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I Am a Beginner

By Natalie Shoemaker

SUN AUG 22, 2021

I Am a Beginner

Yoga often talks about “coming back to the beginner’s mind”, to approach poses with a curious, open and spacious mind set – a state of open inquiry, rather than judgement, expectations or demands, whether you have been practicing yoga for years, whether you are brand new to yoga or whether you are a teacher of yoga.

I had an experience yesterday that really illuminated this philosophy, and although it wasn’t a yoga experience, it was.

I have never been a bike rider. In fact, even as a child, despite my lovely, shiny, purple banana bike, with streamers flowing from the handle bars, complete with basket and bells, bike riding was not my thing. When I moved up to a birthday gift of a coveted red Sekine10 speed, I thought that this bike was destined to help me fall in love with cycling, like my friends. But, alas, I did not succumb to the lure of a fresh breeze blowing through my hair, the lulling rhythmical click, click of cards through my spokes or the unbridled freedom that a bicycle can provide a kid not even close to legal driving age.

Yesterday my partner, Tom, and I rode our bikes to the beach close to our cottage in Nova Scotia. I was so excited! It seemed incredibly romantic and adventurous! What I did not factor in was that I haven’t ridden a bike for years – I mean REALLY ridden a bike. And this journey to the beach by bike was our first time, on an unknown, bumpy, rutted, hilly, back woods road.

Riding down our long, steep driveway to the road is where my heightened sense of discomfort began. It is here that I thought “I am a beginner”, as I navigated my bike in a wobbly fashion along the path. Seeing Tom navigate his bicycle as though he had ridden yesterday (which he had not by the way – he hasn’t ridden for years and years) simply reinforced this message in my head. And there began the endless sound track looping through my brain….

And then it seemed that my bike inadequacies, my lack of cycling prowess really began to shine – I barely remembered, in my nervousness, and heightened sympathetic nervous response, how to shift gears, I couldn’t make it up a couple of the steep hills on my two wheels no matter how desperately I tried (I had to get off my bike and do the walk of shame), my legs and butt were killing me, I was panting and out of breath – even coasting down hills without braking, which should be so liberating and freeing made me fearful.

These are the thoughts that kept looping viciously through my brain, around and around, whirling, swirling in my mind stream. Yup, I was engulfed in a full-on shame/blame/self pity spiral……

1. I can’t do this, I can’t do this….

2. It’s too hard…

3. I’m SO unfit…

4. How come it’s so easy for him?

5. I am so inadequate…

6. Everyone on the planet can ride a bike except for me…

7. I am angry at myself…

8. I’m so dumb….

9. I should be comfortable bike riding – I’m an adult for goodness sake….

10. I am angry at how easy it is for him…

11. What’s wrong with me?

12. I’m not good enough…

13. I’m embarrassed, ashamed…..(insert adjective of choice here – there were a lot!)

I admit, not my proudest moments. Just as I was getting angry and emotional (well, angrier and more emotional), the beach appeared…finally!

At the beach, I sat on a big rock, looked out to the Atlantic Ocean, and allowed myself a few moments to have a little cry, a little pity party for myself, a release for all of those pent-up emotions because of what I lacked – strength, cardio, confidence, determination, and how that lack was brightly highlighted this morning. It couldn’t have been any clearer if there was a neon sign flashing my perceived limitations.

I meditated for a long time while Tom combed the sand looking for beach treasures (a.k.a. getting away from the crazy, crying lady! lol). And during my meditation, I kept being drawn back to the yoga teaching of the “beginner’s mind”. Is this how my student’s sometimes feel? I thought back to my beginning days of yoga many years ago, when the poses, the words, the breath all seemed so foreign and I was so divorced from my body - how I felt about myself in those moments in the past when I began my yoga journey, mirrored the feelings of my bike riding debacle today. For a long time when I began yoga, I was all sweaty, shaky and felt weak and uncoordinated when I couldn’t hold a pose, felt like a failure when I couldn’t even get into a pose, I felt awkward and annoyed trying to tune into my breath, I despised my teacher when she asked the class to hold a challenging pose longer (she was absolutely lovely and an incredible inspiration btw!), and my limbs seemed like cement when I had to hold them in space. And these feelings of being not enough, didn’t just occur at the beginning of my yoga journey, I became aware of them popping up when I learn other things outside of my comfort zone (don’t get me started on what learning Zumba brings up in me!), I felt not enough when I enrolled in my Yoga Teacher Training (not fit enough, not small enough, not coordinated enough, not young enough) and felt that way through most of it if I am being completely honest, and sometimes when a pose challenges me, like eagle arms or camel those feeling of inadequacy will arise if I’m not careful.

And then as I meditated, I observed how angry I felt at myself given my lack, and how angry I felt at Tom for his natural ability and carefree comfort level. What I know about anger is that it is actually fear – what was I afraid of? I have been on a quest for perfection for a long time. Perfectionism is a trait that I have unfortunately strived for throughout my life, and having honed it for many years, it has become a deeply engrained, not so pretty, part of me, and a challenging personal piece that I am growing through and working with every day. This experience tipped the scales of the careful balance that I consciously try to maintain each day to embrace and love my imperfect self - it threatened that precarious balance and opened the door for perfectionism to arrive with gusto. This illumination of my imperfect self was a beautiful, humbling and emotional experience, a reminder to be gentle with myself, to honor and love myself where I am today, just as I am – just like I do for every student who walks in my studio door……. but somewhere along the way I needed this reminder to share that message with myself too. I am so grateful for this opportunity to grow, as ungraceful as it was today; a powerful invitation to detach, to shed a layer, to soften, to surrender something that is not serving me.

We are all beginners at something, my friends. Today for me it was a seemingly simple thing like riding a bike; tomorrow it will be something else – but each moment is an invitation to make a choice – how will I choose to handle these situations, these thoughts that arise, and what will I allow myself to sink into during these moments - all of that is completely up to me.

Miraculously, the bike ride home was AMAZING! I felt free, liberated, strong, brimming with joy, confidence and abundance – so much so that I took the lead home! I arrived way before Tom and waited and waited for him, until he appeared up the driveway pushing his bike with the bike chain dragging on the ground. Apparently, I did not hear him call out to me as I rode like the wind home…apparently, the rider in lead is supposed to go back and check on the other person…...but that is a story and a lesson for another day. :)