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Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Student Tips

Why Yoga?: Shifting Perspective & the “Beginner’s Mind”

Previously published on Martinez.Patch.com on May 2, 2014

Many people ask me why they should try yoga at all. Some people start because they want the physical benefits, such as freedom from back pain, reduction in blood pressure, flexibility and strength, etc. Others start because of yoga’s effectiveness in calming the mind and improving stress response conditions, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

A fundamental way that yoga can help conditions that are more mental and physiological than just physical is yoga’s underlying philosophy. As people practice yoga, they find they are more able to focus and concentrate, as well as more able to just let things go.

Acceptance can be a very challenging process for a number of reasons, not the least of which because we don’t want to become complacent or submit to conditions that do not serve us in the long run. However, sometimes we struggle with releasing an experience or memory that is not helping us.

One way yoga can help people to learn acceptance is through the practice itself. Many poses are unusual, not only to a Western mind but a Western body as well. Because many poses originated in a culture originally free of desk chairs and cubicles, our bodies are unaccustomed to opening our hips and shoulders in the way poses sometimes require.

Another way yoga can help people shift perspective is by revealing how similar things that seem different can really be. When we first begin practicing, we may perceive poses as being very, very different from each other. As we learn more, we can begin to realize that the poses themselves are not different; rather, the person practicing the pose, and his or her relation to gravity changes.

Take last week’s Where in Martinez? Photo contest… In the paragraph I wrote that I was getting “reoriented” after our studio’s move back to my hometown. In the picture I seem to be doing Warrior 3, a traditional balancing pose. This is pretty much how the picture looked when I downloaded it, although I did make alterations in size, etc.

.warrior3 wallhandstand

What I DIDN’T do, what someone would normally do first, is turn it to the “real” orientation, 90 degrees clockwise. Then the viewer can see that the pose I was in was actually a variation on handstand at the wall…

What I love most about “Where in Martinez?” contests is that they bring to our attention the things we take for granted. We may pass beauty every day without appreciating it. These murals, for instance, that are located all around Hwy 4, the train trellis, Franklin Canyon, and Mt. Wanda, took a great amount of effort and coordination by many, many citizens of Martinez from local artists who gave their time to the local students, government officials, and school staff who helped make them happen. I can’t imagine the mountains of unseen labor it must have taken to get something like that through bureaucratic and logistical hurdles and into actual accomplishment. And yet many of us drive by them, even sit idling at lights beside them, without appreciating not only the art itself, but the profound power of collaborative effort that made them a reality.

Yoga is a practice designed to help us learn and cultivate a fresh attitude toward the world around us. In some Buddhist traditions, this is called a “Beginner’s Mind”. Essentially, it is the ability to let go of preconceived notions and open up to the world around you with the same curiosity and eagerness you have when you first start something.

Once, while getting a massage with Jan Bombardier at Essence Skin and Body Care, she played “If” by Joni Mitchell. The song is based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name, but Mitchell makes a few alterations, and one has always struck me as especially yogic:

“If you can fill the journey of a minute
With sixty seconds worth of wonder and delight,
Then the earth is yours and everything that’s in it
And more than that, I know you’ll be alright.”

So, with our inaugural (and especially challenging) “Where in Martinez, Yoga Edition,” I invite you to explore our town with a new perspective and open mind in the hopes each journey may one day be filled with wonder and delight.

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