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July 19, 2012

Writing & Yoga: The Practice. ~ Nick Krieger

I started writing in the mornings almost ten years ago, inspired by a short speech from one of my first writing instructors.

“If you want to be a writer, it’s simple,” she said. “Writers write.”

After years of pushing myself to excel in sports and the sciences, I found relief in this statement. For the first time ever, I didn’t have to achieve or win anything. I just had to show up.

I remember one morning from those early days with great clarity. I climbed down the ladder from my loft, started the coffee and hit the power on my thick, clunky Dell laptop. Even now, I remember the angst and unease inside, the overpowering sense that I did not want to be awake and writing. Then, holding the top of the screen, I tossed it ever so lightly, or so I thought, onto the couch.

I must have held on a millisecond too long because as the laptop left my fingers, one of the hinges snapped, the cracked plastic opened up revealing the undamaged innards of my hardware. My computer was broken but usable, and for the next three years, I had to align the fractured hinge in a very specific way to keep the screen up, always berating then forgiving myself for being the jackass who threw a computer.

Now I treat my laptop like a newborn baby. But I often think back to that time, about my discomfort and carelessness.

My writing practice was sloppy and unpretty, but I did it anyway. I showed up at my busted screen, sat on my ergonomically unsound couch, and filled the page.

 

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When I discovered yoga many years later, I used much of what I’d learned in my writing practice as my foundation.

I show up on my mat regardless of how I’m feeling or if I want to be there. It’s actually easier to avoid the decision-making process entirely. And I can never truly know what will happen once I arrive. “Surprise me,” a little voice inside whispers to the cosmos.

I find myself drawing parallels between writing and yoga all the time, like how staying in a pose is like staying in a scene. The urge to alphabetize the fridge condiments mid-sentence and the urge to fidget in pigeon pose are the same.

But it’s what comes when you stay that matters, that your story is revealed to you, that you are revealed to yourself.

In both practices, I often struggle with my tendency to drive harder, do more and grip tighter. When I decided to start a home yoga practice a year ago, I faced what I believed was the challenge of finding time.

Mornings were the only option, but they were reserved for writing. I protected this time the way others protect their sleep. It took many weeks for me to recognize that my obstacle was not a lack of time, but my unwillingness to accept the possibility of writing fewer words and accomplishing less. The second I unfurled my fists around my self-imposed rigid schedule, both practices flourished.

Recently, I added meditation into my morning mix after a teacher on a yoga retreat described meditation as sitting.

For whatever reason, on this day, for the first time, I heard this as only sitting, or just sitting. Instead of stilling my mind, watching my thoughts, focusing on an ocean wave, or radiating my energy through my crown chakra—all lovely meditations—I realized I didn’t have to do anything at all.

I could literally just sit there and breathe.

Rather than start with a reasonable 10 minutes a day, or a manageable 5 minutes a day, I founded my meditation practice on 3 minutes a day. I wasn’t training to be the Dalai Lama or for the dhyana Olympics. From my writing practice I’ve learned to always start with too easy; it’s like kryptonite for the ego.

My morning is the bedrock of my day. For the most part, I keep the components steady, but I’m always making small substitutions and alterations for flow, ease and experimentation. My habit is now ritual, if only because I treat it with reverence, consider it sacred.

Over the years, people have called me “disciplined,” but I’ve never thought of myself as such. I’ve always considered this a word better suited for the military and Catholic school. It fails to include the real reason why any of us write, the natural desire to express ourselves.

It’s not discipline that most of us lack, but compassion. Because the demons, the dark sides, the shadows, they will show up in any space that you build to hear yourself. Under their spell, I have yanked my meditation cushion out from under my bed, kicked my mat to unroll it and tossed a computer onto the couch.

The beauty of a practice is that it doesn’t have to be pretty. On some mornings when my alarm goes off, I mutter to myself “time to make the donuts.” I splash water on my face seven times, not as a purifying act but to wake myself up, and I roll through my sun salutations, prostrating in gratitude for the coffee I’ll soon get to drink.

It’s easy to show up when we are at our best, but what a practice asks of us is to show up when we are at our worst. Eventually the distinction between the two fades away and all that remains is showing up. This is where art lives.

 

Nick Krieger is a writer, yogi and creativity coach based in San Francisco, where he co-leads workshops combining these passions. His first book, the memoir Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender, was released by Beacon Press in 2011. He is currently in between projects, hopeful that his next book will show up if he keeps showing up at the page.

 

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Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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