The aging body and the beginner’s mind

Practice teaching during my YTT 200-hour program.

One of my favorite books is “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.” I’m a dabbler in zen Buddhism, and I love the way the zen passages I read make me feel OK with being a dabbler. One of the most resonating concepts of zen for me is the reminder that all is well. I am OK, enlightenment—or, for me, the capacity to exist calmly—is already there for me, in me. I love the “it is what it is” and “whaddaya gonna do” quality I perceive in zen. Of course, I understand this is through my Western lens, which is surely clouded by privilege and laziness. But perhaps not. Or perhaps that’s OK. The extent to which this zen thinking has become a refuge from anxiety for me is remarkable.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few,” the book begins. On the eve of my graduation YTT class—where I have to lead a whole hour-long practice myself in front of the public (not only classmates, though I am not anticipating a huge crowd)—I have never felt more like a beginner.

A 200-hour teacher training is truly only a tiny taste of all there is to learn—and respect—about yoga. And now, I am feeling in a mode to rest in this place for a time of absorption and processing rather than auditioning for any serious teaching roles. Part of me is just exhausted, so I don’t feel like I have a lot to give and instead have to put my own healing first a little while longer.

Zen means “meditation,” thus elucidating what this flavor of Buddhism is all about. Zen teaches that enlightenment is achieved through the profound realization that one is already an enlightened being.

The term “zen” comes from the Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word “dhyāna” meaning “absorption or meditation.”

Dhyāna is one of the eight limbs of yoga—along with asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), samadhi (enlightenment or bliss), and the yamas (moral discipline) and niyamas (observances)—so we see a lot from these traditions are connected.

I love the beauty found in the universality of these connections. The overlap of my experience going deeper into a yoga practice with more frequently finding opportunities to make life itself a meditation has brought me some solace as I ride the waves of inevitable physical changes and the mental and emotional challenges that come with them.

No matter how physically healthy one stays (and I have some work to do there, digging out of mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic), menopause and its related hormonal fluctuations happen—at least to women, and men have their issues, too! For all, there are work stresses, personality clashes, and the vicissitudes of life that will always present suffering—even when everything seems perfect, there is suffering just beneath the surface with the fear of losing all those things we love, Buddhism teaches.

I had intended to write so much more and do so much more to deep dive into my yoga learnings during these months in the program, but old habits die hard. I gravitated toward my job-job office work, housework, and tending to my family in ways that maybe weren’t strictly necessary instead of “yoga things” more times than I thought I would, and my steps with yoga were baby steps more than I imagined they’d be.

But somehow I am OK with that. I’ve learned so much about myself during these months in the program—continuing to embrace “beginner’s mind” feels right—and I’ve been living my yoga more and more.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned from the YTT program’s instructors and mentors, as well as my fellow students. As I contemplate tomorrow’s “debut,” I keep telling myself I am not nervous—and I 99% believe it.

I have given up on the idea of being perfect and am embracing being perfectly authentic when I am in front of the class. I will be simply sharing a practice and holding space for those in attendance to explore their own authenticity in the moments we are together.

With each breath presenting an opportunity for a new beginning, we can’t fail!