Words play a powerful role in yoga practice. Mantras, chanting, stating our sankalpas to ourselves during yoga nidra, even closing class with “namaste.” Language, in many ways, helps tell the story of yoga.
Words play a powerful role in yoga practice.
But can the language of yoga help writers to tell their stories? Can it actually inform the craft of writing? Might yoga be a powerful practice to help you to become the writer you’ve always wanted to be?
“Butt in chair" (the mantra for writers), can begin with “butt in air.” Though you don’t have to be a power yogi sporting down dogs to be a writer, understanding these five simple ways that yoga can support your authorly endeavors can help get you on the "write" track.
You’ve been sitting at the computer for a couple of hours now. Your back is achy, your neck is stiff, and your wrists feel like they could snap in two. Your body seems to be telling you you've had enough time at the computer, but instead of calling it quits for the day, just take a break—a yoga break! There are certain yoga poses designed just for writers like you; ones that help keep the flexibility in your spine and the chinks out of your joints, because after all, it’s hard to maintain a creative flow when your body is cramped up. Asanas like vrikshasana (tree pose) can help a compressed spine to elongate, and poses like baddha konasana (bound angle, sometimes also referred to as "butterfly") can relieve strain in the hips. But yoga can do more than just nurture your body’s flexibility. After a little time on the mat (and believe me, I have first-hand experience with this), not only will you witness increased body flexibility (allowing you to focus on the craft of writing rather than your achy back), at the same time, you’ll see your mind become more flexible too. This unified flexibility gives us the space and freedom to bend and twist plots in ways we may never have allowed ourselves to before.
Planks can get our muscles burning, but who needs killer abs to write that non-fiction book? The thing is, when we grow stronger in body, often our whole selves become more resilient. It takes strength and discipline to get to your desk every morning, whether you feel like writing or not. It takes strength to send out your young adult manuscript to your writers group, having no idea if what you wrote is the next Newbery award winner, or a poor attempt at a first draft. It takes resilience to receive a rejection, multiple rejections, enough rejections to wallpaper your bathroom with, and to keep revising and sending out until you receive that contract. In yoga we are faced with challenges every time we step onto the mat. Holding utkatasana (chair pose) without a struggle not only nurtures a strong body, but builds the resilience to hang in there and not give up the second this awkward asana becomes uncomfortable. When you’re seated at the computer, and writing the opening sentence to your picture book seems like a monumental struggle, you can draw on the strength you’ve fostered on the mat to keep forging ahead and accepting the experience of the moment until that awkward first draft becomes a title on the bookshelves.
When you’re on your mat, you learn to be fully present. That means your mind isn’t wandering off to the spat you and your hubby had before you came to the studio, or to the project that's due the day after tomorrow. Your mind follows your breath; you experience the moment that you're in, and you can hear all of the wisdom that your body whispers to you during the practice.
Staying present with your writing is the only way to allow your true story to unfold, and that presence can begin when you unroll your mat.
Let’s face it—you can’t just pop into crow pose and stay balanced if your thoughts are racing and you aren’t focused. When we train our minds to hang out with us instead of rushing ahead—which is a big part of yoga practice—it benefits us in the writing studio as well as the yoga studio. Staying focused allows us to become deeply involved with the present moment, which is wherever your creativity has taken you to in the story that you're writing. We can then listen to the whispers of our creative juices instead of getting stuck in the muck of thoughts spinning around spousal spats or looming projects. Staying present with your writing is the only way to allow your true story to unfold, and that presence can begin when you unroll your mat.
Let’s face it, while yoga isn’t ranked up there with skydiving and bungee jumping, to some, walking into a studio with a bunch of seasoned, fit, and fashionable yoginis who definitely know what they’re doing can be a bit intimidating. And even after months on the mat, there are a few poses that definitely take guts to try. Shirshasana (headstand), for example, which can strike fear in those who are not used to hanging out upside down. Falling and failing are not high on most people’s to-do lists. Yet in yoga, we move beyond, expand our boundaries, and give our true selves not only the chance to be exposed, but to succeed. And when we keep showing up, and we keep trying, we're reminded that when we release ourselves from the boundaries of what we thought we could (or couldn't) do, we’re free to do the incredible things that we truly are capable of doing—whether it's holding a headstand, or writing the perfect ending to a short story. This practice easily translates to the page, because writing is a fierce form of personal exposure. Once we learn to move past the fear—of failing, of falling—and allow our characters to hurt and bleed, our plots to take unexpected turns, and our words to finally go out into the world for others to see, we’ll realize that we were born to strike any pose we dare—and live to write about it.
If you’ve done yoga for any length of time, you've probably heard your instructor talk about non-attachment and letting go. Each breath we intake is naturally followed by an exhale, releasing and creating space for the new. Yoga helps us learn how to let go, not only with the exhale, but in poses where we let go of tension and sink in to experience the shape more deeply. In downward facing dog, for example, we let go of the tension in our calves by stretching down through our heels. We release the neck and breathe. And, like headstand, downward facing dog is also an inversion. It turns us upside down and gives us a chance to see things from a new point of view. I've heard this termed as “re-vision” (something most writers are likely quite familiar with!). In yoga, "re-vision" is like a fresh breath cycle. In writing, we can re-look at the process of revision, and accept it as something other than a frustrating part of the process toward publishing. Instead we can be excited to let go of that which no longer serves us. Seeing our writing with fresh eyes and a new perspective allows us to cut where our manuscript needs cutting; to create space for newly “oxygenated” writing. Adding words to the page, taking them away, adding new ones—it’s what being a writer is all about. Accepting this as a natural rhythm can help open up the writing process so it becomes as natural and as easy as breathing. This empowers you to believe in your innate creativity and express it through the written word. Live your light…write!