfort In Our Discomfort
After my first class in this new sequence, (in which, headstand and the transition from Crow pose to tripod is a part of) I felt like a true beginner. Like any new student on the first day of school, I looked at my new surroundings with wonder and curiosity. I wondered if any of my new instructors would be “the one” - the one that reaches us, believes in us, and becomes an encouraging voice in our head.
When we begin something new we wonder if we’ll fit in, if we’ll find our comfort zone. The beginner’s mind is fresh and eager, yet can also feel scared and uncertain. Yes, it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect, but as human beings we still like to know what to expect. We create our own comfort zone in many areas of our lives.
In keeping a beginner’s mind, we remain open to the idea that every experience can be our teacher. We would never make any new self-discoveries if we didn’t step outside of ourselves. Very often we get so comfortable with routine that any break from that path finds us in a state of discomfort.
In yoga practice, we are taught to find comfort in the discomfort of a challenging posture. We learn to observe the discomfort and not allow our mind to take over. Our mind suggests that we break the pose just because we feel discomfort. If we didn’t welcome discomfort, we would stay a shrink wrapped version of ourselves. Discomfort holds the space in which we grow from.
George Michael Can Help!
In the Bikram sequence, there is no music. A vow of silence is practiced in the hot room as we use our active listening. The sequence does not change, and we know what to expect as we wait for the instructor’s words. We even know how many seconds we will hold each pose.
I’m a singer. A bad one. Nonetheless, I will belt out my favorite tune just about anywhere. Music soothes my restless soul, and I love that our egos are the least resistant to the vibration of music. My new practice incorporates music and chanting. At first, I was very resistant to this idea. I felt that I would not be able to focus on my breath and may get distracted. I grimaced as music that holds such a sacred space in my life began to play. I simply was not using my beginner’s mind.
Behind this resistance was fear of change and discomfort. The first time I held headstand (really held it, and breathed through it) was during the George Michael song - “Faith.” I credit his words with my summoning the courage to kick my legs firmly up into the air and find my balance.
We Are All Beginners
Two years ago, I was a smoker who bought a groupon for Bikram yoga. I was new. I was a new student; a smoker who wanted to change her life. I wanted to begin again. I wanted to unzip my stinky smoker’s skin and I wanted a healthy, more spirit conscious version of myself to emerge. That didn’t happen instantly.
It took longer to quit smoking than I care to admit. Today, as I delve into my yoga teacher training, I remember my beginner’s mind as it guided my anxious thoughts to peaceful awareness so many years ago. As I kick my feet up to headstand, a quiet intention is set: When I do become a yoga teacher, I will remind even my most seasoned practitioners of their beginner’s mind. We are all beginners.
I actually love being a beginner. It’s humbling and scary, yet awakens my curiosity, keeps me grounded, and keeps my ego in check. One doesn’t need to begin something new to be a beginner. We can begin again each day... each moment. You just gotta have faith!