No matter what question aspiring writers ask me, yoga always seems to be part of my answer. I want to write, they say, but I don’t know how to get started. Do yoga, I tell them. I’m struggling with this one chapter—how can I figure out what it needs? Yoga, I say. Lost your voice? You know what to do. Argh! No one wants to roll out a yoga mat and spend 90 minutes moving their body when writing is what they want or need to do in the first place. And neither do I. Luckily, that’s not what I’m saying. Yoga is much more than sun salutations, twists, back bending and arm balancing. It’s all about relationships. It’s an intentional practice that invites us to get to know ourselves in relation to others and to the world. Writing is like that too. It is a practice that allows us to connect more deeply to ourselves and to share what we’ve discovered with others. Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing) says we write because we long to know ourselves; I say we do yoga for the same reason. Natalie quotes Simone Beauvoir who says, in order to create, we must be deeply rooted, not living on the periphery. Loosely translated, the ancients say through yoga we can be alive to what is truly happening. We can travel from the periphery (the skin, the intelligence of the mind and body) into the core of our experience. Are there studies that prove all this? Maybe? What I do know that when I get stuck on a writing project, when I’m struggling with that one chapter, when I’ve lost faith that I could ever write in the first place, I have to stop, get quiet, and listen to what needs to be revealed in the silence of my mind and in the stillness of my body. In other words, I turn to my yoga and meditation practice. Nothing else works. Over the next several weeks I’ll share a variety of ways that writing and yoga come together to help you discover the sound and rhythm of your unique voice and unlock the stories buried inside you. In the meantime, though, here are a few tips to calm and focus your mind so you can get on with that assignment.
- Before you sit down to write, what do you need to do to loosen up? What gets you in your body? For some people that means taking a walk or a run; for others it could be a short physical yoga practice. Weirdly, for me, it’s often a shower. Why a shower? Because, for some reason, just the feel of water cascading down my body relaxes me and gives my mind a chance to free-associate, often coming up with answers to questions I’ve been stuck on. Sometimes that’s all I need to get started.
- Do some kind of conscious breathing exercise—sitting comfortably or lying down (just try not to fall asleep!). For a few minutes gently and fully inhale and exhale, pausing at the top of the inhale and at the end of the exhale. During the exercise, notice whether the breathing is settling or whether it’s still feels agitated. Adjust accordingly.
- And then, let go of controlling the breath, and simply sit and listen into the silence—try to commit to at least 6 minutes. Let go of any need to do anything; just be there now (thank you Ram Dass). If it’s more comfortable, you can move into Child’s Pose or any other comfortable pose.
- As you come out of meditation, open your notebook, pick up your pen and begin to write. Don’t think about what you want to say, just write whatever wants to be written. Do this for 6 minutes. Or…keep going. It may be all you need to shake free.