After 16 years of teaching yoga, what I have come to know is that every single time we step on the mat, we begin again. We are never the same as we were the last time. While we may be stronger, more flexible or balanced than when we stepped on the mat the very first time, each time we step on the mat, we are essentially a beginner.
An injury is the best teacher for this lesson. We have to learn how to work with and around it to continue a practice. Sometimes it does not heal in a way that you can return to where you were before the injury. I know, for example, that there are certain asanas that my body physically cannot do without serious risk of re-injury.
Being willing to step onto the mat as a beginner (even if you’re in a level 3 class) invites curiosity and wonder about what the practice has to offer. I find that my practice is richer as a result. The practice also becomes cross-training for how I show up off the mat in my daily life. If I am willing to drop my ego and arrogance, not having to know everything, willing to approach the unknown with curiosity and wonder, I open the floodgates to the infinite possibilities that exist.
Likewise, if I am willing to accept myself as is on the mat, without having to fix or change me,I start to practice loving kindness to myself. Without focusing on everything that is wrong with me, I can see what is right. Shifting my focus to that, I can expand upon what is right. This becomes cross-training for how I can show up in relationships. If I am willing to accept others as is and focus on what is right instead of always focus on what is wrong, I change the dynamic of the relationship. They become a little less defensive as I become a little more accepting.
The greatest part of showing up as a beginner on the mat has been the increase in gratitude that I find as I feel my body and breath moving from asana to asana, curiously noticing how I move. I truly feel blessed to be on the mat, to be able to practice, to get out of my head for awhile and into my body, fully present in the moment, a moving meditation. This is cross-training for letting go of the expectations, have to’s, should’s and should not’s that we so easily bury ourselves in daily until the inner narratives become believes that drive our lives.
While my style of teaching and practice is about improving strength, balance, and flexibility on and off the mat, it’s evolving more into increasing curiosity and wonder, gratitude and fulfillment, a deeper connection to myself and others…both on and off the mat.
After 16 years, the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know. I feel in many ways I have no choice but to be a beginner. That’s okay. The only one resisting is my ego and listening to that has never gotten me far in life.