Beginner’s Mind and Body, one-legged yoga

Dipti lifting foot into Tree with strap

Day after day, month after month, year after year, practice can grow stale and arrogant if I don’t re-invigorate mind and body in what zen master, Suzuki Roshi refers to as Beginner’s Mind. In yoga asana practice I need to remind myself to approach the physical aspect of any pose with “Beginner’s Body.”

If I return to the mat each day with an intention to open myself to whatever the practice (the universe!) can teach me, if I approach every class—whether I am teacher or student— as if it is my first, yoga will continue to inspire and embody its own motivation.

Fortunately, there’s nothing like an injury in one part of the body to jolt me out of my usual routine. An injury that requires resting, like the neck strain I have today (due to doing something I KNEW I shouldn’t do, but did anyway!!!) forces me to lay off my usual inversion practice for a while and spend more time in other poses and sequences—an opportunity to practice with Beginner’s Mind & Body.

As all of my teachers have stressed, yoga is not about becoming “a little more bendy;” it’s about how deep and how quickly I can drop down into the center of the SELF. It’s about attempting to stay connected with my center for as long as possible. To do this, I MUST practice Beginner’s Mind.

Dipti in Revolved Hasta Padanghustasana

There’s nothing like a one-legged sequence to shake out whatever remains stale and “old” in my practice. My teacher Dipti introduced a challenging sequence in last week’s class. What made it different was that nearly all of the poses were practiced on one leg and then the class switched legs and did them all on the other side. This required balance muscles in the core, ankles, and gluteus medias as well as intense concentration to remain upright!

For the dark, cold days that are upon me now in the western New York, a great way to stir the inner light (without straining my neck!) has been playing with these one-legged poses. Remembering the stability inherent in correctly practicing the individual poses, I gently try combining them. I pay particular attention to stabilizing my pelvis to protect my lower back and I press down through the inner leg and ankle of the standing leg to avoid my tendency to roll onto the lax outer ankle.

I’m starting with just a couple—3 at first—and trying to move through the poses without touching the lifted leg onto the ground as I transition from one to the other. I figure that as soon as I get used to the first 3, I’ll add another one or two as I become comfortable. I’m shooting for stability and grace in the sequence.

If you decide you’d like to spice up your practice and develop your Beginner’s Mind/Beginner’s Body with one-leggers, start slowly and carefully with strong focus on building alignment in each pose before moving on. Use ujjayi breath to build the position. As always, listen to your body, especially your vulnerable lower back and knees and stop when you feel pain.

Read the Introduction to Home Practice and Asana Practice if you haven’t yet and be sure you have permission from your medical practitioner before embarking upon any asana practice. Everyone should work at their capacity, not beyond—and make use of blocks, straps, or chairs if the full pose is presently unattainable.

One-leggers are not recommended for pregnant women, folks with current spinal disc or sciatica issues, or anyone who experience dizziness,

D. in Revolved Lifted Bent Knee Pose

Here’s a list of possible poses that I’ve been fooling around with:

  • Vrksasana – TREE
  • Virabhadrasana 3 – WARRIOR 3
  • Natarajasana – DANCER
  • Utthita Hasta Padanghustasana -STANDING BIG TOE
  • Ardha Chandrasana – HALF-MOON
  • Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana – UPRIGHT EXTENDED ONE-LEGGED (standing splits)
  • Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana – HALF BOUND LOTUS
  • Garudasana – EAGLE

I have to resist the thought that “Now I have the pose- and i can relax my attention.” I keep reminding myself that the journey is the pose and attempt to stay mindful coming into, during, and transitioning from pose to pose. If I fall out, no big deal; I can try again or move on as I feel prompted from within. Practicing this way over and over again helps to relax the grip that the past has on my mind and allows me to breathe and “pose” in the present.

Read more about BEGINNER’S MIND:

ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND

by Suzuki Roshi

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The audio version is great listening while walking deep in the forest, or on a treadmill:

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

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TODAY’S MANTRA:

HONOR,

BALANCE,

LIGHT

4 thoughts on “Beginner’s Mind and Body, one-legged yoga”

  1. Wow!
    This is my first time on your site and I am really impressed!
    I have to come back and do some more reading.
    I am not into yoga but definitively into meditation.
    I wish you happy Holidays!
    Keep up the great work!

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