Beginner’s Mind

IMG-0542Throughout my time spent on the west coast, I gained a great deal of awareness and learning surrounding the notion of expectation. In teaching yoga, I often invite students to come to the mat with a “beginner’s mind.” How humbling to have been granted the opportunity – time, and time again – for self-study and embodiment of this concept.

While on the ninety-minute shuttle ride to The Esalen Institute, I found myself in conversation with a young woman who’d “done yoga two or three times,” a middle aged man who’d just completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training, and a mother who’d recently become an empty nester and was just beginning to explore again the practice of yoga, something she’d “not done in years!” As someone who considers herself a well-versed yogi, I quickly became aware of the fact that this was to be an interesting month.

I personally find it challenging to teach to a group of students of varying skill-levels. Jovinna Chan, my teacher for the month, was precisely the individual for the task at hand. I admire Jovinna immensely! Her unassuming, gentle presence led me to the beginner’s mind-set time and time again. I was invited to breathe in to the experience of holding foundational postures for veeeeeeeeeery long. For new students, this became an accessible introduction to the postures. This approach granted aged, as well as brand-new, practitioners the opportunity to build strength and endurance of both the physical body, as well as the mind. That was the teaching/learning. And, in doing so, I was drawn back to my body, and to my mind.

Prior to my travels, I’d been placing focus in my personal practice on the Ashtanga series. In the series, there is no question of what pose will be next. It is defined, by design. This stands to offer a meditative experience for many. The sequence is quite physically demanding. And so, I was initially a bit shocked by the challenges which I experienced, physically as well as mentally, in practicing with Jovinna. With no ability to know what Jovinna might next throw my way, my wherewithal was tested … big time! The feeling of progress I noted in the final week of our two-hour AM practice, as compared to that of earlier weeks, provided me with pivotal learning!

I was granted opportunity beyond time spent on my yoga mat to notice the concept of expectation, too. Over the course of the month I spent at The Esalen Institute, I had visits from a few friends. On two separate, yet significant, occasions the experience proved to unfold rather differently than that which I’d spent both time and mental energy planning. Again, learning.

Being a residential scholar necessitates a component of giving back to the community through some form of service. I was invited to work (26 hrs/week) in the farm and garden. In the beginning, I made jokes to my co-horts on the farm of how much my manicurist must be cringing at the thought of dirt under my nails! I was not at all connected, or connecting, to the work. And yet, with admitted reluctance, on my final day on the farm I shared of my current desire to explore local farming volunteer opportunities for the Spring/Summer season. Weeds don’t stand a chance in my path … stay tuned for farmer Josette updates!

Time and space was a theme which Jovinna weaved throughout our study. Now on t he final leg of my journey, I reflect. Having rather spontaneously decided to gently re-enter by visiting a friend in Sedona and a taking a few additional days for transition, I am feeling blessed. I feel blessed for the time and the space which I created for myself to step away. I have deep gratitude for the increased awareness of the ways in which expectations stand to (negatively impact) me. As I return to PA, my intent is to carry with me an inspired “beginner’s mind!”

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