Open Heart + Beginner's Mind = Magic, Mystery and Wisdom
We say in yoga that there is no end to a pose – if you’re curious, there’s always a new discovery, if you breathe deeply, there’s always more space, if you listen carefully, there’s always more to learn, if you push too hard, you may get hurt. Sounds like life really – no matter what we do, or how well we do it, if we pay attention, stay compassionate and really listen, there is no end to the learning, discovering or teaching.
Everybody has a story and, as mine careens fast and furiously towards my 50th year, I find myself looking back, startled and humbled by my triumphs and wreckages, the rocky roads and winding paths of youthful bliss, motherhood and its exquisite highs and crushing lows, divorce, grief, loss, deep love, astounding friendships, precious family and, alongside it all, like a quiet shadow and invisible best friend, my yoga.
Yoga has been a pulsating life support, a checkpoint, a guardian angel, offering me a way out and a way in, and gratefully, for the last 10 years, my work.
Almost 3 decades exploring with Iyengar props in my best friend's home studio; the rigor and discipline of Ashtanga; the calm and nurture of pre natal; the searing heat and craziness of Bikram; the strength and vibrancy of Baptiste Power; the beauty and grace of Fluid Power - a multi-coloured, multi-layered incredible journey into my body, mind and breath.
What more, on earth, could it possibly gift me with?
April 2013, my first ever Yoga Journal Conference in my old hometown of Manhattan. I knew I was in for an exceptional 4 days. I mean, there I was, faced with a smorgasbord of wisdom and experience - the yoga world's elite whom I had only read about. The likes of Rod Stryker, Sarah Powers, Seane Corn, Sharon Gannon, David Life, Alan Finger, Judith Hanson Lassiter, Tias Little (to name a few), and a fierce tiger about whom I'd heard wild smatterings, Ana Forrest.
Just to be clear, I was not in my peak of health and wellness. I was emotionally fragile due to painful family challenges back in Sydney, very thin, as well as jetlagged and tired from late nights and red wine with treasured friends. I literally stumbled onto my mat for my 8am Sunday morning 2 hour Forrest Yoga class.
But from the moment that her guardian angels (aka assistants) led us through a wrist warm up, I knew I was in the presence of magic and mystery that I'd never before experienced. As I plodded through her abdominal sequence, my belly literally screaming in pain, my heart pounded excitedly and my spirit stirred. Poses that I had literally been doing for years felt entirely different, more spacious and more accessible. I was being guided into unfamiliar spaces within familiar territory and it felt simultaneously scary and exhilarating. And when one of these angels touched me, their assist was gentle yet commanding and I felt safe to explore deeper.
The most profound and exhilarating experience of all was Ana's very direct instruction for us to let go of our neck.
Habit kept me reverting to looking up or straining, but constant reminding gave me glimpses of exquisite relief and, when I listened and let go, flood gates opened and years of habitual tightness throughout my neck and down into my shoulders began to release. It was body and mind blowing!
I was literally shaking from the shock of the physically challenging practice, but more beautiful was the shaking deep deep inside as I realised that I was in the presence of extraordinary wisdom. If I kept listening and stayed very present, I would be intelligently guided into a yoga practice that encouraged exploration, deep strength and vulnerability.
I realised my mat was a space where anything and everything could heal, and every second that I vacated was a lost opportunity to explore and discover. I left that 2 hour class feeling as if I'd been in 10 years of therapy but hadn't had to utter a word. Priceless!
I knew I had finally found my teacher. I had to get her to Sydney.
The rest is history.
It's almost 2 years since the NYC Yoga Journal conference. Learning from Ana, and practicing Forrest Yoga, has been life changing. She is a game changer; the only requirement is being willing to play.
Practicing with a relaxed and released neck has become a relished habit. Ana talks of the increase in intelligence between the brain and the rest of your body. Your hearing improves and your body responds more attentively to what its being asked to do. I experience it as a calling to be wide awake and so travel deeper within. When I release my neck, which would often play a big part in keeping me balanced, I have to work harder to ensure I stay fully present to every movement and sensation. Active feet build each pose from the ground up, safely layering my bones, joints and muscles. The result is an infinitely stronger, calmer and wiser practice.
Alongside this has been the exciting adventure, and challenge as a teacher, of creating classes that weave my passion for fluid flow yoga with the intelligent sequencing and delicious spaciousness and discovery that comes from longer holds and deep powerful ujjayi (victorious) breath; of finding an authentic voice that speaks my truth and so inspires my students to explore more deeply.
The ultimate challenge has been the willingness to let go of what ‘I already know to be right’ and be open to trying on something new, with a beginner’s mind. What an amazing and humbling life lesson, for no matter what we do or how good we are at doing it, there’s always more to learn, more to discover.
Off the mat I feel stronger, wiser and less fearful. I’m more wiling to embrace change, take risks and be curious. Vulnerability feels okay; in fact it often feels empowering.
It's an ongoing story - after all, it’s my life! The only limits are those we self impose; the only stumbling blocks are those we choose not to hurdle over. Amongst all the highs and lows, and whether on or off the mat, the magic, mystery, endless learning and teaching never cease when we remain truly awake, and willing to journey with an open mind and a humble heart.
Beth Borowsky is one of Sydney’s most inspirational yoga teachers and teacher trainers. She is known and loved for her sell out Goddess Yoga Retreats, both within Australia and overseas. She offers yoga classes, privates and corporate classes in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs and city area.