Beginner's Mind

Can we learn to recreate the magic of 'the first time' again and again and again?

BY: Anne Cushman


When I fell in love with yoga, I was 22 years old. It was 15 years ago, and I was living with two massage students in a tiny adobe cabin on the southern border of Santa Fe out where the art galleries and million-dollar villas disintegrated into a tattered fringe of vacant lots and trailer-home parks. Our cabin smelled of mouse droppings, a comforting smell reminiscent of the gerbil cages in second-grade classrooms. It had a wood stove in the kitchen, an abandoned chicken coop in the yard, and an enormous teepee out by the woodpile where my roommates and our friends used to gather and bang on congas and rattle beaded gourds while incanting visualizations of our future.

"If it's for my highest good," we'd begin. "If it's for my highest good, I create a reality in which..." There was always a certain amount of anxiety in these prayers, as if God were a moody and unpredictable waitress, and if we forgot to mention that we wanted cream in our coffee or a lover who wasn't already married to someone else, there would be no chance to change our order.

It was my housemate Mollie who took me to my first yoga class, taught in the early morning at her massage school by one of the students, a slender man with muscles so clearly defined that the massage teacher used to use him as an animated anatomy text. My main reason for going, frankly, was that I couldn't afford to get Rolfed. I'd been reading about Rolfing in one of my roommate's massage manuals: How your skeleton could be pulled apart like a 2-year-old's Barbie doll and put back together in better alignment. It sounded like having your engine rebuilt by God.

But Rolfing was $60 a session, way more than I could afford on my paychecks from my five-dollar-a-hour part-time job as a product tester for an interactive video company. So I decided to try yoga instead.

The white-carpeted room smelled comfortingly of almond massage oil and steaming brown rice. The teacher stood at the front of the room in threadbare gray sweatpants, naked from the waist up. As he swung his arms overhead in a Sun Salutation, slabs of muscles slid around his chest and back; then he folded at the hips like an ironing board. I took a deep breath and dove in.

An hour and a half later, I floated out of the class, my body thrumming like a plucked guitar string. Energy buzzed and tingled in my spine. When I breathed in, my rib cage opened like a great pair of wings. I had never imagined feeling like this--like I had spent my entire life living in a bicycle box that someone had finally opened, letting me out.

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