This week I was called out on a misstep. After humbly accepting this misstep and taking measures to correct it, I was drawn back to a portion of an astrology reading some months ago I read on MysticMama.com:
“We must be willing to be transformed by the information we receive in order to grow from it.”
I have this quote in my journal on the front page. I had forgotten that one of the key components to being an experienced practitioner, and simply a good colleague and friend, is to keep an open mind. Sometimes in yoga this is referred to as Beginners Mind.
Patanjali the sage and scribe of The Yoga Sutras offers that the practitioner needs 2 main things on embarking on a yoga practice that will create wisdom, insight, strength, and sustainability: time, and devotion. He says in sutras 1.12-1.16, in summary, that the practitioner should put time into the practice, and fill it with a sense of non attachment.
Time I see is cut up in two ways: carve out uninterrupted periods of time for nothing but practice. Go to class, or be sure to practice daily even if its only 5 minutes for meditation and 20 minutes for asana. The other half of the time teaching is saying to give it a long period of time. An arc of time, like a life time. Time in practice is the only way to know if the practice makes any sense, has any impact, and allows that impact to imprint on your body, open the heart to listen inside, and allow the mind to come along for the ride. Just do it, he says and don’t worry about the results.
Devotion is denoted later in sutra 2.1. After instructing us to do it with dedication for a period of time, Patanjali then offers that tinging your practices with ishvara pranidana, devotion, will also bring you to the actions that yoga intends. What is devotion? To a God? To a deity? To the Self?
Devotion also has 2 wings. One wing is simply passion for practice. When you are passionate about something, it means a lot to you. You carve out time for it. But the second part of ishvara pranidhana / devotion is a sense of respect. The way you would respect an elder wisdom bearer, a guru, a teacher, a parent or something that is there to teach you. Devotion is passion met with reverence, humility, and the mind of the Beginner, willing to say “I don’t know it all”.
Practicing yoga without this two-fold sense of devotion can lend to over working in asana where the physical practice can dominate. Without respecting your limits, you may try busting into a pose either not warm, or not fully prepared, even if your body cannot do it. The passion is there, but the reverence is not. Then, the mind can beat the heart up, as if to say “fool, why did you love this? I can’t do it.” The mind refusing to hold Beginners status and leave space for greater learning can lead you to focus on form only and sacrifice healthy alignment. Without the willingness that Beginners Mind offers to be transformed by information we receive in order to grow from it, mistakes and missteps can occur.
I think this is true especially for the experienced practitioner. The experienced practitioner has already put in time and can likely easily say what they love about the practices. They can easily say what it means to their life to do something with devotion. And its the hardest for the experienced practitioner to maintain a sense of Beginner-ness and actually allow themselves to continually be taught. I see this often in classes when teachers take class and often bust out more advanced forms of poses just because they can, even though I’m not teaching that advanced form. I wrote two blogs about this further back exploring the idea of studentship and the importance of staying open.
Look, we all know the body fades. I think Patanjali and other sages are reminding us of that in saying build a relationship to your heart, to the deep parts of you that love, that care deeply about people, events, your creativity, personal expression, and the practice itself. But stay humble. The only relationship we’re left with in the end is the one to ishvara pranidhana, and the devotional quality of what you’re doing. Our ability to do it may fade, and will as it involves the physical practice. Stay open to hear the information coming at you with a clear heart, even though it loves and cares for this subject at hand so much. You may learn something new in the process. Isn’t that the point?