Now that I'm back from my first residency at VCFA, I've taken to doing yoga every day (which is ironic considering I had planned to take the yoga class at VCFA every morning but then only bothered to show up three times). Being entrenched in a writing bubble of awesomeness for ten days got me focused in a number of ways. Upon returning home, I realized that the only way I'd be able to stay sane with my suddenly insane workload would be to take forty-five minutes out of my writing time each day to do some yoga in my living room. This is painful for two reasons: physically, since I'd all but given up my practice years ago, and mentally, because it's hard to tear myself away from my writing after having spent half my time at my day job. Though I try my damndest to clear my mind during yoga and allow it to be what yogis call a "meditation in motion," you can imagine my surprise when I got my idea for today's post in the middle of one of my limb-twisting asanas.
I began to realize that sitting down every day to write mirrors, in many ways, a typical day on the yoga mat. Even if you're not a yoga person, I think there's still something you'll get out of my reflections on this. I hope so, anyway!
OM symbol on the wall of my yoga "studio" in India (a hut on a cliff near the Arabian Sea)
When you do yoga, it's considered helpful to think of an intention for that day's practice. Maybe you want to maintain joy or go easy on yourself or maybe even do your practice in honor of someone. The idea is that this intention will carry you through the rough parts of your practice, the times when you feel too tired or are tempted to be "perfect." I think as writers we can benefit from this. When you sit down to write, you might already have an intention, whether you realize it or not. Maybe you've promised yourself to get through your first draft without judging the writing. Or maybe just sitting down is enough. With yoga, it's all about commitment - ideally 'daily' commitment - and it's the same with writing. Tired or not, feeling it or not, you've got to do it in order to maintain a good practice. So next time you sit down to write, think of an intention and then allow that to carry you through the moments when you feel like you're the worst writer in the world or your book is a waste of space. Then keep writing.
2. Calling on the Universe
In most yoga classes, the instructor will often begin with having the class chant "OM." According to Wiki, "Hindus believe that as creation began, the divine, all-encompassing consciousness took the form of the first and original vibration manifesting as sound "OM." I love this because writers are creators! We are calling whole worlds into being with the tapping of our keyboards! Wiki goes on to say that "before creation began it was "Shuny'k'sha", the emptiness or the void. Shuny'k'sha, meaning literally "no sky", is more than nothingness, because everything then existed in a latent state of potentiality." I like this idea that our works intrinsically have this "potentiality" and that we're accessing it each time we sit down to write.
When yogis chant OM (often three times) they are chanting the sound that began the universe. It's a way to center their practice before they begin the hard work they do on the mat. I think spirituality is often overlooked in the writer's path and we can learn a lot from yogis and yoginas. Part of why I love Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird' (my favorite craft book EVER) is that she advocates for having a rich spiritual life. Whatever your religion or belief or lack of belief, finding some kind of connection to the universe is always going to be good for an artist. Don't believe me, I challenge you to go through Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way.' Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed with my writing, I'll send up a quick prayer. And I have the lyrics to the Irish hymn, 'Be Thou My Vision,' on the bulletin board above my desk. It lets me know that I'm tapping into the universe's creative energy and using some of it for myself.
In yoga, the breath is key. It's everything. It's the rhythm by which yogis are able to flow from one pose into the next, keep their concentration, and get through the challenges of their practice. If you're in a yoga class, particularly an Ashtanga class, you'll feel like you're at the ocean because proper udai breath sounds like the tide. Sometimes when I'm having trouble with my work I realize that I've forgotten to breathe or that I need to take a moment to have some intentional breathing. That's when I need to stop typing, close my eyes, and find that original intention.
4. Going to your "edge"
Yoga teachers often tell their students to go to their "edge." A yogi's edge is that physical place where you're pushing yourself to go as far as you can in a pose without going too far. You are able to maintain your balance (no pun intended) by listening to your body and knowing when you've challenged yourself just enough - your edge is the'place after comfort and before pain. Yogis continually listen to their bodies and they don't push themselves too far. It should never hurt. In yoga it's important to listen to your body and to recognize that on some days there will be poses that will be hard, even if they were easy the day before. Every day is different and the true yogi recognizes that their edge might shift from day to day and they avoid being frustrated when their edge comes sooner than they thought it would. The same goes with writing - we have to avoid complacency and laziness, but we also can only go so far as we can go on a given day. It can be easy to slip into our comfort zones, to tinker instead of revise, to play it safe rather than challenge ourselves to do better, different, harder work. But it can be just as easy to push ourselves too far and to berate our writer self for not being good enough. We have to go to our edge and no further. For a writer, going past your edge might be giving in to 'despair, or not taking care of your body (i.e. not eating meals, drinking, etc.) or ignoring your family. Every writer has an edge. What's yours'
Translated as "corpse pose,"'savasana'is essential to all true practice in yoga. At the end of practice, yogis take about five or more minutes to lay on their back and let their whole body relax. It gives their bodies time to rest and allows the yogis to let go of their fierce intention and attention. For writers, a'savasana'might mean giving yourself a few minutes alone to shake off any frustrations you had during your work. Maybe this is the time where you stretch a little or get a glass of water or take a walk. Having some sort of decompression gives you a chance to forgive yourself for any disappointments and to congratulate yourself for the effort of showing up and doing the work.
Namaste translates as "the light in me recognizes the light in you." This is a common greeting in India and in yoga classes it happens at the end, usually after another round of chanting OM. When the students are finished with savasana, they sit at the front of their mats and the teacher does the Indian gesture of holding her palms together (as in prayer), says 'namaste' to the class, and bows. The class responds in kind. It's a way for teacher and students to honor one another. It's also a reminder that your practice is your practice and to avoid comparing yourself to others. The times I've injured myself in yoga have been when my pride and competitiveness have gotten in the way - whether it was comparing myself to someone in my class or just wanting to be the best. When you're finished writing for the day, you can recognize the light in yourself - something that is infinitely harder to do. Take a minute to appreciate the effort you've given for the day and take pride in the fact that you are an artist, contributing to the beauty of the universe.
As writers, we all have our rituals. We have our crazy schedules. We have our obligations and we have other passions. Like yoga, we have to find time for our writing, to make it a real practice. Consider ways in which you can bring more peace into your writing life and into your fears about publication and success. What are ways that a yogic practice can inform your writing practice.
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