“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”― Shunryu Suzuki
Can you remember your first yoga class ever? And how maybe it wasn’t at all like you thought it would be? I remember having a preconception that yoga would be easy and peaceful, and I was surprised that my first class was quite challenging both physically and mentally. My beginner’s mind didn’t care that the practice was different than I expected, and a world of possibilities opened up as I realized that there was a whole world I knew nothing about but wanted very much to learn. This was the start of my passion for yoga and even now, years later as my practice continues, it’s always a spark of beginner’s mind that keeps me engaged and wanting to learn more.
Shoshin is a word from Zen Buddhism that means “beginner’s mind.” It means the mind is open to anything because there are no expectations about how something should be. It is a mind ready to absorb knowledge and learn new things. It is an amazing state to achieve. But as we gain familiarity and comfort with a subject (like yoga) it can be tricky to hold on to.
I see the cycle of learning like this:
Beginner: Completely open mind. We don’t know anything yet so all possibilities are on the table.
Intermediate: We’ve learned a lot. We’re attached to the knowledge and begin to feel like experts. We’ve mastered challenging aspects of learning and we want to hold onto that knowledge. We don’t realize how much we still don’t know.
Advanced: We realize that for all the knowledge we’ve gained, there is an infinite amount of knowledge yet to explore. We ask questions about everything and explore more layers of understanding. Advanced students are those who return to beginner’s mind with the foundation of a lot of practice and knowledge already under their belt.
Unnata® Yoga is an amazing tool for any yoga practitioner to tap back into beginner’s mind. It’s fun, engaging, and completely changes our perspective on familiar yoga practices. Here’s how I’ve seen it benefit myself and many long-term students:
- We use the hammock to explore familiar ground postures. BUT, the way we use the hammock can make these postures feel very different from how we’re used to feeling them on the ground. The Unnata process invites us to explore and then refine ground postures with a new understanding gained from working in three dimensions. For each ground posture there are probably dozens of aerial variations, that will all impact the ground posture in different ways. By practicing with a curious mind, asking questions, and always taking it back to the floor to research what’s been experienced in the hammock, we learn through this practice that there is never only one answer.
- We use the hammock to open up different energy pathways. By taking stress off of the ground, by relaxing when inverted, or by simply putting our effort into a different place we can tap into new ways of moving, breathing, and thinking. When taking an Unnata class, by really putting the focus on the cues your instructor is giving, we are often surprised at how the new sensations, awarenesses, and feelings translate in our practice.
- We use the ground to balance out the work we do in the hammock. Practicing Unnata gives the body and mind a deeper appreciation for the grounded postures. Remain open to those moments and experiences.
As continuing students of yoga, we should all enjoy our practice, be open to new experiences, keep asking questions, and remember to not take ourselves too seriously in the end. Once we’ve done that, we’ve rediscovered beginner’s mind, an amazing place where possibilities are endless.
About the Author
Jordan Anderson has been teaching Unnata® Aerial Yoga since 2009, she is an Unnata Aerial Yoga Course Leader, and co-founder and director of Aerial Fit®. Jordan looks to yoga teachers such as Doug Keller for inspiration on grounding and anatomy, Andrey Lappa for energy bodies and Dharma Mittra for kindness.
Jordan is a firm believer that the practice of yoga (all 8 limbs of it!) can enhance anyone’s quality of life.