3 Reasons to Practice Yoga with a Beginner’s Mind

beginning yoga pose
Photo by Joel Nilsson Nelson

Wiping the slate clean and starting over—whether it’s a new year or a new chapter in your life—can bring up feelings of disappointment or failure. But hitting the reset button is also a way to practice shoshin, the Zen Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind: fresh, open and free from habit. Here are three reasons for hitting the reset button to strengthen your practice:

1. Going back to the breath. Mindful breathing is what elevates yoga above mere exercise. Breath is the link between mind and body, conscious and unconscious, personal and universal. Deep yogic breathing triggers the relaxation response, helping to prevent injuries, reduce stress and allow healing. And while the mind itself is a slippery thing, the breath gives us a tool for self-observation. Continually refining breath awareness will help you move past obstacles and experience more epiphanies (aha! moments).

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2. Moving from the center. The safest way to practice most asanas is by initiating, assessing and adjusting from the spine (the body’s axis) to the extremities. When the spine is misaligned, an asana might feel awkward or lifeless—or even lead to injury. It’s essential to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the spine, and to modify poses (by bending the knees in Uttanasana, for example) as needed to keep the spine both long and strong. Doing this not only protects your back, but also frees physical movement and energetic flow.

3. Remembering the details. Our myriad parts and systems are connected on gross (seen) and subtle (unseen) levels: muscle and bone, fascia and fluids, nerve signals and hormones. After you’ve established the breath and aligned your spine, lightly extend your awareness throughout the body. In a standing asana, the feet influence the entire pose. The sitting bones and pelvis are the foundation of seated poses. The shoulders are key to relieving neck tension, freeing the breath and energizing the heart center. The toes, the jaw, the tongue, the scalp and the skin around the eyes are just a few of the places where hardness or stress can hide. Expanding your awareness will reveal pockets of “amnesia” and reinvigorate each asana, like shining a flashlight into the darkest corners of your being.

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These three actions are so basic we might be reluctant—or even forget!—to review them again and again. But sometimes, in our enthusiasm for progressing to newer or more complicated practices, we get so far out in front of ourselves that we miss the full spectrum of possibilities. Perhaps your New Year’s momentum is faltering or your practice is starting to feel stale. Maybe you’re recovering from an injury or rolling out your mat after a long break. No matter what brings you back to the beginning, you can choose to step forward with a beginner’s mind, fully present and open to possibility.

In what ways have you experienced beginner’s mind in your yoga practice?

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