“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk
Many years ago, as a yoga student, I envisioned how wonderful it would be to teach yoga. As a beginner, my mind was always open: I had begun a love affair with the practice of yoga, and I absorbed it like sunlight to a flower. My teachers always seemed so centered and strong. They offered powerful insights in class, helping me gain greater insight into the challenges I faced in life.
Then one day I heard this statement: “If you want to know about something, read about it. If you want to understand something, do it. If you want to master something, teach it.”
I was hooked instantly, and I knew I would be a teacher. I wanted to master the practice of yoga, so I needed to teach it.
Though I’ve been a teacher for more than a decade, as I write this I am in the middle of an intensive four-week yoga teacher-training program. After all these years and countless hours teaching, I am back to where I started: sitting in a class with a beginner’s mind.
For me, the decision to participate in an intensive training program has seemed fairly straightforward, as it allows me to study a style of yoga I have not yet mastered. Yet, as I’ve mentioned the training to friends in passing, a few of them have expressed a bit of surprise: “But I thought you were already certified?” Another friend said, “Given both the time and financial commitment, why put yourself through another training program?”
In my experience, any good teacher is simply an accelerated student, constantly learning, staying open, and sharing the fruits of their explorations with others. Enthusiasm is contagious, and when we are in the presence of a really inspirational teacher, we feel their excitement and their joy of discovery.
Good teachers inspire us to be with our beginner’s mind and stay open to new ideas. Even if it makes us uncomfortable, this mindset provides a perspective of willingness—the willingness to listen to new ideas, no matter how overwhelming they seem to be at first. Though it often feels very humbling to be in the classical beginner’s mind place of “not knowing,” it can also bring such rewards.
When we are feeling stuck, a new idea can powerfully transform our lives. This is where yoga can help. Yoga has the ability to support us on both the physical and mental levels. As noted American yogi Joel Kramer states:
“Yoga transforms you by opening up the physical and mental binds that block your potential, limiting your life. Transformation is a process that brings newness and interest … the transformation that yoga brings makes you more yourself, and opens you up to loving with greater depth … as a sculptor brings out the beauty of form in the stone by slowly and carefully chipping away the rest.”
Yoga offers a process where you can systematically move through the binds that block your potential, and intentionally transform your life one breath at a time. When you are feeling frustrated or stuck, physical exercise often can be a vital step toward feeling better—but remember that your mind plays a key role in this process as well.
The internal reflection (awareness) encouraged in yoga allows us to explore our mental edge—those places in our heart and mind where we’ve shut down out of fear or fatigue, where we’ve decided we can no longer grow, expand, or change. Though it takes effort, we are reminded that we are always able to choose a new path, a different way of looking at our challenges.
As you move through each day, imagine your breath being a powerful sculptor’s tool. Like the sculptor working with a chisel, with each mindful breath, you begin to see which aspects of your psyche need to be chipped away to reveal the already existent beauty that is within you. Even in situations and conditions that you’ve had for decades, use your beginner’s mind perspective to stay open to new possibilities.
Remember: In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, and within these possibilities we are reminded that we are free. May you open your mind to the many wonderful possibilities that exist for you in each moment, and systematically create the life of your highest dreams.