The best time of my yoga life was definitely when I was a beginner. Each pose was a mystery. Every cue by every teacher was an invitation to explore. The feelings that came up were largely new too: the cathartic cries in savasana, the blissful walk home after class when the birds sang a little louder, the wind blew warmer, and the sun shone brighter.
For the next year, I went to classes five or six times a week. I went on retreats. I read books about yoga. I found teachers that I really loved. My body changed and I accomplished things with my arms and legs and bones and muscles that I never dreamed I could do. I kicked into a handstand after a childhood of being the only girl who couldn't do a cartwheel. I was strong and full of enthusiasm. I was happy and excited. I was a beginner.
Then I became a teacher and I started to know a little bit. I developed opinions about what was safe and what was not. I had preferences about language and music and sequencing. I quit enjoying every class I went to, although I still enjoyed some. I practiced more at home and became more selective about my teachers.
My opinions and preferences have only grown in severity and number since I was a new teacher.
Since then, I've auditioned hundreds of yoga teachers. My job is to judge them. I take groups of students through teacher training and attempt to pass along those preferences and beliefs that I hold most dear. I evaluate their teaching and offer feedback.
I live and work and breathe through the solidly crafted lens of what I think I know.
And when I take class, my brain is on. What the teacher says, the poses, the music, the sequence are all passed through a nauseating evaluation process as I try to enjoy a little yoga.
Experience and "expertise" have, over several years, drained much of the pleasure out of taking yoga and turned it into work.
A student of mine showed up to class one day different. Her face was relaxed and smiling. She stood up straighter, yet her posture was full of ease and confidence. I mentioned the change to her and she said, "Well, I've been coming to your studio almost every day for about a month."
Right. That's what yoga does. I was very happy for her, and also a little sad for myself. I have really missed that.
So I'm back. My goal is 40 classes in 40 days. As it happens, I turn 40 next month, so it all seems fitting.
For all of these classes, my intention is the same. Beginner's mind. I am not there to evaluate, judge or defend anything. I'm just there to practice yoga and enjoy the benefits of the practice. And the benefits happen regardless of whether my mental checklist of preferences is ticked off to my liking.
As it turns out, all it takes is showing up.