Category Archives: practice

Beginner’s Mindset: The Freedom And Infinite Joy of Being A Novice

Any real ecstasy is a sign you are moving in the right direction. –St. Theresa of Avila. Trans. by Daniel Ladinsky

Maybe it is the teacher in me always at the front of the classroom, but on occasion I love to be the bumbling idiot in the room.

Last night I went to a Knife Skills Course at Different Drummer’s Kitchen. It was fabulous, I learned a ton and I got to feel that tense-muscles-can’t-remember-my-name-type of confusion.

After a ten minute history lesson about knife design and manufacturing I was already swooning in the beginner mindset and had lost touch with my body. When the instructor moved rapidly into basic knife holding instruction I went into bumbling idiot mode. I looked at her hands, then I looked at mine. Nothing. She forced my clamped hands to move and then put the chef’s knife on the carrot stick again. Nothing, I couldn’t remember how to move my own hands. It was great. Complete mind/body melt down.

It took several vegetables and a lot of extra attention before something happened. I was mid julienne and the knife suddenly slid across the cutting board in this almost poetic fashion. The beginner in me froze terrified that I would never be able to do it again, but the teacher in me was delighted. I had seen the flow. One second in time and I was convinced I would be able to chop vegetables. Almost immediately I could get it back for four to five slices at a time. Then the flow happened for 8 to 10 slices. By the time I got home to show off for my husband, it was there, the poetic flow had destroyed all my years of muscle memory because my hands and forearms loved doing it the right way.

It reminds me of alignment. Years ago I was working with a client with sacral instability. She had no sacral curve at all, in other words she had a flat butt. At the end of our lesson I taught her how to recede the pubic disc to allow the sacrum to free back so the pelvic floor could be open and wide. She did it three or four times and liked it. I told her to think about freeing the sacrum back every day when she went walking. A week later when we had a follow up lesson she was very embarrassed because she had become confused and decided to just stop thinking about it. But when I looked at her I had to laugh. She had a perfectly healthy sacral curve. The body felt how good it was to be in the right position and helped her forget the old way. She still studies with me today and she hasn’t lost the sacral curve one bit.   

Our bodies and our minds know flow and ease and will always prefer it. Trust flow.

Check out my handiwork from last night’s class. Nothing like Beginner’s Pride.

Discipline: Practice Lesson #1

Merriam Webster defines “discipline” in the following variety of ways: punishment, instruction, a field of study, training that corrects moral character, control gained by enforcing obedience or order, orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior, self-control. All that exhausts me.

Let’s talk about the difference between practice and discipline. Maybe there isn’t one in current rhetoric. Maybe the line is fuzzy, but I want them to be separate.

The aerobic instructors at the Y where I teach think it is incredibly funny that the yoga students are notoriously rude to them if the aerobic instructors run a minute or two over. I know it is true because I watch my own devoted students become fireballs of fury if a class before us is not orderly about exiting the studio.

So here is the truth. The more developed the yoga practice the more one knows how desperately the yoga is needed.  Beginner students may be grumpy and irritable people, but they don’t correlate their new exercise program to their emotions or stability. Intermediate students are usually diehards—they are the newest addicts, they see the difference and need their fix more often than any other group. Advanced students are so busy trying to incorporate their yoga into their driving patterns, their relationships and their workplace that they sometimes forget to show up on the mat. And teachers-yeah well, we are the craziest out there and we need to be surrounded by it at all times in order to stand a chance in this world. But all of that is practice, not discipline.

Practice is about development, change, evolution, betterment, discovery, enjoyment, fulfillment, struggle, challenge, fight, strength, devotion, the unknown and the known.

Discipline is about routine.  Do we learn much from routine, other than that it keeps us organized and sane? Not much. In order to learn from our routine, we have to make it a practice. We need to stay deliberate and mindful. To better explain I will share a current list of my personal practices and disciplines.

Practices

  • Recovering from Grad School
  • Resting
  • Morning Journaling
  • Lunch as a meditation not a multitasking session
  • Teaching yoga mindfully and safely
  • Starting a heart-centered business
  • Writing a wellness blog
  • Loving my husband
  • Staying in touch with friends and family

Disciplines

  • Drinking enough water
  • Showering more often
  • Eating at the table
  • Brushing my teeth 2x/day
  • Taking vitamins
  • Keeping a clean kitchen
  • 8-9 hours of sleep each night

 If we think of time on the mat as a discipline it becomes not just part of the routine, but part of the mindlessness of our day. There is enough mindlessness in our days. I want you to show up on your mat, or to any practice you have because you can’t wait to get there and do it again. It offers something so challenging you want another day of fight, or something so bewildering you want to figure it out, or something so delicious you can’t wait to slip back into it.

This week I invite you to make a list of all your practices and disciplines. Then start to think about how much time you could commit to a new daily practice to improve the overall quality of your health. Could you do five minutes a day and maybe 20 on Sundays? Could you do two hours on Sundays and 30 minutes on Friday night? Think it over, be creative and be very, very reasonable. Don’t forget about other time commitments. Don’t forget about fun time and times you are tired and without ambition. Make a list of times and write those down as well.

Important note: You don’t have to know what you are going to do with that time yet. Just think about how much time and energy you have available. Take one week to start to be more conscious of the current practices and disciplines in your life and how you maintain them. Pay close attention to the primary practice in your life and notice all the subtle practices within it that help keep it strong. They are helpful to remember and appreciate as well.

The Practice

One of the reasons I love my Friday morning class is that my students let me talk about “The Practice” off the mat. I dabble with little bits in my other classes, but I get the sense that the Friday regulars are hungry for it. Maybe it is just the Friday time slot because they come in wearied from the week, or maybe the students are just in the routine of thinking beyond asana, or posture.

Last night I read Heather Church’s recent post Eleven Steps to a Happy Life; My Joy Practice. I like that she takes her yoga and her practice to so many different places. She titles it her Joy Practice, but what she conveys is her full practice, the life practice. Which is very suggestive of how she wants to live her life—with a focus on joy. What I want to talk about today is the current practice, perhaps even a finite practice.

You may think that my practice right now is starting a wildly successful heart-centered acupuncture and yoga business. Let me assure you it is not. My practice right now is recovering from grad school. Starting a business that feeds me spiritually, physically, and intellectually is a key component to that practice, but only one part. Recovery in the short term and sustained health is a necessary practice if I want to help people heal for a living.

For the month of October I’ve decided to really contemplate the word “practice” and make a list of what I want my health practice to include and what I want my health to look like. In doing this I’ve decided to invite you along and offer four weeks worth of practice-oriented guidance and conversation.

To begin this process I want to start by discussing the idea of this moment’s practice. This moment in your life that is, not just in your day. What is your focal point? What is most important to you? Maybe it is the biggest struggle. Maybe it is your greatest joy. It may not even be that obvious to you until you stop and think about it.

Start with the number one thing. It may be one thing that is culminating in a month or three months like planning a wedding or having a baby. Or it might be something with no end in sight like raising a teenager or loving a partner. Whatever it is I invite you to name it this weekend. Own it. Maybe even write it down on a piece of paper and put it someplace special where you can see. Be proud of your current practice. Give it the weight it deserves.

Please comment on facebook or on my website and share your practice. If you are one of my students catch me after class and tell me your practice if you like. Tell other people in your life. It is your life’s work at the moment.