Craft,  Discipline,  Observation

Take 5 Friday: Yoga Wisdom for Writers

I’m a big fan of taking lessons from one area of my life and importing them into another. As a result, I’ve gleaned excellent writing advice from taekwondo, storytelling, and now, yoga.

Since January 1, I’ve been doing a daily yoga practice via YouTube with Yoga with Adriene and it has been great. Not only have I gotten stronger and more flexible, I have found all sorts of advice that applies to both yoga and writing.

Here are 5 of my favourites and what they mean to me (you may get something different out of them and that’s totally cool):

Meet yourself where you are

Yoga teachers are fond of saying ‘meet yourself where you are.’ It sounds nonsensical until you realize that it is about recognizing your abilities and capacity at the moment. It means that you recognize that, even if you can’t do things perfectly, there are things you can do right now that will serve you well. 

To apply this to writing:  Perhaps, for example, your dialogue writing abilities aren’t quite where you want them to be. That’s fine for right now, you do what you can with the dialogue using the skills you have and then make a note of what you think it will need in the future. 

You don’t have to bemoan your lack of skill.  It’s not necessary to avoid dialogue for the moment. And, you don’t have to find out how to do it right now. All you need to do is to be right where you are, doing what you can. 

Give yourself what you need today

I get that this sounds a lot like ‘meet yourself where you are.’  However, ‘give yourself what you need’ is about meeting your needs in this moment. In yoga, this could look like showing up to a yoga practice with tight shoulders and deciding to focus your practice on movements that will give you some ease in that area of your body.

For writing, that might mean that today is a day for journaling instead of writing fiction. Or maybe it’s a day to write the fun parts first.  Or, to go in another direction, perhaps you need a challenge it’s time writing that scene that you have been struggling with. 

Stay on your own mat

When you’re in a yoga class, it can be very tempting to peek over at the person who is super-bendy and who can flip their legs up over their head on command. But yoga is about responding to your own body and mind, it’s not about comparison. Yoga teachers tell you to ‘stay on your own mat’ to remind you that this about your own needs, your own development, your own body – comparison is pointless. It is only useful to look at someone else to see how things can be tweaked, in case that helps make the movements more effective for you.

The same is true of your writing. 

You can spend all of your time comparing yourself to more prolific or more “successful” writers but that will make you unhappy.  Those other writers are not telling your story and they are not working under the same circumstances you are working under. There is no way to compare their lives and their work to yours. You certainly can’t judge their finished work to your work in progress. (Just like you can’t judge your fledgling yoga practice to the instructor’s oft-practiced poses.)

Aside from reading it for pleasure, the only reason to look at another writer’s routine or another writer’s work is to see different approaches that you might adopt for your own work.

Build your practice upward

When you build a yoga practice upward it can mean at least two things. It can refer to building strength in movements or variations that are close to the mat or it can refer to focusing on foot/leg placement as a first step in ensuring that your yoga pose has a good foundation for effectiveness. 

You can do the same thing with your writing. What are the base level skills that you need to practice that will give you the writing strength that you need later?

Do you need to start by creating a habit of writing regularly? Perhaps you need to practice writing and revising short pieces as you build ‘strength’ for longer ones. Maybe you need to go through your work and strengthen your verbs or sharpen your description.

Finding these foundational things to work on can help you build your writing practice upward and become the strong writer you want to be.

Relax your shoulders

The other thing I hear a lot in yoga classes is a reminder to relax your shoulders. This one is not quite as profound as the other points but it is still important. 

In lots of yoga poses, we tend to bunch our shoulders up by our ears or hold them tight in some other way – almost to brace our body for the rest of the pose. It’s counterproductive and keeps us from fully enjoying the pose and keeps us from doing it properly.

I have also noticed a lot of writers bunching their shoulders while they work. It’s almost as if they are bracing themselves for the work ahead or forcing themselves to stick to the writing plan. The result is a lot of tension, some tension headaches and an unpleasant feeling about their work. 

Every so often when you are writing/typing, roll your shoulders back and then down away from your ears. Set a timer to remind yourself if you need to. 

Your body and your writing will thank you!

A final thought about yoga and writing

There are a lot of stereotypes about writer and about yogis but the truth is that both yoga and writing are available to everybody (and every body.)  Your job is to be kind to yourself about developing a practice in either one. 

Write on!

by Christine Hennebury

PS – If you would like to try some yoga that was created just for writers, check out this video by Adriene.