Writing and Yoga: Letting it Flow
Learning the Basics
Learning the basics of yoga utilizes the breath so you move gracefully from pose to pose. Knowing the correct foundation of each pose allows you to prevent muscle pulls or back strains. Learning the basics of yoga helps you to move deeper into each pose without jeopardizing your health.
Too often people want to jump right into a demanding yoga class, engaging in rigorous twisting or binding before they are ready. They end up not enjoying yoga because it feels too challenging. Once the basics are learned, however, the yoga practitioner will have a much easier time of it. She will have more confidence and enjoy what she is doing.
The same holds true in writing. You have to understand how to construct a sentence, develop a paragraph, and know where to place the punctuation. You have to stop dangling your participle or know when to stop writing in the passive voice. The basics are necessary so you won't have to break your writing flow, stopping to think if the comma should go here or the semicolon should go there. It will all come naturally.
Bone up on your basics with Struck and White's "The Elements of Style."
Don't Listen to Allen Iverson
You have to keep going to the well or you won't get better at it. Forget about ex-NBA star Allen Iverson's comments about not caring about practice. You have to get on your Manduka mat four to six times a week to develop a deeper practice. You have to loosen up the fascia, develop arm and leg strength, and pull in those bandhas to improve your yoga skills.
You won't develop you're own writing voice if you don't go to your MacBook Air on a regular basis. Remember: It takes time to be good. You have to write to figure out how and what to write. You can't just do it occasionally and expect a bestseller. Writing, like yoga, takes hard work, desire and passion. Sometimes it's painstakingly hard, other times it flows out of your ink pen as smooth as Tupelo honey. But you'll never know if you don't practice.
What happens on your yoga mat is a microcosm of your life. Some days you approach it with strength and vigor, other times you may not be as motivated. The yoga practitioner needs to realize that she can't be in the best condition every day. We are human beings with our human ups and downs, good days and bad.
The same could be said for the writer. She approaches the keyboard differently each day. Some days there is a lot of mental energy with good ideas and the writing flows freely. It's why she decided to write in the first place. Other days the writing feels like a chore that her mother made her do. The paper might stay blank or the story might be lifeless--no flow and no creative energy. It's days like these that you have to remember what comic Woody Allen said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up." So if your butt is in front of the TV set, other people are going to write the next great American novel while you're on the couch watching reruns of Dexter.
Woody Allen said "Eighty percent of success is showing up."
Just like drugs and alcohol doesn't mix, yoga and ego doesn't blend. It goes against the spirit of humility in yoga. Yoga is highly personal; it's the quiet development of one's inner strength. It doesn't involve competing with others for the best pose or the loudest Om. It's between you and the mat. A good yoga teacher is there to remind you not to take it too far or not to worry about what the other practitioners are doing. Everyone's yoga pose is different; one person's half moon is not the other person's half moon. A yogini who is too serious often tightens up, trying to be the most flexible in the room rather than just breathing and relaxing into the pose.
Unfortunately, most writers don't have the luxury of a writing teacher standing over them and giving advice. The writer is on her own. If her ego surfaces, she has to be the one to keep it in check. The less she takes her writing seriously, the less pressure she puts on herself to perform. Let's face it, nobody is ever going to write another War and Peace, but with self-compassion and humility a good story could happen. Being humble: not comparing yourself to a noble prize winning author can go a long way. Worry about what's in your heart, not what the ego wants to accomplish.
Holding Poses, Holding Stories
Holding yoga poses develops core muscular strength and spiritual fortitude. The asana is a vehicle that takes you on a tour of your body and your mental makeup. Holding a pose helps you to know more about yourself and understand what is your edge and what are your weaknesses. A lot of feelings and thoughts come up when holding a pose. Take note of it and breathe.
When you hold onto a story or spend time with a poem the same thing happens. You learn more about what's inside of you. You learn to expand and deepen your writing. You learn to open yourself up to something that is more beautiful than the first draft. You learn to stretch your memory, your imagination, and your capacity to feel emotions--so important to the writer.
Balance and Flexibility
While balancing on one leg or one arm, you realize that your body has a greater capacity to adapt than you think. Balancing upside down, on your side, or on your sitz bones can help you to be grounded no matter what. You also learn to use more muscle groups balancing on one leg than two.
Balance in writing is conveying different sides of a situation while being grounded in the story. When your writing is balanced, your work is not biased one way or the other, but shows different perspectives.
Flexibility in yoga comes from the gradual stretching of muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. When flexibility is done with love and patience, your body responds with more freedom and space.
The more you write, the more you stretch your imagination and the more profound your writing becomes. Your writing may never be as flexible and imaginative as Vonnegut or Faulkner, but your writing hamstrings can loosen up to the point where you can write with more range and creativity.
Take a Break
Taking a break from yoga is a good thing. It makes you get out of the obsessive mentality that some yogis or yoginis get into. It makes you less addictive to the practice. Taking a day off is necessary. It helps your body to relax and refresh. Coming back after a day or two of rest makes you stronger. It prevents burnout and keeps the momentum in your practice going.
Taking a short break from writing lets your mind marinate over ideas. It gives your brain time to think subconsciously about the problems or direction of the story. It gives you the necessary space to see the story from a different angle, perhaps giving the story the best chance of making an impact on the readers. Too often people who write without breaks find themselves stuck in a writer's block and wonder why.
Let it Flow
One of the main objectives of doing yoga is the focus on breath as you flow through your vinyasa. When yoga becomes graceful and fluid there's no thinking that gets in the way; it becomes a moving meditation. Don't expect to flow early in your yoga practice. Expect it to be more of a challenge and struggle at the beginning. As time goes on, so will the flow.
When you're at the keyboard, just like the mat, writing can flow with grace and fluidity. The breath could move the writer to tell a story from the heart. A relaxed, mindful writer can tell a story with depth and truth, without the critical mind getting in the way. Quality writing may not happen all the time, just like when you're on the mat, but it can happen more often than not. Be grateful when it appears; it's a gift from literary Gods.
Ignore the Lying Critic
One of the biggest obstacles any yogini or writer has is the critic within. The critic tells you that you can't do the pose or you're not good enough. The critic tells you that you'll never learn to do yoga correctly or that you don't have the right body type. Believe me--the critic is a liar.
The writing critic does the same thing only worse because there is no writing teacher by your side encouraging you like a yoga instructor. The critic tells you that if you can't write like Hemingway or Dostoyevski, don't even bother. The writing critic makes you doubt your words, your ability to tell a story, and ultimately your importance as a human being.
When you keep your critic under wraps, letting the negative thoughts go, you can get on with your practice of yoga. You can write the story that you want to write. And you can just focus on doing your best, despite what the the lying critic tells you.
What gets in the way of your yoga or writing practice?
Burnout is a state of mental fatigue that limits your desire to do yoga or writing. It occurs for various reasons but the critic within, lack of breaks, and not taking care of your health are the main culprits.
Taking care of yourself can be the most difficult thing to do. We tend to avoid or ignore our own needs at the detriment of our mental and physical health. We believe that all we need to do is be productive and achieve something special; not taking into account the importance of getting plenty of sleep, proper nutrition, and time for play. When the writer and yoga practitioner neglects their health, they are prone to burnout.
Combining Yoga and Writing
As a writer my yoga practice complements my writing. It opens me up to new ideas, perspectives, and increases my focus.
Doing a headstand makes me look at things differently. If I ever feel stuck writing or feel that something's not working, I stand on my head for a couple minutes and then go back to my writing. Increased blood flow to the brain seems to do the trick.
Holding the warrior pose makes me feel strong, both internally and externally. This pose has a carryover effect on my writing. Developing the strength from yoga teaches me that I have enough internal fortitude to finish a story or stay focussed on a poem. When I learn to deepen or modify a pose, I learn to edit my words as much as the story needs.
Child's pose reminds me to take breaks in my writing. When my mind is weary from writing, I pull out my mat and go into child's pose or lay down and gather myself.
I make a regular time for yoga and writing. When I make it a habit, I know when to pick up the pen and place down the mat. I don't even have to think about it.
Balancing poses helps me to realize that writing is just one aspect of my total being. I need to do other things like eating, sleeping, managing finances, and socializing to stabilize myself. When I write or do yoga, I don't overvalue its importance in my life. I'm not just a yogi or a writer, I'm much more than that.
I keep a yoga journal. After every yoga class, I write down what thoughts and emotions the yoga poses brought up. Not only do I learn more about myself, but often a good story comes out of it.