Yoga Teacher Training was kicked off on Valentines Day in the original Yoga Tree location at Stanyon and Haight. That night, instead of pouring over prix fixe menus and gazing into our lovers' eyes, 33 of us chose to sit in a circle under painted clouds and opened our hearts to a new relationship that would last at least six months (and a lifetime if we are lucky).
We didn't know each other, but I think it's safe to say most of us thought we knew what yoga was. A few of us probably even considered ourselves pretty advanced yogis. (I mean, I mastered side crow recently. Just saying.) But all it took was one weekend to clarify that none of us had a clue and even if we did, we would get the most out of our training (and our teaching) if we believed we didn't. "Knowing is the enemy of learning," they told us. "Your goal is to cultivate a Beginner's Mind." My first major Beginner's moment (in which I surfaced my own cluelessness)? When I was told that the sweaty vinyasa practice I hold so dear is merely one variation of one of eight limbs of yoga. The other seven aren't even physical!
In fact, Beginner's Mind goes beyond the idea of coming to the yoga mat with a humble and open mind. It's about approaching mind, body, spirit, community, the current moment, all of life, really, with a fresh outlook and a curious disposition, all expectations set aside. Our teacher gave the example of the difference between an adult and a child attempting a balance-challenging asana. Can you imagine a young child thinking, "What's wrong with me? Why can't I balance here peacefully? I hate my quivering feet. I HATE YOGA!" Who do you think gets more upset when they fall out of the pose - child or adult? Who has more fun?
But after just a few years of life, even children lose Beginner's Mind. They pick up detrimental thought patterns from their parents as well as from the wider world they know. Their teachers, their parents, the media, their friends' parents ceaselessly reinforce the false idea that we are our bodies and thus you and everything around you are separate, instead of united through spirit or universal energy. And by introducing the illusion of separateness, the world consciously or subconsciously creates Ego while narrowing children's internal exploration spaces. Thus children (who grow to become adults) learn fear and develop negative samskaras (habitual thought patterns or "imprints").
So, for me, to have a Beginner's Mind is to approach every moment not as a yoga novice or a blind person who just found sight or even as a child having fun with tree pose. I think the ideal Beginner more closely resembles a wide-eyed infant than any of these.
Babies have no ego. Babies are never looking for a means to an end. They don't know past or future, and so aren't distracted by either; they simply show up in every moment ready to observe and explore whole-heartedly. (On a slightly unrelated note, I love that there's an asana colloquially referred to as "happy baby pose." What's more beautiful than a happy baby, amused by every single feature on your face, drooling ecstatically, ready to burst out into laughter at the next peek-a-boo?) The point is: to get the most out of yoga, don't stop - START - being a baby.
"How many of you have spontaneously burst into tears during a yoga class?" Every teacher we've had so far has posed this question to the room and, to my surprise, about half of my peers admit that they have. "If you haven't yet," our teachers say, "You will." I personally have never experienced such spontaneous tears, but I know if I want to fully embrace Beginner's Mind I should be ready to. So I am. I'm ready to open up and I'm ready to be surprised by yoga. I'm ready to be a baby, baby!