The concept of ‘Beginner’s Mind’ is a term I came across at drama school, where one of my acting teachers used to instruct us to approach each scene every time as if we were ‘a calf staring at a freshly painted barn door’. No matter how many times we had recited the lines we were to approach them anew to avoid a scene getting dull.
This approach to work, and to life, is something that has always stuck with me. Including in yoga.
When I practice a pose can it be as if I had never done it before? And if I do that - what happens? I find that cultivating this attitude of Beginner’s Mind brings the magic in. It pulls me into the present moment and also opens me up to new possibilities and choices, it prevents me from being stuck in old stories and helps me find new solutions in my body and movement.
After a couple years in my yoga practice I fell into repetitive patterns, rules, shoulds and should nots. The ‘yoga police’ (have you met them yet? They are the ones who tell us what is ‘right or wrong’ in a pose and what we should feel in them) they haunt me at times and make me over-correct and judge my body in my practice.
When I first trained as a yoga teacher I was really into alignment, it really helped me in many ways and I still love it, but I got a little too hung up on all the rules without really knowing the whys and wherefores. I was unquestioning, just believing what someone had told me once upon a time. But then the more I learnt about my body, and about other people’s bodies and their experiences, I realised that I had to throw my attachment to regimented rules out of the window. Our bodies are wild and variable and there are just too many exceptions!
I no longer think that there is a ‘one size fits all’ yoga. Now what I am trying to do is create a space for people to start a conversation with their bodies and honour their unique experiences with them. I know that this isn’t always easy way of doing things, but it feels more true. It feels more authentic when I offer questions rather than solutions.
The meeting of body and mind is an ongoing and alive relationship, and like any relationship, it is something that needs to be nurtured. We need to communicate honestly within ourselves so that both body and mind can move in unison.
And when it all comes together, when I manage for a brief moment to let go of attachments and agendas, I have had the joy of feeling my body magically unfurl. And as a yoga teacher I have had the privilege of witnessing other people's experiences of truly meeting their body, and it is such a precious gift to get to see this.
This for me is what yoga is really about: that conversation between body and mind. And if they sync up, even if just for a shimmering second, it feels so incredibly liberating. It is beyond (my ability to find the right) words.
I highly recommend spending time on your mat, taking a walk or a jog with Beginner’s Mind, as if you are a calf staring at a freshly painted door, and just see what happens.
And if you happen to be in London on 17 November and want to explore this more in your practice join me in “Beginner’s Mind for the Advanced Student” at Yoga on the Lane. I’d love to share this conversation with you in person.