The beginners mindset

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This year I was asked to teach a beginners class at Yogafever, which in just a few months in has turned out to be as much of a learning journey for me as (I hope) it has been for the students who attend classes. I started practicing yoga 12 years ago so I scarcely remember my first experiences of yoga classes. But i do remember arriving in London in my early 20s and being somewhat mystified why the yoga teacher I approached suggested I did her beginners course. In my mind I knew my dogs, from my warriors, so what business would i have in a beginners class? I was wrong and I’m glad I took her advice. The beginners course gave me time and space to really experience what yoga was about for the first time.

Perhaps one of the feelings we least like as humans is the embarrassment of having to say I don’t know or I don’t understand. But actually turning that on its head being totally open to the beginners mindset can be useful for all of us. As a teacher beginners ask me more questions and that forces me to continually question my assumptions, practice and teaching.

Yoga teachers can be guilty of speaking another language (and not just the old Sanskrit names). So when I come to teach beginners groups I have to think how do I distill the beauty and exquisite depth of yoga into something accessible, without scrimping on the best bits. Recently I was doing some training with US teacher Jason Crandell when the same question came up. If students leave the yoga room with one thing what is it? There are an infinite number of important and correct answers to that question. But for me these are themes that come up again and again:

1. Relaxation

Everyone deserve time and space for themselves to really relax. For me and pretty much everyone I see around me, carving out time for relaxation in the midst of busy lives doesn’t happen as often as it should. If you can get that sensation on the yoga mat, it’s a valuable thing.

2. Embodiment

We live in a very ‘cognitive’ or thinking world these days. That can lead us to habitually live in the mind, largely ignore the body until out of the blue an injury or ill health comes along to remind us how important it is. So it is valuable to be able to reconnect with those sensations in the body. There is an important link between body and emotions (think of the physicality of gut instinct, heartache or joy). For me being connected to this body also helps me feel more aware and connected to my emotions

3. Integration

But it’s not all about the body. In yoga we typically think of three core elements-breath, body and mind. When I attend a good yoga class I walk away at the end of it feeling whole again. I’ve integrated these pieces of me back together.

4. Acceptance

Enjoying (or somedays just accepting) where you are at today. It’s almost certainly different to yesterday or last week. And it’s different to the person next to you. So being able to drop the comparisons and see if you can play with where you’re at now is a useful experience.

For those of you new to this blog there is a longer post on intentions hereWhilst yoga is something that’s been a significant part of my life for over a decade, I do have a little bit of understanding of how daunting it is to start from scratch. I recently started dancing so became a beginner student in that. There are some interesting parallels here – embodiment, focus, relaxation. It’s not easy to step into a room full of people you don’t know and try something new as a total beginner.

Yoga is also a vast subject to study. Thousands of years of development and even now  creative new forms are constantly emerging. So even when we’ve been practicing something for a long time it’s useful to be open to new ideas. I love the days when I can recapture my beginners mindset in yoga – to go woah that’s a new pose for me and to enjoy the process of exploring it.  So whether you’ve done one class, or five hundred classes, the beginners mindset can serve you well. Just as I have learnt so much from my beginners group, so too can more experienced students use the beginners mindset as a tool to stay open to new things and get a fresh perspective on old practices.