An Introduction to Shoshin Yoga
Shoshin is a Japanese word that is usually translated as "beginner's mind." The typical understanding of beginner's mind is just that, to keep the mind of a beginner when approaching all aspects of life. Author of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind Shunryu Suzuki says, "In the beginnner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few." The mind of the beginner is always ready to learn and open to question. Shoshin certainly means this, but there is also a deeper meaning to the word.
A more accurate translation of the word Shoshin would be something like "original mind" "open mind" or "self-sufficient mind" Additionally, the word "mind" in this context doesn't just point to the intellectual thinking mind, but something more akin to being, consciousness or spirit. Shoshin is therefore not just an approach to life, but a pointer to our own original nature which naturally has all the qualities of a beginner: freshness, openness, curiosity, receptivity and wonder.
The original, open mind which the word Shoshin points to lies at the heart of all true spiritual traditions. In their own ways, all these traditions point to our true nature beyond the confines of our body and personality. This original nature of mind has been called Spirit, Consciousness, Awareness, The Self, God, Love, or simply "who you really are." All spiritual traditions are ultimately tools to help each of us rediscover our own original minds and the qualities of love, peace, and happiness that are inherent within it.
The practice of Yoga is one such tool. Or at least it should be...
One doesn't need to look far to see that most of yoga's original intention has been lost and replaced with a hip way to "get a workout." Today's image of yoga is one of extreme flexibility, gymnastic movements, sweating in a hot room, and of course, kale smoothies. It's easy to understand why many people today conclude that yoga is simply not for them.
In truth, Yoga was never meant to be a physical pursuit.
In fact, the original yoga postures were simply variations of seated meditation postures. The primary purpose of yoga postures (asanas) was simply to make the body comfortable for a long period of time so that the deeper inner practice of yoga could be performed.
True yoga is really for everyone, because ultimately yoga is not an activity, but a means to return to our natural state of being.
Shoshin Yoga is a return to the true essence of yoga, while retaining the physical benefits of a modern yoga practice in a way that is accessible to all ages and abilities.
The Physical Practice
There are many benefits that come with the physical practice of yoga, improved flexibility, mobility, and posture to name a few. No matter what your age, Shoshin Yoga will make you feel youthful, vibrant and free within your own body.
Unlike typical yoga classes, the poses and sequences of Shoshin Yoga are not just randomly tossed together. Each sequence is designed ahead of time with the intention of opening the body in a systematic and efficient way. Shoshin Yoga poses are drawn not just from the yogic tradition, but from physical therapy and sports science with a focus on selecting the most effective and accessible movements available.
While Shoshin Yoga is primarily designed to be scalable to all abilities, it is not a completely passive approach. We understand that a tight muscle is often a weak muscle, so strengthening exercises are included as well. It is this combination of stretching and strengthening that works its magic.
The primary goal of the physical practice of Shoshin Yoga is not to "get a workout," but instead to restore and maintain our natural levels of mobility and movement throughout the entirety of our lives. We believe that this is everyone's birthright, so no matter the current condition of your body, Shoshin Yoga can help return your body to its natural functionality.
The Inner Work
While Shoshin Yoga honors the physical, it emphasizes the practice of yoga as a means to an end and not an end in and of itself.
Ultimately, yoga is a tool to rediscover our true nature of peace, love and happiness.
It is often said that no practice can lead you to what you already are, and this is of course true. In the same way that you can't take a step towards yourself, you can't become what you already are. It's for this reason that the intelligent spiritual seekers of all ages have asked not "what can I do to get to happiness?" but "what's blocking me from seeing and experiencing the natural happiness that I am?"
In Yoga there's a term for the inner blockages that prevent us from experiencing the natural peace and joy inherent within us; they are called samskaras. The main instruction in yoga is not to try to get anywhere, but instead to remove the samskaras and unblock the flow of the natural well-being already inside us. This is the approach we take in Shoshin Yoga.
During the practice of Yoga we first bump into the physical blockages and constrictions of the body. The natural impulse when faced with these uncomfortable sensations is usually to resist and protect ourselves. In Shoshin Yoga we take the opposite approach of slowing learning to relax and open around these sensations. This learning to relax around difficult and challenging sensations is the true essence of the yoga practice.
As we become accustomed to the difficult sensations of the body, we may begin to uncover deeper psychological tensions within them. It is then that we begin to understand that many of the physical restrictions of the body are in fact the result of the psychological restrictions of our own mind. It is here where the deeper samskaras begin to percolate into our awareness in order to be released.
Ultimately it is simply the awareness and non-resistance that allows both the physical and spiritual knots to be released and unblock the natural flow of peace and happiness into our lives.
The practice of Shoshin Yoga is a bit like a training ground for the rest of life. There is much that is accomplished working with the physical restrictions of the body, but the real work begins when we start to apply the same attitude to the experiences of life off the mat. What we eventually discover is that our difficulties and challenges in life reveal the same contractions and blockages as the yoga practice itself. Just as we use physical postures to elicit these hidden blockages of the body, we find that life has a way of stimulating our samskaras and giving us the opportunity to release them.
The more we practice yoga, the more we see that life truly is the greatest teacher.
Life is perfectly designed to push our buttons and bring up all the areas within us remain blocked. (In case you haven't noticed :) We become true yoga students when we no longer resist this aspect of life, but instead embrace it. We realize that life is not against us, but is in fact doing everything it can to free us. If we want to be free and happy in life we must remove the inner blockages within us and life provides a vehicle to do so.
And so when we become worried, angry, sad or fearful in life, we apply the same technique as in the yoga practice on the mat. We reverse the habit to resist and push away and replace it with the habit of openness and relaxation. In doing so our inner blockages are given all that they need to dissolve.
If we will learn to use it, each moment of our life is an opportunity to release a little bit more of ourselves and let in more peace, happiness and love.
This is the practice of Shoshin Yoga.
SHOSHIN YOGA FOUNDER
Ayla Sarnoff has spent the last decade teaching, practicing and learning about yoga's therapeutic benefits. Ayla is a E-RYT 200, 300HR Kaiut Yoga teacher, certified in prenatal yoga, restorative yoga, and yoga for cancer survivors. Ayla's passion and expertise is in making yoga accessible for everyone, regardless of age, ability or degree of fitness. She is especially interested in how yoga can help heal injuries, illness, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
Shoshin means beginner’s mind. The mind of the beginner is always ready to learn and open to question. Shoshin is not just an approach to practicing yoga, but a pointer to our own original nature which naturally has all the qualities of a beginner: openness, curiosity, receptivity and wonder.