Beginner's Mind

I was introduced to the phrase "beginner's mind" in my yoga teacher training years ago, and it was one of the most impactful lessons I learned. I am sharing this phrase with you because it applies to all aspects of life, on and off the mat. I come back to this teaching in my own life any time I’m feeling stuck.

The idea of the “beginners mind” highlights that when we do something for the first time, we tend to be more curious, attuned, and invested in whatever it is that we are doing. After we’ve come in contact with something repeatedly, or practiced something over and over, the brain has the tendency to habituate to “it,” and “it” no longer automatically induces a novel response. This developed wiring serves us in many ways because it’s helpful in building more complex neural connection that fine tune skill building. For example, learning to play an instrument would be very difficult if we had to exert the same amount of energy in playing chords and strumming as we did the first time we learned how to do it.

However, it’s easy for the brain to shift to a mechanical setting when completing learned tasks that parts of that routine or even greater parts of life can start to feel monotonous, boring, and tedious. This transition may not be obvious at first, but eventually one may wake up and wonder where the ‘spark’ in life went.

Although it’s important to keep exploring, learning, and leaning into the edge of your comfort zone, the idea of reframing our perspective to our present reality is equally as powerful. Here is where the practice of “beginners mind” comes into play.

The key is allowing yourself to experience any action for the first time in this moment. Freeing yourself of your expertise and letting go of expectations will help you access a childlike sense of wonder, as if this really is the first time you are doing whatever it is you are doing.

What’s ironic is that doing the “same” thing is actually impossible, because when you’ve done something once, you’re never able to do it again in that exact way. You’re technically doing something new, as no moment is the same. And here is where the work lies- even though you may be familiar with an activity, challenging your brain to welcome it in a way that allows dynamic expression and continuous novelty is challenging. For example, even though you may practice down dog in every yoga class, each time you do it is the first time you are doing it in that moment! Your down dog from beginning of class can never by the same as the one at the end of class. Just like you waking up this morning is a unique experience from you waking up any morning before that. The experience may feel familiar- but when we start to get bored it may be a sign that we are allowing past experiences to interfere with our current one.

You have the power to shift your perspective and allow your mind to remain open to new possibilities. This will prevent you from getting stuck in your perceived patterns.

Start shifting your experience today!

1. Choose one mundane activity that you do regularly. Perhaps brushing your teeth, washing dishes, or walking to the mailbox.

2. Imagine what it would be like to access your childlike sense of wonder and approach this activity as if you’ve never tried it before.

3. You can choose to focus on one element of the activity or the activity as a whole. For example, you can choose to notice the points of contact your toothbrush bristles make in your mouth or the temperature of the water as you wash dishes. Continually return to those sensations if your mind wonders. You can also approach the activity as something completely new and even practice changing your dominate hand to complete the task.

By allowing yourself to access this place of connection and curiosity in yourself, your ability to experience will continue to expand and challenge any ‘rut’ your brain may be creating.

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