50 Stories, Week 47: Beginner’s Mind

I’ve been practicing yoga now for thirty years and while I have some level of muscle memory, I still have a beginner’s mindset. As a child, I remember watching tv while bending myself into a pretzel. I often wanted to show my parents how I could put my legs over my shoulders and balance on my hands. Flexibility wasn’t a precursor to my practice but showing off was a red flag – my ego was running things.

In 1990, you couldn’t buy a yoga mat in a grocery store, let alone in multiple colors. There weren’t yoga studios in every town. And god (or goddess) forbid you talked about meditation. No, back then, even in California, it was still a fringe activity. 

When I got deep into my practice, after years of powering through Ashtanga classes (this was early ‘power yoga’ or ‘power flow’,) I had my aha moment in class one day. It was raining and lightning outside. I can’t remember what pose I was in, but it was difficult. Probably utkatasana/chair pose, because I hate that one. It is the worst. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I’m crying. Messy snot sobbing. I remember thinking “This sucks! This hurts – not physically but my scars, my insides. Something is happening to me.” It was scary, unknown, powerful. And necessary for me to let go of my ego so I could realize, I didn’t know diddly squat about yoga.

Later, I joined a 24hr fitness gym and found my first guru. His name was Jim, he wore tie-dye knee socks and baggy shorts and was about 70 years old. He had a strong calm voice, serious but lighthearted. Jim repeated a mantra that felt like it was just for me. “You are stronger than you know.” Over and over. When I was deep in a pose and wanted to come out, I heard myself repeating it and continuing to breathe. I still hear Jim’s voice in my head, decades later. You never know where you’re going to find your person, so stay open.

If you’re lucky enough to find something that resonates with you even when it makes you uncomfortable, when you realize that doing it may not pay the bills but it gives you peace, touches your soul, if it is good for your mental / emotional / physical / spiritual health, this is the thing that you need to pursue, to stand by, to work on. 

I have practiced yoga to manage my anxiety, to stay flexible, to help me make decisions, and to share my vulnerability. In 2011, I completed my teacher training. In 2018, I visited India, the motherland. And two Christmases ago, I did my first yoga retreat with my son in Cambodia. I practice daily. Sometimes that means sitting still for five minutes and counting my breath inhalations and exhalations. Sometimes it is a 45 minute flow. Sometimes it is doing a kind deed. It can be what I make it. 

I used to have a list of the top ten things I’d like to see change in the yoga world. Oddly enough, this pandemic that forced isolation, alongside a much needed conversation about white supremacy and equity, has resolved many of the issues I had. My gratitude is that I found it so early in my life and that it is available to anyone, any age or shape or size or ability. I hope to keep practicing until the day my body gives out.

I’ve never been a natural. All I do is try, try, try.” – Taylor Swift, Mirrorball

photo credit: Art Durand Photography, 2002

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