Begin at the beginning of the beginning. You should probably start there.

Posted: 07/28/2013 in Uncategorized
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I’ve had starting points on the brain, Peeps. The places where we begin.  Circling around, these thoughts are.

As I mentioned, I’ve been starting some things lately – starting distance running again, starting to learn aikido, starting to teach yoga. Beginnings of a different kind, each of them.  Beginning again something I have done before. Beginning something I have never done. Beginning a new role as teacher in a thing I have done for a long time.


There is a banner that usually hangs in the downtown yoga studio that says “always keep to the beginner’s mind”. I love that banner. The more I think of that banner, and the more dreams I reach for, the more I love that banner. Then I think about that banner some more. It’s been taken down recently to create space for an art exhibit, but I still look to it’s space whenever I am there and consider my state of mind.

IMG_1708_edit A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of watching a friend of mine endure a rather grueling blackbelt test. One of the most difficult physical contests I have ever witnessed. As part of the proceedings, the sensei spoke about how the achievement of a blackbelt is not a completion of training, but rather, a beginning. A transition.

Then recently, I had an opportunity (which I took) to sub in as teacher for a Yoga for Beginners class.  I knew about this opportunity almost a month ahead of time and made it a point to go take that teacher’s class so I could see her approach, have familiarity with the progress of her students. After which I sat down to (over-) think it through –  what does a beginner need to know? what is most important? what do I want to share with them?  I let some friends know I was doing this class, as many have expressed wanting to check out my newbie teaching, and I got one response that kind of surprised me. A friend said she didn’t think she would be interested in a beginner class, she was too advanced. As soon as she said it, my knee-jerk thought – “I don’t think you understand what advanced means.”  I didn’t say that aloud, but the thought resounded with me.

What does it mean to be a beginner?

It used to be that when I would start a new thing – really didn’t matter what it was – I would prepare in advance. Do homework ahead of time. Make sure I had the practice in and every confidence that I knew the answers before I ever entered class. I felt well armed. I would spend my energy proving what I already knew and trying to fit the context of new information into the grid of knowledge I’d already created. Trust me when I say, that is an EXHAUSTING approach to being in the world. But still, each to their own and that is one way to do things.

Lately, when I begin a new thing, I’ve taken to trying to dump anything I might already know about it out of my head. Acknowledge for myself that there are some things I might know, but that I might find I don’t know anything at all once I really start to learn something. I let myself be dumb. It’s an interesting feeling to do that – thoughts leap up to you, pushing questions up to block the new learnings – trying to get you back inside the box of what you already know.  But I shush them down, tell them to listen. Hand reigns over to imagination. “Because I am stupid, I am free.” I let the information come to me instead of forcing myself upon it. Again, each to their own but I’ve found this way of doing things GLORIOUS. Relaxing even. And I think I am learning even better for it.

If that what it means to begin a thing, then what does it mean to be advanced?

To me, the same thing.  Maybe it’s my age speaking, but the longer I’m in the world, the more I come to realize that someone who is advanced knows they are always beginning – does not dismiss beginners. Each time you step to a yoga mat, take the first stride on a run, cross the threshold of the dojo – you’re at a beginning. Of that day. Of that task.  In application, when I come to the yoga mat as an experienced student taking a beginner’s class, I use that opportunity to begin all over again. Re-examine my form. Sometimes a simple movement – a beginner’s movement – can be made harder just by slowing it down – being more particular with details of the movement. Checking your stride. Dropping deeper into a lunge. Lowering a push-up more slowly to the floor and rising up again even more slowly. Or the opposite – speeding it up. If a beginner is doing 3 sun salutations, can you get in a 4th or even a 5th in the same amount of time?

To me, being advanced means FINDING A WAY TO PUSH YOUR OWN LIMIT no matter what the task at hand is. A beginner learns the sun salutations, but even the most advanced of students still practices them. A person who says – I’ve perfected sun salutations so I’m going to stop doing them –  is a fool.

Not really sure what my end thought is for this – probably because I’m focused on beginnings – so my first sentence has more of my focus than my last. But I am curious how others feel on the topic. What do  you think beginning/being advanced means? If you’re advanced at something, what would your approach to a beginner’s class be? Would you even bother with a beginner’s class?


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