Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Beginner's Mind

Last week I took a guided “intro ashtanga” yoga class in the evening. As I was driving home I realized that it had been at least six years since I had taken an evening yoga class!

And what a breath of fresh air! I’ve got to say, the change of time, space, teacher, and class setting infused new life into my practice.

As the class began, whilst sitting with eyes closed focusing on my breath, I became acutely aware of the smell of the musty walls and floor, mixed with the heat and faintest sent of sweat from a previous class.

This aroma sparked memories of my very first experiences learning yoga in the upstairs space of an old heritage building, home to the much loved ‘Yoga In Motion,’ the yoga studio which first introduced me to the practice of “Ashtanga Vinyasa” and “Power Yoga.”

As we began our first sun-salutations I became immersed in the divine sensation of clearing my mind of all distracting thoughts, only breath, movement, and the one guiding voice of the teacher existed for me.

The practice took on a life of its own, and the “I” part of my mind began to dissolve into a perfectly synchronized dance of breath and movement.

There was no place to go, nothing to rush off to, no demands to perfect or perform, no expectations, judgments, or evaluations.

It was like everyone else in the room had faded into some hazy distant background, and I felt both completely alone, and yet somehow intimately connected to every cell, every breath, every being, and everything.

There was a feeling of complete surrender. The atmosphere was soft, warm and safe, allowing me to fully relinquish my sovereignty and let go to the experience.

I realized that finding the time, space and atmosphere to facilitate this complete release was a real luxury, and its presence was an unexpected gift.

It actually came as a surprise, that somehow in this small unassuming class, I would rediscover the heart of my practice, and the reason why I was drawn to this ancient discipline so powerfully from the very beginning.

There it was, that familiar homelike warmth; kind of like wrapping myself inside an old, soft, faded, cashmere sweater liberated from some long forgotten drawer.

That space within was nurturing and calm. For a little over an hour I found myself relaxing more, sinking into it, and drinking from a deep refreshing pool, one I visit often, but frequently only have time to just dip my feet in, before rushing off to the next activity.

This experience reminded me that as we integrate the practice of Yoga into our daily life, it is important that we don’t allow these practices to become so routine that they are simply done mechanically, making them little more than another box to check off on our “to-do” list.

It really is essential that we keep our awareness steady as we practice, and always remember the reasons for our practice. Otherwise, instead of creating more space, more clarity, and more energy, our yoga becomes a chore, another mindless activity added to our already desperately over-scheduled and hectic lives.

It also rekindled the wonder of entering a class with a ‘beginner's mind,’ and a delight in rediscovering all the hidden gems that each posture has to offer, along with the pure joy of sharing and learning with others.

We are all teachers for each other in one way or another, and the more open we are to receiving, and being in relationship, the more we will grow. We can learn something from everyone, if we choose to; but it requires us to set aside our preconceived ideas, and become receptive to other points of view, and knowledge.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) would always repeat that there were no “teacher trainings” only “student trainings,” and he would remind us that he, himself, was still a student.
We would all do well to remember these words.

Some days taking a step back, and starting over from the beginning is more helpful then pushing forward. It may seem at times like we are not “progressing,” but if we are sincere in our efforts we will realize that as long as we remain open to learning, growing and expanding, we are always moving closer to the goal of Yoga.

Every challenge we encounter is an opportunity for us to extend beyond our own perceived limitations, and to soar off into new horizons.


Motoko Saito said...

Hello, Harmony and Jeff!
Thank you for your blog full of suggestion for me...
I often remember the first time that I learned Ashtanga from you in Thailand. The experience changed my life completely. From the moment, I could take the first step on the road to find my place. I will practice with a beginner's mind again tomorrow morning. I can't wait to do it!
I'm in a fareway country from yours, but I feel very close to you in my mind.
Again thank you for sharing your idea.

Flo said...

I love this post. I recently rekindeled my love of Ashtanga. I had fallen out of love due to a lot of "mental roadblocks" which took me on a year long search for "the right kind of yoga".
I learned a lot. I did try many many different styles and teachers. But I am back where I started. With my original teacher and relearning the primary series again. Rebuilding the building blocks of this practice. And it feels wonderful.
much love.

Harmony / Jeff said...

Hello Flo,

What a great comment! I really enjoyed reading about your journey with the Ashtanga Yoga Practice and with Yoga in general. It is always so interesting to me how often we go on these long roads that lead us right back "home" where we started, but we see everything with new eyes and fresh insight.

Thanks for reading... All the best.

Harmony / Jeff said...


It is so wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for your lovely comment, and I'm so happy to know you are still practicing yoga. Jeff and I often think back to our time in Thailand with you and that very special retreat group. I hope our paths cross again some day!