Beginner's Mind

Beginner's Mind

I don’t know if I’m getting older and feeling my age, if my chronic injuries need special attention, or if part of me is just getting “lazy”, but lately, after 20 years of practicing yoga (with a 5-year stint as a teacher), I increasingly find myself drawn to beginner yoga classes.

In these “easy” classes, rather than rapidly flowing through a series of yoga postures, I become deeply curious as I get to really explore the inner experience of each pose.  I like the slowness, the intentionality, the quality of “less is more”, the level of very present attention, and, quite honestly, the degree of real physical exertion that I feel when I practice in this way.

Contrary to what my mind sometimes thinks outside of class, there’s really nothing “lazy” about this practice at all.  It seems that by working in this way I can bring the quality of curiosity associated with a “beginner’s mind” attitude to each moment in the class and I leave feeling much more embodied than simply having had a good workout.

So, once again (as is so often the case in the articles I post to this blog), I wonder what does this have to do with public speaking presence?  I feel intuitively that there’s a connection, but I’ll need to tease it out as I write this post.

In the more advanced yoga classes I sometimes find that in attempting to keep up with the class, particularly during fast moving posture flows, rather than paying careful attention to how it feels inside, I’m scrambling to simply get to the right place at the right time.  And, by the time I’m settling into where I should be it’s already time to move on to the next posture.

It’s also more likely that my ego will get in the way.  Can I go as deeply, as far, as flexibly as other people in the class?  If I’m not really careful, I can sometimes push beyond what’s healthy for me in my attempt to achieve what I see others being able to do.  The perfectionist in me can sometimes take over as does the performer, where I become more concerned with how I look from the outside rather than authentically listening to what is real and right for my body in that moment.

Speeding up, needing to perform and be perfect, and worrying about what our audience thinks of us are often the biggest obstacles to speaking presence.  Rather than taping into what’s most important and real for ourselves and our audience and speaking authentically, we can obsess about not wanting to make a mistake, about looking good, about sounding like we know what we’re talking about.  These concerns have the effect of taking us out of ourselves and creating enormous amounts of anxiety. Which, in turn, cause us to lose our ability to connect with our audience and to remember what we want to say.

When I work with clients on specific talks, I often find that the most crippling part is the  fear of making a mistake or of forgetting what they want to say.  There are two basic things that I help them discover.  The first is that they can take their time.  There’s no need to rush.  The second is that I encourage them to try to say less, to simplify their message, and to speak to that message conversationally rather than as a presentation (performance).  The “less is more” attitude is so essential in giving themselves the space to find what they truly want to say and also in helping the audience really get the fundamental message of the talk.

What if we were to approach each speaking situation with the curiosity of a beginner’s mind, letting ourselves pay careful attention to what we want to accomplish in the talk, to how we articulate what we want to say, to how our audience is able to comprehend what we are saying?  What if we were to speak less and “listen” more?  What if we let go of the need to perform and allowed ourselves to be real?

Maybe then every speaking situation could be like a beginning yoga class.

-Carla Kimball