This past week, I attended the AWP Conference in Boston, MA with The Anthologist, one of Rutgers’ Literary Magazines. The annual conference provides (as it’s website says) “support, advocacy, resources, and community to nearly 50,000 writers, 500 college and university creative writing programs, and 125 writers’ conferences and centers. [Their] mission is to foster literary achievement, advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.” While there, I sat in on panels about writing and publishing and heard a few readings by MFA professors from all over the US. My favorite panel above all was titled: Yoga and the life of the writer: a discussion that likened yoga practice to writing practice.
“adjust your shoulders, adjust your margins”
I had started the day sitting in a panel called “This is your brain on fiction” and I was super psyched to see it…. but last minute, as the panelists tapped their loose-leaf presentation notes on the desk and tested their mics, I got a feeeeeeling I should gather my jacket and belongings, exit quietly, and take the escalator upstairs to Yoga and the Writer. As I left the florescent lighted room, I heard the moderator clear his throat: “ooookay then let’s begin”.. tip-toeing out, I close the (mahogany?) door behind me and head towards the escalator. In my hurry I glance at my hand were I wrote the panel’s room number: Yoga + Writer: 316. At the top of the escalator, on the 3rd floor, the entire exterior wall was a window framing a beautifully snowy scene on Boylston street.
312..312..picking up the pace..ah 316!
I take a seat in the back. ” I see some people are still coming in…” The woman standing behind the podium has a deep humming calm in her voice. After she (Krista Katrovas) welcomed us, she introduced the panelists Melissa Pritchard, Pam Uschuk, Suzanne Roberts, and Andrea England- all yogi writers with interesting back stories and different specialties. Melissa was the most helpful, for me, in relating my yoga practice to writing.
She began by outlining four common key intentions:
(1) Non-Violence. In yoga we practice non-violence in the traditional sense of doing no harm to yourself or others (physically, verbally, or with your thoughts). In any form of writing – if we want to keep writing we must also practice non-violence towards our selves as writers. We cannot beat ourselves up for not ‘getting it;’ not writing a masterpiece. If we can eliminate the ego, which violently interrupts both the writing process and yoga practice, then we can give our selves the chance to practice and write without the egotistical constraints of ‘this isn’t good enough’ or ‘I suck because I can’t touch my toes.’ If we practice non-violence, we keep ourselves from crushing our own spirits yoga and in writing. This an intention that is especially needed in writing today, as online forums like Blogs make our writing so easily available its easy to defend or dismiss our work. In dismissing our work or selling it short – we dismiss ourselves and allow the ego to once again bully us out of a greater ego-less experience.
(2) Truthfulness – Melissa herself was very truthful with us. She admitted to the stereotype around yogis’s typical image: strict organic vegans with henna dyed dreddies wearing cotton/hemp pants. She admitted the alleged trendiness of it all, and how she felt very much outside of this trend and this style. She was real. She decided, in practicing yoga- to admit her issues with yoga in general in order to find her own practice. How can you find our own style when you arn’t true to yourself? This question can be asked of writers as well. What is your style and what’s influencing it – are those influences positive, negative, arbitrary? We need to ask ourselves to find out who were truely trying to please in our writing. Who are we trying to impress with advanced yoga poses that leave us sore for days? I pushing parts of my body/mind/ craft too forcefully?
(3) Moderation In all things. – don’t write until you’re back is breaking hunched over your computer and don’t twist your body into far too challenging poses.
(4) Non-attachment – It was Faulkner who said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings”.There comes a time in any seasoned writer’s life where she must ditch her most darling lines, phrases. In writing, just as in yoga, you can’t become attached to anyone idea because it may not fit into the larger whole. One phrase you LOVE in a story you’ve written may not be in service of the piece’s purpose – it may only be something you’re personally attached to because it sounds sooo good or it came to you in an enlightened moment….but, if the piece requires, you must let it go (or put it somewhere else where it doesn’t overwhelm the breath of the piece.) Let it die… In yoga, every time you practice, you die – reaching Shavasana or ‘corpse pose.’ It is a natural part of practice as difficult edits and revisions are part of writing.
So in short – Yoga is like writing. Be truthful to yourself, don’t beat yourself up, and learn to let go of the ideas overwhelming your breath.
“just be with the doing of it,” one panelist said.