When I began studying yoga in my twenties, naturally the concept of the Beginner’s Mind was easy to take on, as a beginner. Four decades later, as I enter a new stage of life, I find myself coming face to face with needing to embrace the beginner’s mind again. When I mentioned this to yoga teacher and life coach, Naomi Charanpal, it was a like a soothing balm to hear her say that Yogi Bhajan shared that as we age, it’s less about asanas (yoga poses) and more about meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises). Ahhh yes, just hearing that put me in a zen state of mind. I’m not ready to stop doing asanas just yet, but I am prepared to stop trying to force my body to do what it used to be able to do. Forcing is against the whole philosophy of yoga.
I liken this new stage to a great singer or dancer who no longer has the range or power that youth provides. The astute artist past their prime can offer and experience a different quality that is infused with knowingness, maturity, awareness, nuance and realizes it’s not about the form, the external, it’s about something internal, something more profound. When you’re older, and you’ve “been there and done that,” embracing the practice of the beginner’s mind can allow us to be less assuming, more open and receptive. Accessing the beginner’s mind can allow for a more gentle humility because if we live long enough, we are going to be humbled.
I can no longer deny the fact that despite many years of exercise and yoga my body is shifting, changing, as is my mind and spirit. There’s been a downshift in gears when it comes to strength, energy, flexibility, endurance and sometimes even caring about any of it. It’s less about perfection and more about being open to learning something new, having access to another realm of our everyday lives. With a beginner’s mind, we can’t know it all, so there’s room to learn something more about that thing or person you believe you know everything about. Like an empty or half-full glass, something can still be added.
This new stage of life has me appreciating the beginner’s mind again and again. Taking on the beginner’s mind helps to avoid having our feelings crushed, or our bodies hurting from stressing and straining and allows for growth in new and exciting ways. It permits us to experience ourselves and others in expansive ways. The beginner’s mind is something we can apply to all the many aspects of life, looking at a friend, spouse, lover or co-worker from another angle, approaching work and living from a different mind space. The beginner’s mind is a practice that has to be cultivated, a great practice to embrace off and on the yoga mat.