Sunday, July 25, 2010

4 Things My Nieces Taught Me about Yoga

My sister, her husband, and their two little girls (ages 4 and 15 months) visited this week so I've been pre-occupied with dress-up, bedtime stories, and princesses. Children are natural yogis, so of course I also learned a thing or two about yoga.

Here's a sampling:

1.  "We are all princesses!" The ultimate compliment coming from a 4-year-old girl. I think there's a lot of truth in it, too. We can be princesses if we make the choice to see the good in ourselves. In yoga terms, it's like saying we're all a spark of the Divine. We're all perfect just the way we are. 

2. "This is my special talent--a gift from God!," announced Rosemary when she discovered that she could actually stand up in three feet of water, and thus could "swim" on her own after keeping a death grip on Aunt Erica for at least an hour. Sometimes we take for granted that simple pleasures (like the ability to swim in a pool) are pretty amazing gifts. "They should make this a part of yoga."

3. What was your favorite animal at the aquarium? "All of them!" That's right. It's impossible to choose one fish, reptile, or amphibian over another when they're all new and exciting. This is what we call "beginner's mind" in yoga. The first time you experience something, you're totally present and open to learning. You giggle with delight the first time you touch a slimy sting ray and are exhilarated when find yourself in a new backbend you've never tried. Same thing.

4. While beginner's mind brings a sense of awe and wander to things, it also introduces an element of surprise--and sometimes fear. When my nieces were scared of something--the ocean, the pool, a snake at the aquarium--they were also curious. I watched as they touched a scaly animal with the tip of one finger (testing the waters, so to speak). Then, when nothing bad happened, they would try again with a little more confidence (two fingers), and so on until their fear vanished. This is how we approach new yoga poses, and it's a smart way to approach life, too. Always testing our boundaries and limitations, but with caution and respect for the unknown.