A Beginner’s Mind
I was first introduced to yoga by someone who taught herself. Let’s call her Sukhi. She had a book, which had a few pictures and many strictures. It seemed to emphasise on how difficult yoga is, more than how to learn it. Something that often comes up in Indian ways of teaching. Sukhi wanted to learn, and even though I was so much younger than her, I was there, and got roped in as her buddy. Her fervour, while it lasted, took us on a journey that led us into dark and deep forests and far away from any sort of union of mind, body and soul. The book did speak a lot about the union, not that I read it. I was ten, my job was to turn up on the mat. Figuratively speaking, that is, as there was no mat, just a concrete floor.
Sukhi expected herself, and me, to be perfect from the word “go”. So there was a lot of muttering to herself, and talking at me. Our postures were not perfect, nor did we have any idea how to get there.
Possibly from some idea of “No Pain No Gain”, we did headstands on the first day. We did not use any props, the book did not recommend any, either. “Iyengar” was unheard of in that household; during those days he was probably far more revered in the West than in India. My ten-year old, classical dance trained body managed fairly well, but there were many gaps for Sukhi to correct. So reading aloud from the book, and interpreting them in the narrowest most harrowing way possible, she would push and pull me into postures that probably were not right for a pre teen to get into in the first place. She did not know any better. She practised with me, and fared little better than me. So each practice session was one of disappointment more than learning. Very soon, I learnt to hate yoga, and very thankfully wiped it all from my mind when Sukhi went on to other pursuits.
Some dregs of wisdom from those days, and that much thumbed little book, must have lingered, and many, many years later, I began a journey of my own to learn and practise yoga. With guidance from many teachers, and some research of my own, I softly and gently led myself into a wiser practice. It took a long time, but I gradually learnt not to strive for an A+ mark from my teacher. I learnt to ease myself into the postures, and the practice. I fed from the energy of each class, and slowly and surely ceased to compare. I felt immersed in my own journey. So good. So light.
Then today, as I reached for my block, strengthened and stretched my legs, taking care not to hyperextend, and breathed into my posture, the teacher said, “Come to the pose with a beginner’s mind”. My mind blew out so hard that I nearly stumbled.
There I was, turning up regularly on the mat (there is a mat now), with all my baggage. My big belly. My hurt toe. My awareness of how far I think I can stretch, or balance, and acceptance when I need a prop. Each day, I walk a little bit further along my journey, dancing on the reflections of my practice. I feel present and in tune. But, perhaps, in my acceptance of the limitations of my body, I have closed my self to the endless possibilities I could experience? Should I instead, present myself on the mat, each day, with the intention of a fresh new start? I could just bring my beginner’s mind, and let muscle memory work its magic in the background? Maybe I am still comparing myself, now, to how I fared yesterday?
As I drove back home after the class, an image of a toddler frolicked in front of me. Giggling, swaying straight from a downward facing dog to happy baby, rocking up to tree on tippy toe, falling over and moving on. No wisdom. Just joyous abandonment.