In the beginning there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few. - Shunryu Suzuki
Today we will explore the Zen Buddhist concept, Shoshin (初心)
Shoshin is a Japanese word and has been translated to mean, "beginners mind". A curious, innocent mind free of preconceived ideas that hint toward a warm and open attitude to life.
This topic came to mind last night following my karate lesson with Keanu. Keanu is my son who is 4. I am new to karate, only 4 lessons in a class of mainly children under 16 with differing levels of experience and ability, plenty en route to earning their black belt. And here I am 37 years young with only the "knowledge" I have from every Jean Claude Van Damme, Bruce Lee, and of course from Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san from The Karate Kid movies, so yes, you guessed it, I arrived with 0 knowledge of the basic forms or commands. Fortunately, I did understand the counting numbers in Japanese from my Zen Yoga training so that was something ;) but honestly, I couldn't have told you the difference between tsuki (punches) and uki (blocks) or what on earth a mawashi geri was (roundhouse kick). Those pieces came around lesson 3. Even last night when sensei instructed us into Zenkutsu dachi (front stance), I wasn't sure what I was doing, or what he was asking. I was simply emulating. He made a movement, and I copied it.
A Lesson in Humility
Actually, a funny moment arrived when sensei made his way around the class observing form and he stands in front of me saying "kick with the front leg", I am looking at him, doing as he says and he repeats, "front leg", I nod and smile as to say "I'm doing it" and continue to kick with my back leg. Needless to say ladies and gentlemen I finally grasp the difference between my front and back leg. The ground opens up and swallows me whole haha. Jokes aside, it was humbling to not get it right, to be prompted again and again until I did it right even in front of a class of 30 or more people, mostly all of them with significantly more experience than me, and most of them more than half my age. When I started Karate a few weeks ago I went in thinking as mentioned above Mr. Miyagi's style or the Kumite style from Blood Sport. Those preconceptions were quickly eliminated after lesson one when I realised it might not be so easy to be the female Frank Dux (Blood Sport reference). As I stumbled out of lesson one with a black and blue foot thanks to hitting Bob (training dummy) too hard and unnecessarily as my kick had no form hence the injury. I was relying on momentum and not technique and used the wrong part of my foot. Simply put I didn't pay attention as I was too busy living out my Karate Kid fantasy. Getting back to the point, after that painfully humbling start, I realised, I am a beginner, I know nothing. I am surrounded by children of 10 years at brown belt level (belt before black) I have to free my mind, start fresh, and forget my knowledge of chi/ prana from a yogic perspective, put my annoyance of starting this training later in life to the side, I have to empty my mind and allow myself to be teachable because I am a beginner and even as I progress through the levels and refine technique and skills not just in karate but in all areas of my life, as a yoga teacher too I need to remember to cultivate shoshin, beginners mind at every stage because we know there is always something we can learn from revisiting the basics, of opening up to other points of view and so on. We are not the be-all and end-all. And perhaps with the practice of shoshin in daily life the world could be more peaceful as we would be more peaceful within our hearts and minds as we surrender the need to know it all, to be it all.
Ok, I could go on and on but let's take a look at how we can apply shoshin to our yoga practice.
How to cultivate Shoshin (初心), "beginner's mind" in Yoga
1. Maintain an open attitude. Your experience/ opinion of yoga and certain poses can render you blind to the moment. Do you want to try yoga but think your age/ physical ability/ gender/ race etc means you can't do yoga? Do you consider yourself a seasoned yogi and have nothing more to learn? Are you on autopilot or are you tuning in to the pose as you experience it at that moment? What do you notice? Did you judge the experience and think "this is hard/ I can't do this one/ I don't or I love this pose etc? Is your experience like all the times before? Or are you experiencing something new and fresh? For example, in warrior 2 do you feel the strength and courage of the pose, or is your attention on the "heat" in the leg muscles or somewhere else entirely? Are you able to find balance, stability, and ease in the pose with a calm mind?
2. Pay attention. In class you know I refer a lot to rooting down, and you will have heard me say connect with the earth, bring awareness to the parts connecting with the earth, strong foundations, and so on. Why? The stability of your foundation in your yoga practice will help you develop and progress onto more challenging postures. Without a strong foundation or understanding of the basics, anything you build from there will be on shaky ground so to speak.
3. Stay curious. I will repeat a favourite quote of mine from Federico Fellini, never lose your childish enthusiasm. Choose to see the world through the eyes of innocence, through the eyes of a child. Is there anything more beautiful than seeing a child wonder-struck by the littlest of things? Children are naturally curious and open their wings without hesitation. We can learn to emulate that wonder by connecting with that childish enthusiasm throughout our yoga practice. Stay curious as you move through the postures or when in meditation. What arises for you? For example, when in uttanasana (standing-forward-fold), how does your body want to move? Do you want to remain static or sway, perhaps take a little twist to the side? Do you feel inspired to hold onto your elbows and let the head shake down or place your hands on the earth/ mat in front of you? Does your body require you to bend your knees a little or lengthen through the back of the legs? Do you notice the decompression of the spine and loosening of the muscles between the back of the ribs? Never noticed? Stay curious, pay attention and keep an open mind.
Explore shoshin and more with our mindful yoga practices in person or from the comfort of wherever you are here.
From my heart to yours,
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