By Danielle Epling RDN, RYT
As a registered yoga teacher I hear this often. Folks who’ve never tried yoga before or simply have lost touch with their old commitment to practice. Wherever they are on the spectrum, there’s usually one common theme - expectations. Perhaps a concern that they won’t fit into a new class, or can’t rekindle the same old passion for yoga. I sometimes call these expectations ‘excuses’ because we can easily use them as a reason to postpone our lives. Like the person who says ‘I can’t do yoga, I can’t even touch my toes!”. The picture of yoga that they have created in their mind is actually not representative of the practice at all, yet they cling to this as validation for not trying. Just as we can all share the same roadblock to beginning (or beginning again), these expectations can be overcome by adapting a beginner’s mind.
For yogis, a beginner's mind is oftentimes the goal. An oxymoron, right? But by approaching life and each unique experience with our beginner’s mind, we learn to let go of biases, dismantle old belief systems, and release judgements we’ve held for ourselves and others. Choosing to adopt this mindset opens up infinite potential within our lives.
So how do we apply this to yoga? Practice! Start by noticing each time a thought arises that has anything to do with yoga, or your health goals in general. For example, you see the local YMCA reopening soon and hope to take this opportunity to try a group class. The website description says “be prepared to sweat” and you immediately shut down the idea. Take a moment here, as soon as you begin to internally construct these expectations about yourself or the class, and simply ask ‘why’? Notice what happens when you question your own belief system. It can be powerful to interrupt the narrative playing in your head. But this is how change happens, and eventually it will lead to growth.
Once you’ve become comfortable noticing and questioning those limiting beliefs, take small actions. Spend a few minutes stretching each day as you wake up or pause for three deep breaths before you dive into lunch. Be ready and willing to show up, fully present, rather than brushing by each moment only to haphazardly arrive at the next.
By now you’re noticing patterns in your life where expectations might regularly hold you back. Just by stopping to notice, you’re strengthening that beginner’s mind and rediscovering your own curiosity. Now, it’s time to step onto the mat (finally?!). Whether it’s a studio, a gym, or an at-home class, take that pause before you start moving to notice your state of mind. Has the self doubt crept back in? Let it go without judging. Use this pause to set an intention, asking yourself why you’re here. Are you still setting ego-focused goals or, are you here with a beginner’s mind and eagerness to learn?
I hope by now you see that yoga is about so much more than touching your toes or handstands. It requires a willingness to show up and question each moment, each thought, without judgement. Then, give yourself and others permission to change as internal beliefs are broken down and rebuilt. Starting yoga doesn’t require a thing, so don’t wait until you’ve got the best mat or flexibility - come as you are! We’re all beginners at the root of it, and that is a beautiful place to start.