A Better Beginner’s MindJan 18, 2023
May I not be held back by what I think I know.
This was a little prayer I used to recite at the beginning of my practice. It was my way of stepping into a beginner’s mind.
Shoshin, or beginner’s mind, is a concept from the Zen Buddhist tradition that refers to an attitude of openness and a lack of preconceptions. In the yoga tradition, humility, eagerness, and patience are some of the many yogic virtues that are fostered when we approach a subject as if we were beginners.
Beginner’s mind is important in yoga because it engages our curiosity, clears the decks of our expectations, and brings us into the present to experience ourselves and our practice as new. Instead of operating on autopilot, beginner’s mind frees us from the limitations of what we think we already know. It puts us into the space of not-knowing and inquiry that supports new discoveries. In this way, the beginner’s mindset helps us to evolve our practice.
Granted, at times it can be disconcerting and even confusing to let go of some of the structure you’ve become accustomed to in your practice. Therefore, it’s important to understand that beginners mind doesn’t mean starting from scratch every time, abandoning everything you’ve learned, or pretending that you don’t know anything about yoga. Instead, you can balance being open and willing to feel your practice as brand-new with applying your discernment and knowledge to build on and deepen your experience.
When you are trying out a new recipe, for example, you don’t know what the dish you’re preparing will taste like, but you’re willing to try it out and see what happens. At the same time, you don’t forget how to chop an onion or use your food processor, and you don’t let your dish burn in the oven even if the recipe says it should keep cooking for another 10 minutes, right?
In the same way, if you already know the most optimal way to align your feet in Mountain pose or position your hands in Downward-Facing Dog so your shoulders don’t hurt after, there’s no need to revisit that every time you practice. But you can bring a beginner’s mind to be fully open and present with your experience of those poses, which might invite some fresh insight.
Bringing a beginner’s mind to your mat allows you engage with your practice with the wide-eyed curiosity of a child. When we add to that the wisdom and discernment we’ve gained as adults, we’ve got a powerful formula for skillful practice and skillful living.
Here are four ways to cultivate a beginner’s mind in your practice:
- Formulate your own little prayer or statement of intention, like I did, to say at the beginning every practice or pose.
- If you have small children in your life, observe how they engage in a new activity. See what you can learn from them about how to approach your yoga practice with the same openness.
- Take a moment before your practice to take a few full breaths and consciously empty your mind of prejudgements about yourself and your practice.
- Go slower in your practice to create space for deeper awareness and new insights to emerge.