Yoga Lessons for Writers
I signed up for an outdoor Yoga camp last month and I’ll admit I was skeptical.
You see, I happen to hate yoga. I’m about as flexible as a 100-year-old man, and I don’t do quiet spaces at all. I am notorious for trying a yoga class once every 2-3 years, getting somehow both bored and anxious around the 3-minute mark, and then watching the clock tick for the rest of the hour (or – horror – 90 minutes 😱)
But I needed a mid-Summer reset. And I got an email in June from an old email list I had somehow joined who-knows-when (hint: join my email list at the bottom of this page ⬇️⬇️⬇️).
This email landed in my inbox at just the right moment and I thought, why not! What have I got to lose!
It turns out I had so much to gain.
Over four remarkably lovely weeks, I discovered that all I needed to find my zen was… the sounds of the trash trucks in the alley, the construction on the corner, the dogs barking down the street… all the sounds of everyday life in the city. Keep your wind chimes and chill music; give me toddlers shouting in their strollers and loud music thumping through passing car windows.
I also discovered that yoga doesn’t have to be rules and chants and perfect Madonna-esque poses (the Like a Virgin one, not the Virgin one 😉). My two fabulous yoga teachers, Terry and Beth, welcomed un-flexible, skeptical me into their lovely, loud, perfect yoga yard and introduced me to a practice that is all about taking space in a way that fits you (well, me… you know what I mean).
They encouraged us “campers” to find our balance by listening to how our body does it already; they coached us to move at the pace that our breath set without worrying about it; they motivated us to find what’s already there and work in that space.
In short, despite the fact that I hate yoga… I’ve learned that maybe I don’t actually hate yoga anymore because I found a pair of teachers who pushed me to (re)discover what I was already capable of doing. And in that space, I found the strength and the balance and… dare I say… the calm to do more.
My one confession is that as I was laying there in my savasana each day, my mind would start to wander to you fabulous writers. (I’ll call it a win that my mind didn’t wander until then 👍)
And I thought, how is what I’m doing and learning this Summer like writing a book?
How are the lessons I’m learning from Beth and Terry something I can draw from as a coach?
And I started trying to connect the dots…
So here’s my result: some yoga poses that I’m not particularly good at, but that’s okay. I’ve paired them with some tips on writing challenges that you might not feel very good at… and that’s okay, too! That’s the whole point. You just do it at your pace, and with your breath, and voice, and balance… and that’s the right way! You’ve got this!
(See, I’m starting with an easy one!)
Downward Dog is like the (re)set and (re)anchor yoga pose. With your hands and feet firmly on the ground, you’ve got the strength of it all underneath you and the space to stretch out all at the same time. Bend those knees, take a few breaths, stretch it out. This is something that your body just knows how to do.
In writing, think of your downward dog moment as that moment where you pause just before you begin writing. You trust that your hands will instinctively recognize the click of the keys under your fingers or the drag of the pen on the page. It’s the excited anticipation, letting go of the fear of the words not coming. They will. They will emerge on the page. Take a deep breath, stretch it out, and begin.
In your sun salutations, you might move and breath through a warrior sequence. Pause in Warrior 2 as you open your chest and heart up. Keep your weight balanced in both feet, wide in front and behind you. Stretch your fingers forward and back and turn your hips back just a bit. Stay strong in that core. This pose is noble, powerful, active, and engaged.
In writing, you have to be all these things as well. You are the warrior bravely facing down the words on the page. And you are the author conscious at all times of the beginning and ending of the process. You are firmly planted in the middle at all times, your core (plot) is strong and your possibilities expansive. Here is the space to be bold with your writing and face down any imposter syndrome thoughts sneaking in. You are noble, and powerful, and active, and engaged. You are a writer.
As you ease into Chair Pose, keep the balance through your body as your arms lift forward and your hips drop back. You’re going for length and balance here, as you adjust through your feet for support. Your neck wants to tense up, but you take a deep breath and stay in control. You sink a little lower.
I think this is the ultimate methaphorical pose for writers. First of all, most of us write in chairs 😉 But this pose is so much more challenging than it looks at first. This is the pose that starts out with all those people who tell you that writing a book should be easy. You just write. (If only!) So then you have to ignore them and embrace the challenge of writing. You ease carefully and purposefully into the space of your book. You have to dig deeper than people expect, and be stronger, but stay firmly committed to your work. Once you’ve got it, thought, you make it look easy and relaxed as you reach out and sit with your story.
Like Chair Pose, Tree Pose requires you you channel the earth underneath you so that your body can balance confidently on top of it. In Tree Pose, you seek your center on one leg as the other pushes you off balance. Your hands lift, changing your center of gravity, extending you beyond yourself. You need to embrace both the lightness of your body as well as its strength. Working on this pose helps bring stability to both mind and body.
What Tree Pose makes me think about for writers is the centrality of YOU to your book. Yes, writing is a wonderful and creative act, but the reason your story matters is because you are at the center of it. You are the only one who can tell this story, and tell it this way. This is true for all writers – fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and everything in between. Ultimately, writing comes down to one center every time – the author. By choosing to write, by giving yourself the permission and attention to write, you are channeling that tree. The story grows with you.
I can’t believe that I am looking foward to more yoga in my life. I’m going to commit this Fall to working more of it into my routine, so that I can try to hold that calm space for myself once September begins.
How about you?
Will you channel your balance and strength onto the page? Will you find the quiet times (or loud ones) that work for your writing zen? Will you let your story flow and embrace your possiblity?
I hope you do.
And when you need someone to coach you along, to help you hold the focus, and remmeber to breathe, let me know.