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Cultivate A Beginner’s Mind

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Protecting growth

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

– John Wooden

As we become more practiced on the mat, it’s easy to feel we know it all – downdog, updog, been there, done that. What else is new?

It’s so easy to slip into automatic pilot, even on a yoga mat.

When we stop being receptive to the practice – when we stop listening to our breath, the feedback we are receiving from our own body, or what the instructor is offering, we should ask ourselves, “am I teachable?”

One of the big challenges as we grow into seasoned practitioners is to maintain a perpetual “beginner’s mind”.

What is “beginner’s mind”?Baby learning to walk

It is more an attitude than a skill – a refreshing sense of openness rooted in humility, and a true readiness to learn.

It has been said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

The danger of thinking that “you know it all” is that it cuts off any possibility of growth or transformation in that field.

“Knowing” is the greatest enemy of learning.

So how do we cultivate a beginner’s mind?

One way is to make a practice of emptying your mind at the beginning of each session.

As you slow down your breath and stabilize your sitting posture, consciously create space inside to receive the gifts of your practice.

Let go of expectations of how things should go, the conditions we tend to put on our practice.

Instead of practicing to achieve a certain end, approach your practice with wonder and curiosity, with the spirit of play.

As you exhale, allow the inner critic to take a back seat, and harmonize with the energy in the room.

When you approach your practice in this lighthearted way, you’ll enjoy your practice more and discover something new each time.

Look for opportunities to learn in every situation, even in the classes or sessions you weren’t so crazy about.

You’ll be surprised that there’s much to learn from what you consider “failures”, if you can leave the judgments aside and stay open.

For example, if you were not able to maintain balance in a one-legged balance such as Vrkshasana (Tree Pose), ask yourself the following questions:

1)   What made you lose your balance? Was it a physical discomfort or weakness? Was it lack of proper alignment? Was it an unfocused mind?

2)   What can you do to strengthen the weak areas?

3)   How can you engage differently next time you attempt the pose? What physical adjustments can you make? What mental adjustments?

4)   What did you tell yourself when you lost your balance? How can you be kinder to yourself?

By asking these questions, you sharpen the inner radar of receptivity, and become your own best teacher and friend in the process.

You can take it a step further and write down your observations in a notebook.journalling

Writing things down has a way of driving essential points deeper into our consciousness, making us ripe and receptive to even more insights.

I keep a journal to record my insights and observations, and I find that carrying the notebook wherever I go inspires me to look at life with fresh eyes.

Being a student of life is an ongoing project.

We can take on the cultivation of a beginner’s mind as a day-to-day adventure in self-renewal.

As the great basketball coach, John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

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