So first things first yes I nicked the title from the famous book ‘Zen Mind Beginners Mind’ by Zen master Shunryu Suzuki – all will be revealed why in the content of this blog.Right I have no idea why I am writing a blog , nobody reads these days so I promise to keep it short. I was actually thinking about donning a tiny pair of speedos and throwing a few yoga shapes whilst showing a bit of ass on an Instagram reel in the hope of getting strangers to like me but well I thought I’d write something instead. I don’t want to do that whole social media rant thing here as I’m trying to write something purposeful that maybe people might connect with and either agree or disagree, but it’s very tempting.
FUCK YOU social media – right, got that out of my system. Shall we begin ?In the Zen book mentioned above there’s a line (well there’s a few ,that’s why its a book and not a social fucking media spiritual meme -arghh I’m at it again , let it go Ryan let it go). The line goes something like this .. ‘In a beginners mind there are many possibilities , in an experts mind there are few’. So my layman’s interpretation is that one should maintain a fresh open perspective in life and in practice – which we could say are macrocosm / microcosm, and not think that we know it all. Getting back into teaching real people recently (and finally moving away from teaching tiny people in a box on a laptop ) I stumbled into this line trying to explain to folk that every time you get on the mat , it’s a fresh new experience. Your body and mind are different to how they both were last time you practiced. But there’s always a temptation to slip into the expert mind of ‘ I need to bind in Marichyasana A or catch ankles in Kapotasana delete as appropriate. But you get my drift. Our whole practice takes on a life of is it as good / bad as the last time we practiced , the judging mind shit that moves us away from our fresh new experience of a beginners mind. Yes I get it – we are westerners , we have that ‘we must achieve at all costs’ written into our DNA. But Yoga is not a destination as the cliche goes but a journey. Put it another way and to quote Henry Miller in his ace book Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch..
‘A person’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things’.
Read that line again as it blew me away when I read the book . A person’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. Boom.Can you apply that philosophy when you’re next on the mat ? Don’t look at practice as Surya Namaskar being the starting line with ‘taking rest’ the finishing, but as an opportunity to have a fresh new experience.I was just yesterday listening to a podcast with the total Zentastic Dude Rick Rubin ( Broken Record podcast – absolutely ace – go check it out.). He was chatting with top Hip Hoppers Run the Jewels ( and if you aint heard these boy’s bars , stop right now and go listen I implore you!) El-P was talking about some lyrics that he had written but he wasn’t happy with a couple of bars , so the whole song didn’t feel right. Eventually he was able to write something new and this changed the whole expression/ feeling of the song that he was totally happy with. I think there’s also something to be learned from that attitude. And it’s something that I totally resonate with. Some times practice doesn’t feel right , perhaps it’s a certain posture that I have done a certain way over a period of time but it has become a little uncomfortable and eventually I have the insight to move things round a little, and everything clicks again. Some years ago I was talking with a student about the Ashtanga Yoga system. She was bored with Primary Series – ‘if I have to do Janu A again I’ll scream’ she said. It would have been quite easy here to do that thing that Ashtangis like to do and get on the Ashtanga soapbox to preach the gospel of Patanjali. Ok so most of you know I don’t jive to the Yoga Sutra ting but sure there’s something in there about continued practice and blah blah blah – in fact note to self re-write the Sutras as the Yoga Blah of Patanjali*. So I told her to go off and explore other yoga systems and find something that she resonates with. I mentioned (to her) that for me the most important thing to look for is the lineage and tradition of the system – she agreed and went off a joined a hot yoga studio.** Back to the point of this blog. After the above chat with me student I went away and thought just what is it that keeps me returning daily to Ashtanga and to Janu A – (hey Janu A big up yoself). And to nick another book title from Mr.(O)G ‘My experiments with the truth’ I feel every time I get on the mat it’s an experiment with Ashtanga Yoga. What is happening to my body and mind during each posture and each vinyasa – every time is different , something new to explore both in mind and body. It never ever gets boring – quite the opposite – there’s always something new – every day. It really is maintaining that beginners mind. And I try to embrace beginners mind when I’m teaching too – everyone’s mind and body is different -and different every day – as me main Verve man Dicky Ashcroft sang ‘we’re a million different people from one day to the next’. Teaching – especially Mysore Style, I feel it’s as important for the student as it is for me to maintain beginners mind.
I guess here would be as good as any place to address my thoughts on the Ashtanga Yoga system and it’s tradition. From the outside looking in (and sometimes from the inside looking in too) it’s easy to see these various sequences as a linear tiered system to develop and achieve. Primary Series , Second Series Third Fourth etc ‘Hey Man check me I’m doing third series I have arrived baby’ is the Instagram post inference usually with a quote from that man again Patanjali. I love how these folk post pictures of themselves yoga pretzeled to the max and then use some naff spiritual cliche to make you believe just how awake they are – I mean what’s wrong with telling us how awake you are in Janu A ? Sorry went off piste a little there . So I think it’s good to look at the Ashtanga sequences in reverse order – so Primary Series comes in first place. In fact Pattabhi Jois said somewhere that ‘Primary Series is most important , Second Series is of some importance and the advanced series is for insta reels only (ok he actually said advanced series for demonstration only , but I just updated it). The word tradition gets banded about too. The tradition is this , the tradition is that and blah fucking blah. Can we use a different word instead of tradition ? And I’m going to put forward the word ‘trend’ ! As that what I see – the Ashtanga Yoga system has evolved for better or worse and we know P.J. taught differently to different students – which how it should be. Individualise the system for the individual – makes sense no? For some students Bhujapidasana is not and might never be appropriate but Baddha Konasana and Upavishta Konasana are. But hey wait the tradition says unless the student is binding in Marichyasana D they can no longer continue with the rest of the primary series. Er well that idea of the tradition makes absolutely NO SENSE ( maybe I can add an N between the O and the S). Maybe lets see if we can add in a dose of beginners mind here – up north we have a different phrase for beginners mind – common fucking sense ( add in the word fucking as appropriate – I love a good F bomb as you can tell by my total lack of sophistication in my writing – but please feel free to leave it out). My aim is to ( and apologies to readers who have an aversion to anything that could be construed as ‘woo woo’) to turn the student into the Guru – and definitely not pretend to be one myself. And when I say turn the student into a Guru what I mean by this that I try to get them to understand their own bodies and it’s limitations and the posture(s) they are doing and fit them two things together that allows them to maintain a steady breath , steady body and steady gaze. Easy init. ** Did you ever see the Charlie Brown cartoon. You know when the school Principle gets on the tannoy system and the voice comes out as mwah mwah mwah mwah – ie not real words but just muffled sounds ?Well this is what my brain does to the Patanjali Sutras when I try to read them. * ok ok this is a joke and hot yoga fans you know I love you really and hot yoga too – it’s just so, hot!