I have recently returned from my longest writing, practicing, and teaching hiatus, after a tumultuous pregnancy which forced me to take a long break from the outside world. As I make my way back to my mat, the yoga studio, and the page, I find that my relationship with these things is different, and I am different as well. My body and mind are both qualitatively changed from a year ago when I embarked on the magnificent journey of creating a human being. These days my body is softer, my muscles weaker, but my heart is bigger and my priorities have morphed considerably. I feel like a brand new person, and one who would no longer consider herself an advanced practitioner; through the birth of my child, I have grown into a beginner.
After practicing yoga and immersing myself in its culture, teachings, and practices for over a decade, I had no problem jumping into the advanced posture or diving into a discussion about abstract philosophies of dualism. Prior to having a child, it was easy to set aside time to practice asana, devote long stretches of the day to meditation, and delve into the nuances of breath work that would guide me into deeper and more nuanced internal spaces. Post child it’s not quite the same; my asana practice has become truncated and interspersed between nap times whose durations are as random as a dice roll, and postures that were once filled with ease and lightness now seem humorous in how unattainable they currently feel. I’m lucky if I get a chance to sit for ten uninterrupted minutes of meditation. That luxury, in fact, has only occurred twice in the last four months of motherhood. As a result, all aspects of my yoga practice have changed drastically, and this has yielded in moments of both frustration and newfound clarity.
Then I look at this new little creature in front of me—this tiny little human who in four short months has become my greatest teacher and has opened my eyes to some of the most profound truths about human existence—and know that he is the reason I am a beginner, meaning that he completely transformed my relationship to and my understanding of the teachings of yoga; the thing I thought I knew so well (the humbling never ends!). This is true both in what I notice about my practice and myself and what I notice when I observe him. When I see this new creature that is exploring every facet of the world for the first time, I am taken aback by his curiosity and sheer delight from the simplest of things––whether it be a dog trotting by or me singing a silly song. His life is a continual world of firsts. As adults, it’s sometimes hard to remember the last time we had a truly new experience and the sensations of excitement and pure joy that arise from one. And yet, the truth is that each day and each moment are new; it is only our perception that is stale, and by extent our experience.
Beginner’s mind is a concept from Zen Buddhism that hinges upon adopting an open and curious attitude when approaching an object of study. It is the opposite of being jaded. Beginner’s mind entails tossing prior conceptions to the wind and instead cultivating a genuine state of wonder that allows us to experience our lives in a qualitatively different way.
In honor of new beginnings, I will devote the next several articles to exploring the roots of our yoga practice––the foundation that is so often overlooked. It is this very bedrock that holds the key to our application of yogic wisdom to both the most basic and the most complex areas of our lives. I will explore Patanjali’s first yogic sutras from a beginner’s perspective. Through this series of articles I invite you to start from scratch––regardless of your level of knowledge, insight, or prior understanding––and see what gems you might (re)discover. Then, for the next few weeks, I invite you to pay close attention to the places in your daily life that feel routine, or perhaps even boring. It could be your commute to work, brushing your teeth at night, or even kissing your partner hello when they arrive home. Then see if you can practice beginner’s mind during these experiences. Imagine that it is your first time doing this act, even if you’ve done it a million times before. Pay attention the way a new child might, taking in every detail and sensation and exploring what each arise within you. Commit, perhaps for the next week or even for the next day or two, to newness, to beginning each moment as if it were your first. This is where the yoga—the practice—begins.