It’s a cloudy and thick summer Saturday in New Orleans and a bright, energetic crowd has just finished a Level 1 Align & Refine yoga class with Amanda Smear-Baudier at Balance Yoga & Wellness studio.  A sweet timbre of enthusiasm and ease washes through the reception room where students chat and pack up their belongings preparing for a fantastic weekend fueled by a balanced and strong beginner’s practice. I glance around and notice that everyone is smiling and taking their time.

That smile extends onto my own visage. Although I have been practicing and teaching yoga for over a decade, there is something still so incredible about entering a class as a beginner. I find that slowing down my practice and reworking the foundation of my poses deeply benefits my mental clarity, enduring strength and relieves stress.

Part of this experience has to do with the meditation concept of Beginner’s Mind. This is a practice of humbling ourselves regardless of our past, experiencing something as if it was our very first time.  Like many of us may have discovered, it can be difficult to break out of our conditioning about what we know or what we think we should know based on how many years we have practiced Yoga, or what teachers we study under, or how many times a week we throw down our mats. Committing yourself to a simple practice based in humility and open-mindedness does wonders to reset the ego and make oneself more receptive to great teaching.

Sometimes there can be issues with how yoga studios advertise the level of their classes, what level the classes actually are, and what students show up for. A great example is attending an advanced yoga class and leaving feeling frustrated that you didn’t get to do handstands because there was a first time yoga student in the class. The flip side of that is showing up for an intermediate/advanced  class and feeling disheartened because you are still pretty new to yoga and everything everyone is doing looks completely impossible. A fantastic yoga teacher can accommodate both a beginning yogi as well as a seasoned practitioner, however this is not what should be happening frequently in a class. Although the language can sometimes be confusing, studio owners work very hard to create levels of classes that cater to students’ needs and teachers’ expertise. So it is your job to be honest with yourself as a student about what you can or can’t do on a day to day basis. It is the studio and instructors’ jobs to make sure you are provided with a safe space to practice injury and stress-free. Start at the beginning.

Don’t get me wrong, I also love to push my practice in the other direction by attending classes and workshops that truly challenge my physical abilities. This inspires me to see what I need to work towards. But I will never know what to reach for when I don’t return to the beginning and mindfully acknowledge the strength that comes from starting over.

Yoga in most cases is not an aerobic sport or exercise regime. It is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that allows the practitioner to build lasting endurance and alignment. Developing and sustaining muscular alignment and fortitude through asana practice is an enormous benefit of re-working your beginner’s approach. Because a level 1 class moves at a slower pace, I can also go deeper into a pose and hold it for a sustained period of breaths. This to me is not only a great learning tool but also an immense luxury.

Believe it or not, as a yoga teacher, I can get pretty stressed out. Sometimes I worry about not being prepared for my classes, or losing the authenticity of my approach or how to make the sequencing accessible to my students. It can be too easy to slip into a place of self-judgement when these stressors arise. I am sure we have all felt similarly about something we have studied and focused on in our careers or lives. My inner shame talk goes something like this….

“Hey lady- You’ve been doing this for years- You should have this all figured out by now…right?”

Incorrect young Jedi.

When I choose to show up with a beginner’s mind and do the basic footwork (literally), these stressors melt away instantaneously. When I am challenged to take a fresh look at an asana or sequence I am given the opportunity to step outside what I think I know and step into a receptive space of learning. Inviting this child-like quality of experience allows the ego and the stresses that impede us all to be left behind while simultaneously increasing an enduring strength in the physical body.

So what are you waiting for?

Go get yourself some Level 1 yoga today! You never know what gems will present themselves to you when you start again at the beginning again.

Mikhayla AndersonComment