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Ow.  Just Ow.   You know what happens when you go back to the gym after a long absence and it all feels so good you just give it all you’ve got?  And then the next day – and sometimes the day after that –  Ow.

Well, it wasn’t the gym, not this time.  It was Ashtanga Yoga.  Two hours worth.  A few simple rounds each of Surya Namaskar A and B, then standing poses, half of the primary series, give or take, and the finishing poses.  A warm room, Mysore style instruction, good teachers in a welcoming studio – it felt SO good to be deepening back in to the asana practice that I may have pushed it just a bit farther than my body was quite ready for.

I have been light on the asana practice for some time.  The last intense practice I did was in Florida a couple of months ago, when I attended some great Iyengar yoga classes at Yogarosa.    Since then a few gentle classes, a few home practices, in general more meditation than asana.

It feels good to be back.

A really great thing about being new to town is that no one here knows the Amy who was recently a body-worker and yoga teacher.  I have no identity as I walk into classes – I am just another body who wants to learn yoga.  It’s very cool.  No expectations, so I can just fall right in to beginner’s mind.

Beginners Mindrefers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”

As I begin again my asana practice, I am challenged to let go of who it is i used to be, and to be who i am today.  There is a tendency to hold on to old identities – those of teacher, and yogi, and strong.  (ah, especially strong.  I love to feel strong…)  It’s not that those identities are no longer valid, it is that by holding on to them, I am limited in where I can go now.

See, a beginner doesn’t have a “what I used to be” to compare themselves to.  Someone who has been practicing a while begins to develop expectations – “shoulds” that cloud the practice:    “I did that yesterday, why can’t I do that today?” or  “I’ve been practicing a long time; I should know this by now” or maybe “why I am taking so long to GET this?” …..  and my personal favorite: “Of course I can do that, I am a yogi(ni)!”

We all fall prey to our arrogance at one time or another. Many times I have had to humbly acknowledge that I am not nearly as accomplished as I like to think myself to be.

So here I am – humbled again in my yoga asana practice.

I am not as strong as I was, my muscles shake, and my energy reserves are low.  Where I was strong in my standing poses, I now feel frustrated by my weak right hip and poor balance.   I have hamstrings that shorten to solid bits of immovable steel when they are not actively stretched, and now they are needing to be gently coaxed back to even the idea of elasticity.

With beginner’s mind, none of that matters.  The deeper truth is that I can change how I experience these things.  I can compare myself to what I use to be, or I can let go of what was and be who I am today.   Being with what IS exactly as it is allows me to drop into my beginner’s mind.

The thrill of a beginner – in any endeavor – is in the discovery. It is the joy of experiencing something for the first time, making known the unknown, and finding out who we are in the presence of this new thing.

As a beginner, I get to discover the joys of stretching, of opening, of finding a balance in the midst of imbalance.   I get to open to many possibilities, and delight in new sensations. I get to feel how it all feels to this body, the one I am in now, the one that shows up on my mat today.

That’s pretty cool.  I think I will remain a beginner forever.

beginner's mind