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Beginner Mind

 Photo by TheBoth/Ian Bothwell, used with Creative Commons Attribution license. 

I am cranking away on the book. Lots of knitting, lots of project juggling, lots of notes and writing. I’ve also been trying to be more determined and focused on taking very good care of myself during the process, as big projects tend to lead me on a path of freaking out about THE VERY BIG GOAL, to a loss of exercise, eating right, and taking time to rest (and then I wonder why I collapse in a feverish heap of illness once I meet the deadline, right?).

So for April, I’ve planned a 30-day yoga challenge for myself. A minimum of 15 minutes of practice per day, every day. If I need a rest day, I do gentle, restorative practice with reclining poses, forward bends, and simple stretches. Other days I may come out of an hour long vinyasa class dripping with sweat. The variety is pleasing, and my body and my mind feels better after just the first week. Ideas are less cluttered, I’m less tired.

I’m also put back into the role of student, as I place myself in the hands of different teachers at my gym, at studios, and from the bounty of the internet. I think as someone who at this point is used to leading classes, giving advice, and being at the front of the classroom, being a student is priceless. My perspective shifts in ways that give me empathy for what it’s like to be new, unsure, and eager for clear direction and a reasonable challenge.

Earlier this week, in a very sweaty vinyasa yoga class, our teacher directed us up into various options for shoulder stand. I felt like trying to push my boundaries a little more, so instead of my usual practice of carefully lifting my butt off the mat and placing a folded blanket or a yoga block underneath it to raise my legs up toward the ceiling, I went all in and pushed up to try to support my legs vertically without a prop. I succeeded…for a few seconds.

Then my legs made a not-so-graceful arc backward, and landed on the floor over my head. Plop. “You’re in plow pose!”, said my instructor, encouragingly. Later she introduced plow pose as another option for students to move into from shoulder stand. “I was just early,” I laughed. I repeated my teetering shoulder stand efforts, falling into plow pose again and again. So awkward, and yet, laughing the whole time.

It reminded me of teaching new knitters, and explaining that their accidental yarnovers were a real stitch, they had just discovered it early. The same with slipped stitches, knitting into a stitch twice, and other “mistakes” that were all part of their future knitting skill set. Why tell them anything is wrong, when it’s all part of our knitting vocabulary. There would still be some tendency toward perfectionism, we’d rip out and work rows again here and there where students wanted to, but it was all leading down a road toward expanding their options. I wanted to make them feel enthusiastic and capable, not reined in and rigid.

In another yoga adventure, last week I had a learning experience in a kundalini yoga class. My breakthrough wasn’t about yoga though, it was about teaching. The instructor was late to class, unclear, rigid to the format, and yet hesitant in his instructions. He kept checking a book, and telling us, “it says to…” I didn’t feel like he was taking in his students varied abilities or backgrounds. I didn’t feel like I was in capable hands. By the time I left class, I was frustrated and unhappy, in spite of trying to step outside of my expectations and just flow with a new situation. It left me understanding how not to teach, which gave me a better sense of how important it is for students to receive clear directions, and how as a teacher, be willing to change how to explain something for individual students. One size doesn’t fit all. When I relayed the misadventure to my husband, he said, “Well, maybe you’ve just had really good teachers until now.” Bing! A lightbulb went off. So by the end of the experience, the universe sent some important lessons, although not what I may have been expecting.

My adventures this week in yoga have brought me some important lessons as both a student and a teacher. I’m happy to see things from both sides.

What are you doing as a beginner, or as a seasoned instructor?

What lessons are you working through?

Share your adventures, lessons, and thoughts!