What should you focus on as a yoga beginner? An attitude of openness and curiosity is a great starting place to build a lifetime of exploration.
What I wish I knew as a yoga beginner
I first tried yoga at university. I signed up to a course and got stuck with all the gusto my 19 year-old self could muster. Looking back, I can see that it was unusual in many different ways. For a start it was all counted in Japanese. I’m sure the reasons were explained but those have vanished with the passage of time. I can’t really remember what we did. I do have a sense that it flowed and I did become familiar with some of the yoga postures that I continue to practice. What I do remember, though, is how it made me feel. That feeling was what led me a few years later to returning to yoga classes. Hatha yoga this time but that feeling came back. That feeling has been the one thing that has been consistent through my years of doing yoga. That’s not to say there haven’t been twists and turns, but here are the things that have held me in good stead over the years.
Sometimes we hate being a beginner. We somehow want to eradicate all the learning and awkwardness and jump straight into being ‘advanced’. Holding onto our beginner’s mind however is a big plus for yoga. The term ‘beginner’s mind’ comes from Zen buddhism but it describes seeing things with an open mind and fresh perspective much as we would when approaching something for the first time. It is all about keeping your curiosity alive and not lapsing into auto-pilot. If you are doing yoga for the first time, be curious about what you experience. You might love something, or loathe something. It doesn’t matter, be curious!
Your body will feel different every day. Isn’t that great? This is a brilliant opportunity to connect to your ‘beginner’s mind’. It can be so easy to lapse into ‘auto pilot’. You assume everything is the same… but chances are things might feel very different. Be curious about this. The other really important thing to remember is that not only is your body different each day, but it is different to every other body on earth. That’s also great. You might look at someone else’s body enviously, but you have a unique body. I mean this literally. No two hips are the same – it is a bit like fingerprints. You won’t ever do anything in quite the same way as anyone else. So stop worrying about what others can do and focus on your own range, and development and celebrate what your body can do. It isn’t a competition.
Moving with the breath can feel tricky. Sometimes what a teacher is asking us to do like breathing into the belly – or even more weirdly, into the hips can feel unreachable. Relax. It can take time to develop a relationship with your breath.We breath on average 20,000 times a day, so it’s definitely a relationship worth nurturing. It can feel strange to begin with and moving with the breath even harder, but give it time.
It is worth acknowledging that yoga is more than a physical practice. You may already have an inkling of this through your own practice, or this might be something that you have heard and not figured out how. Yoga is a spiritual practice and philosophy that originated in India. Although the modern postural practice does have a physical focus, that physical focus is often in service of something else. You might also be able to discern that by focusing with gentle awareness on how you feel physically and on your breath, how you might feel greater clarity in other parts of your life.
I learnt early on that there are many approaches to yoga as the early classes I took were so different. It was a good lesson to learn. Trying different teachers and styles is a great way to connect to our beginner’s mind even long after we’ve passed the stage of being a beginner. This process of exploration can support you to find the right teacher or path. What you first try might not serve you and through exploration you might find what you need. I would caution against constantly trying different things out of a sense of dissatisfaction or boredom or needing more. Rather, exploration is about deepening your understanding and broadening your knowledge. It isn’t about ‘consuming’ but about opening out. Finally, I would encourage you to engage in self-exploration and self-study.
Retain your sense of humour. Sometimes we are asked to do things that are challenging, it is good to attempt these with a spirit of lightness. We often begin yoga for our well being, it is good to retain sight of this. It can be easy to get caught up in the ephemera of yoga and to endlessly pursue the next thing, but retaining our sense of humour perhaps helps us to remain open to exploring widely and not becoming competitive with ourselves or with others.
Finally, I would encourage you to trust. Trust that things will shift or change and trust the flow of life.