Setting your New Year’s Intention

Golden columns/Columnas doradas

Feedback

In Yoga, the traditional techniques and practices are oriented to an inward journey of self-discovery. As we travel this path of continuous learning we develop our ability to notice and observe the feedback that emerges as a response to all of our actions. By developing our sensitivity to feedback, we can fine tune the quality of our connection to the world around us so that we can notice that every single action generates a reaction. However, many times our actions are habitual or automatic, and thus less than mindful. In those cases, we might fail to recognize that the feedback we receive is a direct response to our actions. For instance, let’s say that we need to drive somewhere when we don’t feel well rested. Let’s say we choose to drive, in spite of the subtle feedback from our body indicating that we need to rest. As we are driving, we may notice our eyes feeling a bit tired, but we decide to override this feedback by continuing to drive. In response, the self-adjusting feedback mechanism will automatically create a stronger message to draw our attention to what we are doing. As we continue driving we might feel that we are unable to focus our eyes clearly. Ignoring the feedback does not make it go away; instead it increases the strength of the message. So, as we continue driving our eyes may close for a brief moment. If we decide to stay on the road we may doze off and perhaps wake up as our car swerves slightly or abruptly. Choosing to ignore the feedback we receive can result in being forced to pause so that we can consider the effects of our actions.

The feedback itself is not necessarily good or bad, it is just the effect of our previous actions. That is, the feedback we receive is not passing judgment on our past actions, it only communicates to us the effects of those past actions. The objective of feedback is to get us to pay attention to our actions so that we can choose our actions intelligently. In our Yoga practice, asana, pranayama, concentration and meditation, we learn to listen with undivided attention to physical, mental, psychological and emotional feedback because it provides important guidance in our personal journey as well as in our interactions with others and with the world around us.

Forced to Pause

The feedback process operates at personal, interpersonal, societal and global levels. At this moment, in my opinion, we are witnessing feedback in the form of turbulence and turmoil at many levels throughout the world. Again, it seems important to emphasize that the feedback is neutral; it is not good or bad per se. What is important is to understand that the feedback is giving us an opportunity to observe our actions clearly and to notice their effects so that we can act mindfully and intelligently. As the year begins, my suggestion is to take advantage of this transition, first to gladly accept the opportunity to pause and second to use this opportunity to gain clarity about our circumstances and our options.

Yogic practices are oriented to help us gain clarity by immersing ourselves into the present moment and connecting with our essence. Our essence is our true substance, that which is truly constitutive of our selves. Everything that is not our essence is temporary, accidental, impermanent, not necessary. According to the Yoga Sutras we tend to confuse what is essential and what is not. Wisdom is learning to distinguish between the two. In my opinion, when we take actions that honor our essence, the feedback we receive increases our clarity, well-being, peace and joy. I also believe, that life affirming actions benefit all who are involved.

Setting our Intention

As you might be aware, the path of Yoga is experiential. Here is a practice that can be helpful in gaining clarity so that we can direct our attention and energy toward life affirming actions at all levels.
The idea of simplicity as it was so eloquently and beautifully said by Paramahansa Yogananda can provide inspiration and guidance along the way:

“Simplicity means to be free of desires and attachments, and supremely happy within…It entails neither hardship nor deprivation, but the wisdom to work for and be content with what you truly need.”

With simplicity in mind and heart:

  • Sit comfortably with your spine erect and your chin level.
  • Close your eyes
  • Reflect on your past actions
    • Honestly look at your actions in the past year and ask yourself:
    • What actions took me out of balance?
    • What actions made me feel confused, angry, upset?
    • What actions brought peace, joy, balance and meaning into my life?
  • Release
    • Breathe calmly with long, soft exhalations
    • Each time you exhale let go of a previous actions that took you out of balance or made you feel confused, angry or upset
  • Be grateful
    • Breathe calmly with long, soft exhalations
    • Continue breathing softly with long inhalations and exhalations
    • Each time you inhale ask yourself what am I grateful for?
    • Each time you exhale, give thanks from your heart
  • Set your intention
    • Continue breathing with long, soft inhalations and exhalations
    • Each time you inhale set your intention to honor your essence by performing actions that bring peace, joy, balance and meaning into your life this coming year
  • Keep your eyes closed, continue sitting and observe how you feel so that you can remember to keep this connection to your essence alive and strong throughout the year

I hope that your New Year is filled with joy, love, happiness, meaning and excellent health.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

 

Gratitude Meditation

flowers/flores

Giving thanks is a way to remember that our situation in life is in some, or in many ways, privileged. It will probably not take long for us to find countless examples of other people who may be in more challenging or difficult circumstances in their lives. Being grateful is a way to express our appreciation for the gifts we have received. In other words, expressing gratitude reminds us that we are constantly participating of the interconnectedness of life, that is, we are not alone. I feel that this is reason enough to feel comfortable and happy.

Many of us feel that meditation is a very complex and esoteric practice. However, meditation is just a way to experience who we really are, right here and now. Here is a simple and easy gratitude meditation that can help experience the happiness and joy of being alive.

  • Sit in a comfortable position, if possible with your spine erect but not rigid.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Allow your breath to flow at its own pace.
  • Listen to your own breath for a few rounds of inhalation and exhalation.
  • With each exhalation let go of whatever is not part of this moment.
  • If you notice any tension in your body, for instance in your shoulders, face or anywhere else just let go of it as you exhale.
  • As you feel ready, ask yourself if there is anything in your life to be thankful for. You don’t need to think too hard or concentrate too intensely, instead let the question resonate with your whole being.
  • You may find that some reasons start emerging into your consciousness without effort. In case nothing seems to come to mind, notice if there is anything in your immediate life that you appreciate, such as the ability to breathe, sleep, smile, feel, taste, laugh, love. Feel the sensation of gratitude and remain aware.
  • Remember to also give thanks for obstacles, challenges and difficulties, because they provide us with opportunities to learn about ourselves and about others.
  • Each time you give thanks, draw a gentle smile on your face.
  • Allow your gratitude to expand gradually out into the whole universe.
  • For the last few seconds immerse completely in the sensation of gratitude.

Notice how you feel. You might feel relaxed, renewed and more in contact with yourself and with the world around you as you practice this meditation. You can practice this meditation for just a few minutes or longer if this feels appropriate. If possible, I would suggest trying this meditation for 2 weeks, just for a few minutes each day, and noticing its effects throughout the day. You can also take short ‘gratitude breaks’ during your day by pausing for a few moments to express your gratitude as it feels best for you.

I hope you find this practice helpful and enjoyable.
I extend my heartfelt thanks to you.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Why do I practice Yoga?

Temple reliefs/Relieve en Templo

Why do I practice Yoga?

Yoga is an empirical science, in the sense that it requires us to apply what we learn in order to observe for ourselves the results. In other words, Yoga is not an abstract exercise but a lived exploration that behooves us to bring the practice to life.

From this perspective, it seems important, perhaps essential, to direct our inquiry often to the foundation of our practice. The question “why do I practice Yoga?” is a cornerstone to our practice. Asking ourselves this question helps us examine and reflect on our practice while, at the same time, it ensures that we keep our practice from becoming a mechanical repetition of tasks.

When we ask “why do I practice Yoga?” we are interested in answering the question sincerely and wholeheartedly at all levels, especially through our actions. That is, we incorporate the question into our practice by observing if we are honoring our answer through our intentions and actions.

The answer to this question, most likely, will change over time reflecting our interests, circumstances and stage in life. However, our sincere interest in living the answer will remain unchanged.

And you, why do you practice Yoga?

Namaste

 

2 simple techniques to deepen your Yoga practice

Temple Portal in Ubud, Bali/Portal de un templo en Ubud, Bali

Consistent Yoga practice produces a significant change in the quality of our breathing. We start noticing that our breath becomes more smooth, unobstructed and deeper when we practice Yoga mindfully and with regularity. Although this is generally true when we practice various of the traditional limbs of Yoga, this change is most easily observed in our asana practice. The 2 techniques I would like to suggest are related to observing closely how we breathe. These techniques build on the foundation of breath awareness and on the benefits of using ujjayi breathing. The objective of these techniques is to guide our attention inward and to focus our awareness to our present actions. As a result, the quality of our participation increases, leading us to immerse more fully in our Yoga practice. In turn, this facilitates our more present participation in our daily activities.

Focused Breathing

The first technique is to concentrate our attention on the sound of the breath. An easy way to direct our attention to the sound of our breath is by using ear plugs during our practice. Using ear plugs makes the sound of our breath more noticeable which also helps us focus our attention inward. For most of us, noticing more the sound of our breath may not prevent our mind from wandering. However, it will be easier to notice when the mind gets distracted and therefore we can choose to return our attention gently to the breath. In many cases, just feeling the ear plugs in will serve as a reminder to listen attentively to the breath. Eventually, consistent practice strengthens our capacity to focus, and then the ear plugs will have achieved its function and will no longer be needed.
This technique is an integration of pranayama and sense withdrawal (pratyahara).

Increased Sensitivity to Breath Movements

Once it becomes easier to observe the breath consistently, we can try to develop a greater sensitivity to the movement of the breath. The second technique further deepens our attention by focusing on the subtle aspects of breathing, specifically by observing the transitions between inhalations and exhalations. As we observe with clear attention the continuous movement of breath, we focus on the brief pause between inhalations and exhalations and vice versa. Noticing and focusing on this brief pauses often increases our breathing capacity. Most importantly, it also increases our awareness, thus bringing a meditative quality to our practice.
It is important to remember that the breath at all times continues to be smooth and unrestricted. As we practice this technique we can explore the effects of slightly lengthening these pauses.
Focused attention on the pauses between inhalation and exhalation integrates aspects of pranayama, pratyahara, concentration (dharana) and sustained attention (dhyana)

Like with any other techniques, we observe our practice before and after using these techniques and we notice how each technique works and if it has any beneficial effects.
I hope these techniques are useful to deepen your practice.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén
 

Yoga: The Long View

Ancient spire in Ayutthata/Antigua Aguja en Ayutthaya

Short Attention Span

It seems undeniable that we live in times when faster is generally equated with better, at least at the surface level. Many of us feel like the pace of life has gotten too fast, even out of control. One manifestation of this mindset is our urge to save time, even just a few seconds, whenever we can. This pervasive ideology has a connection to the notion of instant gratification, which might be somewhat or quite familiar for many of us. Some people argue that civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. As a result, we often rush through our actions and activities without making time to be present. This can be called the short attention span perspective. The short attention span perspective can be characterized as a continuous movement of the mind without clear focus. In contrast to the short attention span view, we can think of the focused perspective as clear and focused attention to one moment in time. In other words, while the short attention span can drive us to rush through the present moment, the focused perspective can acts as an excellent way to prepare us for the long view.

The Long View

Obviously, all things in life have an inherent pace to them. That is, some things happen at fast speed, like lightning, others happen slower, like the rotation of the earth around the sun. The focused perspective mindset, by its own nature, concentrates our attention, if very briefly, on specific, discrete aspects of our experience, while the long view tries to deepen our understanding in terms of time.

When we favor only the focused perspective, it is difficult for us to gain perspective and notice changes, tendencies and patterns that develop, shift and transform over time. When we favor the long view approach only, it may be more difficult to relate to the specific circumstances of the present event.
Clearly, focusing on one point is the first step towards maintaining our attention over time. Thus, our focus on the present moment provides the point of access into the long view. The interplay between these two views is exemplified by the Long Now Foundation, an organization concerned with “fostering long-term responsibility” and when they say long term they mean thinking not in terms of months or years but in terms of the next 10000 years. The idea is to link our present actions to long term thinking.

Concentration and Meditation

From a Yogic point of view, we could interpret the focused perspective as the traditional limb of Yoga often translated as Concentration (Dharana), focusing our attention on one point. On the other hand, sustaining our attention on the same point over a period of time is the Meditation (Dhyana) limb of Yoga. We can think about the latter as an expression of the long view approach.

Interplay between Focused Perspective and Long View in Yoga

Yoga has been around, according to different sources, for at least a few millennia, yet its teachings are still astonishingly relevant and applicable today. Thus, it seems that even though the tradition of Yoga has been preserved and transformed over a long period of time, its application, which can only happen one moment at a time, is actualized through the focused perspective. That is, the teachings handed down over time are lived and put into practice in the realm of the focused perspective.

Moreover, for many of us, the short attention span perspective can have a dramatic impact on our Yoga practice, in any of its manifestations. For instance, sometimes, especially with practices that are challenging for us, like sitting still for a specific amount of time, breathing mindfully or moving into a specific posture, we might feel inclined to try to get our practice over quickly, so that we end up rushing through it. As a consequence, our practice betrays the very essence of Yoga, a journey of self-discovery. Rushing through our actions prevents us from experiencing the practice at all levels, particularly keeping us from learning by observing how we deal with frustration, impatience and challenging situations.

Taking the long view as the background of our experience can serve as a reminder that Yoga is a personal journey of self-discovery, by definition a lifelong process. Knowing that we have the rest of our lives to practice, can give us the patience to accept where we are today, hence enabling us to immerse in the specific practice mindfully. Not long ago I read the wise opinion of a well respected Yoga master, David Swenson, where he stated that “We must think in terms of decades when practicing and teaching yoga. The strongest trees in the forest grow the most slowly.”

Taking this long view, can foster a different approach to our practice, so that we practice intelligently, that is mindfully and at our own level so that we can continue practicing steadily over the years. Another well respected Yoga master, David Williams, provides insight into this process in his student newsletter by saying that “The key is being able to continue practicing Yoga for the rest of your life. From over 30 years of observing thousands of people practicing Yoga, I have realized that those who continue are the ones who are able to figure out how to make it enjoyable. They look forward to their daily practice and nothing can keep them from finding the time to do it. It becomes one of the most pleasant parts of their day.

Maybe we can meditate on this question: How would my practice be if I remember that I have the rest of my life to practice?

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Special Class – Total Yoga Experience: Asana and Beyond.

Yoga is much more than physical exercises. Yoga is a complete system of practices that create a deep-rooted sense of stillness & awareness. The Total Yoga Experience is a unique class that offers students at all levels an experience of Yoga that integrates body, breath, mind & spirit. In this class we will work from the outside in, from the outer body into more subtle aspects of our being.

The Complete Yoga Experience consists of:

  • Asana- physical postures that synchronize movement & breath
  • Nidra- guided relaxation for deep release and clarity
  • Pranayama- breathing exercises for focus & concentration
  • Chanting- for breath awareness & concentration
  • Meditation- sustained focus & concentration for stillness

This practice is an integrative exploration of diverse traditional Yoga techniques. This is an excellent class for students to become more familiar with various Yoga and meditation techniques. . For more experienced practitioners, this class provides an excellent way to deepen and strengthen their practice.

Date: Saturday, August 23/2008
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 horas
Cost: $35 Advanced registration/ $40 at the door
Instructor: Rubén Vásquez, registered with Yoga Alliance.
Studio: St. Petersburg Yoga – www.stpetersburgyoga.com
Address: 275 16th St. N. 33705, St. Petersburg, FL – map
Phone: (727)-894-YOGA

 

 

Experiencia Total del Yoga en Bogotá

Clase Especial en Bogotá – Colombia : Experiencia Total del Yoga: Más allá de las Asanas.

La Experiencia Total del Yoga es una clase única que ofrece a los participantes de todos los niveles una experiencia de Yoga que integra el cuerpo, la respiración, la mente y el espíritu.

Esta clase usa varias técnicas de Yoga en una secuencia que relaja el cuerpo desde afuera hacia adentro, desde el nivel físico hasta los niveles más sutiles.

La Experiencia Total del Yoga incluye:

  • Asana, ejercicios físicos en los que se sincroniza el movimiento con la respiración.
  • Nidra, técnicas de relajación guiada para crear calma y claridad profundas.
  • Pranayama, ejercicios de respiración tradicionales para mejorar la respiración y ayudar a optimizar la concentración.
  • Cantos para enfocar la mente, la respiración y el cuerpo en preparación para la meditación.
  • Meditación guiada para sostener la concentración y encontrar calma y la claridad.

Esta clase está enfocada a personas interesadas en explorar diversas técnicas del Yoga de manera integral. Esta es una clase que sirve como introducción al Yoga y a la meditación. Participantes que tengan más experiencia con el Yoga pueden usar esta clase para afianzar su práctica y explorar diferentes técnicas.

Fecha: Miércoles, 6 de Agosto, 2008
Hora: 5:30pm a 9:00pm
Duración: 3.5 horas
Costo: $65000 por persona
Instructor: Rubén Vásquez, instructor registrado con la Yoga Alliance en los Estados Unidos.
Dirección: Calle 106 # 22-05, Bogotá, Colombia
Teléfonos: 2137851 – 6376903

 

 

Simplicity: Do what we are doing

flower/flor

Keep it simple

Frequently our minds tend to complicate things. The mind thrives creating elaborate systems of thought composed of nicely packaged concepts and ideas. This is not a bad thing; in many cases those complex systems built by the mind are quite useful. However, very often the complexity of those systems obscures what is otherwise simple and clear.

The documentary film How to Cook Your Life follows zen chef Edward Espe Brown as he guides zen practitioners in exploring the connections between cooking, zen practice and life. Among other clear and powerful messages in the movie, there was one that I enjoyed because of its utter simplicity. Espe Brown says something like: “do what you are doing; if you are chopping carrots, chop carrots, if you are kneading dough, knead the dough.” It sounds like a message that is too simple. Yet its simplicity is imbued with deep wisdom. This succinct message highlights the importance of mindful action, paying attention to what we are doing.

Doing things for real

When we are fully present, doing what we are doing, we participate and we engage in all actions for real, wholeheartedly. Consequently, all of our attention is focused on the tasks at hand. That is, we become one with the activity in which we are participating. This alignment results in mindful and meaningful actions. Our actions are instrumental to learning and, thus, mindful actions result in deeper knowledge which, in turn, enables us to continue learning and growing. Moreover, our complete participation also prepares us for future actions and circumstances, including learning to accept the outcomes, positive or negative, of our actions.

Distractions

It seems quite simple to just do what we are doing. However, why is it that many of us find it difficult to accomplish this? The distractions in our daily activities seem endless. They emerge in varied shapes and guises, and what they have in common is that they manage to take our attention away from what we are doing. When we follow the source of distraction the quality of our participation diminishes and the outcome of our actions is affected.

Improving the quality of our attention

In Yoga is a practice we talked about Yoga practice as a laboratory where external sources of distraction are reduced, therefore, making it easier for us to focus and sustain our attention.

Here is a suggestion to “do what we are doing” when we are practicing Yoga.

Let go
For the first couple of minutes of your practice, allow anything that is not part of your practice to drift away with each exhalation.
Set your intention
Repeat to yourself with full attention and feeling: “I will focus my undivided attention on this practice, here and now”.
Engage your attention
Give your mind a simple task to do in order to keep it from getting distracted. For instance, ask your mind to observe the sensations at the points of contact between your body and the ground with each exhalation, or notice, to the best of your ability, what happens during the transition between each inhalation and each exhalation.
Accept
Practice according to your intention with engaged attention, and whenever your attention gets distracted, gently bring back your attention, inhale, smile and continue practicing.

Notice that these suggestions might be useful to focus while doing activities other than Yoga.

As usual, try these suggestions a few times and notice if they have any influence on the quality of your participation and on the overall quality of your practice. As you practice this way you strengthen your ability to concentrate on and off your Yoga mat.

Namaste

 

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Radiance Point

Pods/Capullos

Mindful Practice

Among Yoga practitioners there are often enlightening discussions about the appropriate level of the practice or the right balance between the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the practice. I believe that each person’s Yoga practice is a reflection of his or her own ideas, bodies, body histories, beliefs, emotional states, interests, etc. For instance, in asana practice, the practice with most easily observable external signs, closely watching two different people’s expression of the same pose or the same sequence of poses will reveal subtle and not so subtle differences. In addition, each person’s own practice varies from one day to the next. Some days we wake up feeling energetic and ready for a physical challenge and other days we feel like staying in shavasana (corpse or relaxation pose) the whole day. Of course, we are in charge of our own practice, that is, we are responsible for making mindful decisions about how our practice should unfold each day. Nevertheless, as humans, we have a tendency to want quick answers that work in all cases, rules of thumb that, particularly in this day and age, make us act more efficiently. Unfortunately, many times these rules of thumb become shortcuts that keep us from thinking. For instance, some times a physically demanding practice is exactly what we need to feel energized, whereas other times a restorative practice is the right thing to do given what we have planned for the rest of the day. In either case, being fully aware of how we feel and what we need is the starting point for a mindful practice, that is a practice that is perfect for what we need at that time.

Types of Practice

Mindful practice does not necessarily mean serious or boring. Mindful practice can be a lot of fun. An excellent example of mindful practice is the type of Yoga that Erich Schiffmann practices and teaches, often called Freeform Yoga. He gives a succinct and helpful explanation at the beginning of this video:

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However, if one feels compelled to practice according to a different structure, such as following the same specific sequence of poses every time, the practice can be done either mindfully or mindlessly. For instance, there are numerous examples of beautiful, intense and mindful Yoga practice following a tradition with a regular sequence of poses, like Ashtanga Yoga, as can be seen in this video with David Swenson:

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There is nothing intrinsic to the type of practice that will make it more or less mindful, more intense, challenging or fun than the other. Instead, in my opinion, it is the quality of our participation that makes the practice deep and intense. The depth and intensity of the practice are a result of the level of integration of body, breath, mind and spirit.

Radiance Point

My own way of seeing mindful practice in action is what I call reaching the Radiance Point. Some of the words associated with the idea of Radiance are delight, pleasure, joy, warmth, brightness and glow. In our asana practice, our expression of any pose moves along a continuum between softness and firmness and strength and flexibility. The Radiance Point refers to all aspects of the practice, breath, concentration, physical challenge. For example, we can choose to be in a pose with more softness than firmness, more firmness than softness or we can strike the Radiance Point, the perfect balance between softness and firmness. In other words, at the Radiance Point we are going neither beyond nor below our capacity and ability. The Radiance Point, most likely, almost certainly, will change from one day to the next, because it will be influenced by how well rested we are, what we ate recently, how we feel mentally and physically, etc. Obviously, the more we practice a certain pose, the Radiance Point will vary according to our evolving level of ability. We know that we have reached the Radiance Point in our practice when we experience a sensation of grounded lightness, balance, joy, delight and glow.

The Quality of Our Attention

We all practice Yoga for different reasons and with different objectives in mind. However, I assume that for all of us, our practice –whether it is expressed through asana, pranayama, Yoga Nidra, meditation, or any other way — regardless of the style or level of it, is a practice that leaves us energized, relaxed and balanced. The quality of our attention to the practice is what keeps it from becoming a mechanical repetition of techniques or poses. The quality of our attention, how mindful our practice is, helps us develop the sensitivity needed to fine tune and integrate the different aspects of our being to reach the Radiance Point. I think this is what Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra II.46 is about: Sthira-sukham-asanam, the pose is at the same time steady and comfortable.

Namaste

 

Open and receptive mind

Onions/ Cebollas

Everything is always the same

Do you ever get the feeling that life is just the endless repetition of day after day with very little variation from one day to the next? Many times it feels that life is just a succession of irrelevant actions that we perform mechanically. As a result, we often feel bored and it seems that our actions do not really matter. For some of us, these feelings can be devastating and paralyzing. Other people react by searching for extraordinary experiences that awaken a feeling of aliveness. There is another, easy option.

Opening to Newness

One of the reasons many of us find new places exciting and exhilarating is that visiting a place we have never visited before, besides offering new and interesting things to do and see, helps us shift into a state of mind where we are open and receptive. In this state, we sharpen our senses to register as many aspects of the new environment as possible. This is the direct result of being interested in experiencing the new place. Then, it is not surprising, that the new place seems to exude something special that makes us feel vibrant and energized. Although it cannot be denied that the specific place and its characteristics influence our response to it, the quality of our participation, in other words, our openness and receptiveness, contribute greatly to our experience of the place. Indeed, it often happens that repeated visits to the same place start to diminish our excited response to the place, and its special glow vanishes. In many occasions what is missing is the spark in our eyes that brings aliveness to our perceptions.

Beginner’s Mind

A mind that is open and receptive, and therefore unclouded by preconceived notions, is often called a beginner’s mind. When we think we know what awaits us, the sense of possibility is greatly, if not completely, extinguished. Making up our mind beforehand reduces our opportunities for learning because our attention and energy are engaged in comparing the new situation with our expectations. On the contrary, when we approach new situations, people and places with our minds and hearts open, we step into a state of boundless potentiality because our previous knowledge and conditioning do not interfere in the experience. This is actually one of the wonderful advantages of being a beginner. Moreover, the capacity for being in awe that we observe in many children and young people is largely a result of not deciding on the outcome of an experience before immersing in it. When we think we already know, we close ourselves to the possibility of learning and stagnate instead.

Mindful action vs. Mechanical Action

Given the inclination that our mind and body have for developing habitual patterns of behavior, it is not surprising that our beginner’s mind seems to fade away rather easily. Indeed, our ego’s need to feel in control tends to override the beginner’s mind, effectively replacing the feeling of awe and newness with one of overconfidence or under confidence –depending on the traits of our individual ego. As habit and conditioning convince our minds that we already know what will happen, our attention is drawn away from the event in which we are participating, preventing us from participating fully. When our attention is not completely focused on what we are doing, our actions become mechanical instead of mindful, and thus, we are unable to respond appropriately to the particular circumstances of that specific experience. In those cases, even when the results of our actions are what we expected, our lack of presence in the moment prevents us from truly appreciating what the experience is about.

Shifting into Beginner’s Mind

Fortunately, there are simple ways of shifting into beginner’s mind. The idea is to recognize that every moment, every here and now event, is a unique moment that has never happened before and that will never happen again. Even if the circumstances appear familiar, this moment is not the identical repetition of the past. Becoming aware of this uniqueness gives us the opportunity to be fully present. Here are some ways to shift from habitual mind into beginner’s mind:

  • While eating, pause and shift your spoon, fork or knife to the opposite hand.
  • While writing or drawing, pause and write with your non-dominant hand.
  • While brushing your teeth, use your non-dominant hand.

Of course, we can choose to see these changes as disruptions that slow down our efficiency. On the other hand, we can choose to view the resulting change in pace as a way to focus our attention on what we are doing. Many times, these shifts help us see the quality of our experience and its characteristics.
A less obvious way to shift into beginner’s mind is to pause, breath and observe the salient sensations in our body. By drawing our attention to the breath and the sensations we are experience we make a choice to be mindful, to be fully present. As a result, we are able to realize that every moment is unique in time and space. Consequently, we automatically shift into a state of mind where we are open and receptive to the uniqueness of the present experience.

Beginner’s Mind in Asana

In Yoga asana practice, every time that we assume that we ‘already know (or mastered) a specific posture’ we move away from mindful action and into the territory of mechanical repetition. Hence, we effectively close ourselves to the possibility of learning that results from mindful action. Not to mention, that we close ourselves to experiencing the pose because our attention is absent from the process. In contrast, approaching any posture (even one we have practiced on many occasions) with an open mind gives us the opportunity to learn something new, about the pose and about ourselves simply by acknowledging that the pose is unique. Focusing on the sensations and the breath has an important side effect: it makes it harder to injure ourselves, because our mindful curiosity and exploration with new eyes and fresh mind helps us pay attention to the feedback we constantly receive from body, breath and mind.

In Yoga asana practice, we can try something simple such as:

  • In a pose like mountain or downward dog, close your eyes, feel the salient sensations of the pose, then shift your body weight to the left side of your body, close your eyes and again feel the sensations, noticing any differences. Open your eyes and shift your body weight to the right side, close your eyes, feel and compare. Then find the perfect balance between the sides, feel and compare.
  • In a familiar pose, lengthen the inhalation or exhalation focusing on the most noticeable sensations resulting in the ribcage area.
  • In a familiar pose firm up the muscles in your arms, legs and torso and feel the resulting sensations. Then make the muscles as soft as possible while remaining in the same pose, feel and notice.

Life is an ongoing ever changing flow of events and circumstances that unfolds in unique ways to respond to the variations of the myriad participating elements. Life in itself is vibrant because it is never the same. Therefore, mechanical actions result in lifeless results. Whatever method works for you, I hope that activating your beginner’s mind brings a refreshing perspective on your world.
Namaste,

Rubén