In my journey through the teachings of Yoga and becoming a Yoga Teacher, I have often considered myself to possess a ‘Beginner’s Mind’. It is said that a teacher should be just one step ahead of their students. The teachings should be at a level that’s ‘just right’: not so far advanced that students cannot comprehend it but enough to stretch their understanding of the study. It’s similar to finding your ‘edge’ in a Yoga posture where more stretch would be too much but less would simply not be enough. In fact, many of my students have been practicing the physical poses (asanas) much longer than I have- in some cases many years longer! So, I not only have a ‘beginner’s mind’, I also have a ‘beginner’s body’!!
The concept of ‘Shoshin’ comes from the teachings of Zen Buddhism. Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, “In the Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” A series of experiments was even conducted in November, 2015, by Professor Victor Ottati from Loyola University of Chicago showing that “self-perceptions of expertise increase closed-minded cognition.”
Okay, what does that even mean? In my humble opinion (not even close to an expert opinion obviously!), a closed-mind is not present and not open to new beliefs or thoughts leaving no room for growth or full experience of life. I think we all fall victim to this closed-mind thinking especially as we age or work in a particular industry for years. The ‘been there-done that’ attitude is a natural part of being human. We’re wired to process our current experiences in the framework of our past experiences. However, it’s clear that some of the greatest human achievements have come as a result of innovative thought even when the idea was ‘crazy’ and the experts said ‘this will never work!’.
I’ll admit that there have been times that I feel ashamed of my lack of ‘experience’ in Yoga. In training classes, I meet other teachers who have been practicing for 10, 20 or even 30 years. I’ve had to say ‘I don’t know’ in class when asked a question by a student (cringe!). These questions often inspire me to delve more deeply into a subject or re-read a book from my training. The beauty of Yoga is that it is a vast and profound study of the nature of the Self and the Mind. This ‘self study’ (known as Svadhyaya) is a part of the ethical path we undertake when we become teachers of Yoga. Watching our thoughts, watching our conditioned responses and how the Ego responds can be uncomfortable, humbling and life-changing. It begins on the mat as you observe the ‘way’ you practice Yoga. Am I forcing my body into postures? Can I follow my own cues…breathe, be present, playing my edges…not causing injury to my body to satisfy my ego? This self-study should be done with ruthless compassion. It naturally flows into daily life…how am I reacting to the temporary nature of EVERYthing? Is there a point to this existence if absolutely nothing is permanent?
Well, I sure don’t have these answers and they can’t be ‘taught’ in a single Yoga class. Ultimately, we all want the same thing from life: Happiness. This is the one thing all human beings have in common yet how we get there will be a very personal choice. As a Yoga teacher, I am merely a facilitator if you choose Yoga as part of your path. Together, we’ll explore the path to better understanding of our minds and bodies..and I’ll try to stay one step ahead. As a human, my ego will get bruised because I cannot answer every question and I cannot even get into every single posture (there are thousands of Yoga poses and some of them are just not a good idea if you are 52 years old!). There will be times when I learn more from my students than I teach them. This is why I hope I never lose my ‘Beginner’s mind’ about Yoga. However, the true challenge is how to apply this to ‘real life’…playing our edges…not allowing the ego to push us over the edge and approaching each day with an open mind and a humble heart.
Humble yet Bossy Yoga Teacher
Teller of bad jokes and puns
Ardent admirer of baby goats who shamelessly posts cute photos to draw attention to personal blog unrelated to goats