One of my yoga instructors often reminds her students to approach yoga practice with a beginner’s mind. What she means is that you no matter how experienced you are in practicing yoga, you always come to your mat as if you are beginner. You try never to think, “I’ve done this pose a zillion times, so I know exactly how to do it.” Instead, each time you take the pose, you pay attention to the things a beginner has to think about: how to ground yourself, where to place your feet, how to align your spine, how to breathe, and how to move. By using beginner’s mind, you continually approach your practice with an open mind and a commitment to building on a strong foundation for your pose. You are constantly refining your postures and building strength and flexibility.
Approaching a yoga practice with beginner’s mind can also save you from the perils of perfectionism. With yoga, as with life, every day is different. Some days, I’m warmed up and flexible, and I do hip openers and twists with relative ease. Other days, I’m stiff or tired, and I can’t do a pose with the same alignment and openness as before. Some days, I’m feeling focused, and balancing poses are easy. I feel strong and grounded. On other days, I’m frazzled and can’t concentrate and fall out of my balancing poses repeatedly. Instead of beating myself up and saying, “I should be able to do this. What’s wrong with me?”, beginner’s mind helps me let go of my unrealistic expectations for perfection from myself and say, “What can I learn from the fact that I’m not able to do these poses with the same ease as last week? What’s going on in my body, my mind, and my life that are getting in the way of my practice, and what can I do about that?”
Beginner’s mind is kind of like the way children often approach new things—with a spirit of playful openness and a willingness to try something new.
I talk with coaching clients about taking the concept of beginner’s mind off the yoga mat and into their daily lives. It’s easy to let aspects of our lives become so routine and rote that we never step back and take a fresh look at the way we are living. It’s easy to approach problems the same way we always have. We tell ourselves stories about they way our lives are and about the extent to which we can or cannot make our lives better. We saddle ourselves with expectations that limit our ability to make positive changes. Approaching things with beginner’s mind can allow us to take a new approach—even a tiny little change—to the challenges of our daily lives.
Whether it is our exercise routines, our work lives, or the things we do for fun, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves to approach things with the eyes of a beginner. This is especially true when we feel overwhelmed or burned out or just consumed by a vague sense that something in our lives isn’t going very well.
How can you apply beginner’s mind to something in your life today?