What does it mean to think like a beginner?
I believe a big challenge in teaching yoga for osteoporosis or for the aging body is for teachers to go back to the beginners mind. When you have been practicing for so many years and have so much asana in your body it’s hard to remember what it’s like to not have strength and/or flexibility.
I was on my journey of practicing yoga and loving it! In the beginning it was not always love when I would challenge myself with the stronger classes and poses but something always made me feel that yoga would be tremendously helpful for me in my life. As I would move into some of the more demanding poses I remember the challenge, and I would hope that we would move out of the pose quickly. Over a few years of this challenge, strength and resilience develop in your body and mind so these poses become effortless. This advances you along the path from beginner to intermediate then to an advanced practitioner and the opportunity to continuously deepen your practice.
This journey of the physical practice goes even deeper as you bring along the breath and mindset it takes to challenge yourself on the mat.
I remember a teacher saying in a class, “we stress ourselves on the mat through a difficult pose so we can connect to the breath then take that skill off the mat when life challenges us so we can breathe through tough times.”
It is so true that as we challenge ourselves and proceed past the challenge we get mentally stronger. You realize that you can go inside to the breath and allow all the stuff around you to disappear. For me, this is the magical component of yoga. The physical pose is necessary to add the discomfort as you move to a place that requires so much of your body’s strength then you can connect to your breath. When you are a beginner this will come up for you in many poses and especially in those poses where you have weakness in your body. Whether it is due to muscular weakness or an injury. As you get physically, emotionally and spiritually stronger you will notice what was once a challenge is now effortless. It feels so good when you experience the strength develop in your body.
I notice this physical strength develop in my students all the time even when they can’t see it yet. There are layers of muscles in the body and as we practice yoga we strengthen from the inside out. The postural muscles deep in the body and the proprioceptic nervous system that are responsible for our balance are where this increased strength and balance sneak up on you. There are a few balance poses I use as a guide to show my students how their balance is improving and we find that they are less shaky and more centered.
I received an injury from an adjustment from one of my favorite yoga teachers when I had a very strong practice, and that injury took me back to the beginner’s mind. As I would avoid or move away from the sensations of pain I became weaker and more aware of the challenge as I did poses that used to be easy.
This injury became my teacher.
It was interesting to notice the opposite journey from strength to weakness in my physical body but I still had my mental and spiritual strength that I had developed in my practice over the years. This has helped me teach a practice that is manageable for the aging and injured population and to understand this mindset so I can challenge them at the correct pace. In addition, I began my journey as a yoga therapist to learn more physiology, anatomy and aliments, injuries and processes of our bodies as we age.