June 11, 2011

The Yoga of Writing (and the Writing of Yoga). ~ Amanda Niznik

If you’re curious why things have been quiet ’round these parts lately, it’s not because I’ve actually been keeping my mouth shut (chatterbox status established circa 1989 in Miss Oberley’s kindergarten class). And, despite my lust for glamour, it’s not because I’ve been asked to spend a sultry summer working at Tom Ford in Milan (but if you’re reading this, Gucci, I hereby offer up my kidney life savings for the opportunity, kthx).

Instead, my efforts have been geared toward a very non-glamorous endeavor: writing. After a good friend gave me Judy Reeves’ A Writer’s Book of Days, I committed to write every day not only to satiate my creative appetite but also to improve my writing. Reeves’ book is genius: in addition to providing inspiration in the form of daily writing prompts, she offers expert creative writing advice in the form of a practical how-to.

So you ask, why do I care? (fair query)

Well, dear readers, you care because like all great things in life, writing is exactly like yoga – and Reeves’ book reminded me of that. In her introduction, Reeves explains the importance of developing a writing practice and does so by speaking from experience:

On any given day, a writer can write the best she’s ever written, or she can compose a piece that’s clunky and misshapen and downright embarrassing in its black-and-white awfulness. Practice isn’t about being a good writer or a bad writer; it’s about being present with the writing, surrendering to the process, and trusting the pen.

I chuckled to myself after reading this sentence and thought of the yoga practices that left me feeling like a sleek ballet dancer versus those that left me feeling as graceful as a teletubby [or is itteletubbie? whatever].

(Yeah, they’re still creepy…!)

Anyway, I read on and learned that Reeves believes in just showing up as a writer, too, and trusting in the practice – trusting in the process:

If you will practice every day, and be gentle with yourself, you may be amazed. Your writing will be fresher, livelier, more spontaneous. You will take more risks, write more passionately, and reach into places you didn’t know existed. Ideas and images and language with brilliant plumage will parade on the page before your eyes. Then one day, after a particularly surprising session, you will read what you have written, shake your head in astonishment and say, “where did that come from?” And you will know, it came from you.

If you teach yoga – or practice a lot – you know that feeling, too. You know that if you keep showing up, practice every day and honor your body, your yoga practice or teaching will be fresher, livelier, more spontaneous. You will take more risks, teach more passionately. Postures with brilliant sequences will unfold before your eyes and spill out onto your mat and one day after a particularly satisfying class, you’ll reflect during savasana, shake your head in astonishment and say, “where did that come from?” And you will know, it came from you.

Following are Reeves’ guidelines for a writing practice. I’m sharing the set because you might be interested in writing and, thus, find the guidelines helpful; however, I’m sharing them mores0 because I think you’ll be astonished at the similarities between a writing practice and a yoga practice. If you’re a flagrant English student like me, you’ve heard this all before – consider it a reminder. And for all of you yogis out there, it’ll benefit you, too.

Reeves’ writing guidelines are in bold. Adjacent to each, I added a corresponding yoga teaching guideline. Read on and try them on for size:

  1. Keep writing. Don’t stop to think or to correct your Sanskrit. Don’t go back and analyze a sequence or a mistake you made – wait until class is over to reflect.
  2. Trust your pen. Trust your yoga. Go with the sequences and poses that come to mind. Trust in the unknown.
  3. Don’t judge your writing. Don’t compare, analyze, criticize. [I didn’t change this one]
  4. Let your writing find it’s own form. Allow your teaching to organically take shape into whatever style it wants to become. If you’re a square peg, don’t shove yourself into a round hole. And remember, a different day might bring out a different teacher, too.
  5. Don’t worry about the rules. Don’t worry about perfect alignment [barring anything that would cause injury to students, of course], perfect Sanskrit names, perfect timing. Just go with it.
  6. Let go of expectations. Let those 60- or 90-minute sessions surprise you. Let the teacher inside surprise you.
  7. Kiss your frogs. Remember, this is just practice. Not every session will be magic. The point is to just suit up and show up, no matter what. [I didn’t change this one either, it’s all Reeves].
  8. Tell the truth. Be willing to let go of expectations during your classes. Go to scary places you didn’t think you could go to [an extra push-up after chaturanga, why not?]. And if you screw up, who cares? Come to the mat not as an expert and flawless yoga teacher but as a yogi who has a beautiful passion to share. Guide your students from that place.
  9. Write specific details. Develop your own voice. Details bring writing alive and they bring yoga alive, too – details like play lists, catch phrases – whatever is unique to you.
  10. Write what matters. Teach the yoga that you love. Share the poses that you are passionate about. Share new poses you want to try out. Be authentic and teach what you love.
  11. Read your writing aloud. Run through an un-choreographed class on your own. Step onto your mat just as you would at the beginning of a class – with a focus or set of poses in mind or not – and just let it flow. See how it feels.
  12. Date your page and write the topic at the top. Record the date and time of your class, how you felt afterward, what play list you used, what sequences worked and what didn’t – and anything else of note.

Who knew the parallels between writing and yoga were so great? Thoughts?

Photo credits: Tubbies

Amanda is a self-admitted yoga addict and shoe fanatic. When she’s not rocking her mat or practicing aparigraha in the face of Jimmy Choo’s latest collection, she can be found teaching residents of Central Florida to stand on their heads, volunteering for the Travis Manion Foundation, writing for Brite Magazine, and hanging with her husband a.k.a. The Big Guy. Follow Amanda @vogueyogini or on Vogue Yogini.

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