A few years ago, I tore a tendon in my rotator cuff, which made it impossible for me to attend my weekly yoga classes. When I was finally able to return to my yoga practice nearly a year and a half later, I found that most of the asanas that had come easily to me before were now quite literally out of my reach.
My first day back as I was looking around the yoga studio at the supple 20-year-olds, I felt myself shrink into a tight little ball of self pity. If you knew me, you’d realize that one of my biggest personal demons is my unhealthy habit of comparing myself to others. It’s been one of my least favorite personal lessons, but a lesson nonetheless. (Read about My Greatest Lesson From the Mat.)
So as I stood there, in all my glorious despair, out of shape, stiff from my injury and approaching 40, a tiny ray of wisdom, like a magical beam of hope, cut through my ruminations. It went like this, “What difference does it make how old I am or how bad my ardha chandrasana is? No one here cares. They’re all too busy battling their own inner demons. I could be a total newbie!”
That fundamental shift in thinking, from my rigid self judgement to the spaciousness of a beginner's mind, is what has carried me through many a yoga class. Beginner's mind is a Zen Buddhist concept that encourages us to approach each encounter we have and each event or person we meet, with a sense of unbiased curiosity. This curiosity opens our minds to the infinite possibilities that surround us. (Learn How to Open Your Mind.)
Cultivating beginner’s mind has allowed me to bring a fresh perspective to my yoga practice. It has allowed me to give myself permission to modify each and every asana, setting aside my worries about what others may think. Beginner’s mind helps me nurture a child-like curiosity and exploration of my body, and laugh when I fall out of a balance pose.
Think back to a time when you encountered something for the first time as a child. I remember the first time I bought green slime out of those 25 cent toy dispensers at the grocery store. I had never seen, felt or smelled anything like it and I was completely mesmerized.
Next time you’re on your yoga mat, try bringing that same level of curiosity and sense of wonder into your yoga practice. It will open up a completely new way to practice because beginner’s mind is all about the art of unbiased curiosity and joy. (Read on in Vulnerability & Bravery.)