Shoshin is a concept in Buddhism that translates as “beginners mind”. It is the ability to see and experience things as fresh and new without any pre-conceived notions or judgments. In the words of Shunryu Suzuki (a Sōtō Zen monk/teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States);
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
This is how we are to approach our practice and hopefully our everyday lives. Admittedly, it is not always easy. Thankfully though, our Yoga asana practice does remind us of this periodically whether we wish to listen or not; just when we feel we’ve mastered that handstand or arm balance only to try it the next day and fall in a heap. Meditation seemed so easy to drop into on Monday but Tuesday the monkey brain set in. These instances remind us to return to that beginners’ mind where things are fresh and new and once more… begin again.
Often, it is our teachers that prompt us to return to the beginning; the reminders to focus the breath, the guided adjustments or the small awakenings that burst forth from a Zen reading during Savasana. All of these serve to bring us back to the beginning where things are new and fresh. This small space of empty is the best place to be; a place where we are always learning, always surprised, always in awe and never, ever bored.
But how do we incorporate shoshin into our yoga practice?
Body Scanning while in the poses can help; starting from the ground up, feel where the weight is settling in your feet, notice which muscles are engaged and which are slack but should be engaged, are your hips where they should be? Are your shoulders relaxed or locked and tense? Are you feeling the hint of a painful twinge that should be rectified? The more we can drop into and connect with our bodies, the more knowledge we can gain about the inner-workings therein. We live and move in our bodies, but rarely take the time to truly feel what’s going on inside. Remember, our bodies are always present even when our minds are not.
Drop the “shoulds” and “wishes”; Shoulds and wishing leave us yearning and striving for some-thing else, some-where else other than where we are at that exact moment; “I should be able to master Bakasana!” “I wish my mind would quiet!” While we are wishing and striving we are losing the present. It is the present moment that is authentic and exciting because it’s new, it’s real and it’s happening right now! The “Shoulds” and “wishes” are in the future and haven’t happened and may never happen! Yoga practice is more about the awareness and enjoyment of the journey then the end result. Enjoy the ride!
Vary your teachers; Every Yoga Instructor adds their own unique style to the teaching of this (estimated) 5000 year old practice. One teacher may give you direction in a way that truly resonates and that allows you to go deeper in a pose than you ever have before. We are all unique individuals with diverse backgrounds which cause us to listen, evaluate, absorb and speak differently than the next person; that is the same with Yoga teachers. If a teacher’s style is not resonating with you, change the teacher. If you’ve been going to a teacher that you love for a long time, great but step outside the box every once in a while and enjoy a new experience as well.
Kim Jones 2/18/14