Every Monday evening, instead of writing for 60 to 90 minutes at my laptop, I spend that time on my yoga mat. It’s a habit I’ve consistently maintained for 2 years, though I was first introduced to yoga about 5 years ago. Sometimes it’s with a class, led by a teacher who has become both mentor and cheerleader to me.** Other times it’s at home, thanks to the TV awesomeness known as YouTube OnDemand. Regardless, yoga has become an essential part of my life, much the same way that writing has.
Maybe that explains why I came to this conclusion recently: Yoga and writing sessions have a lot in common.
I’m sure some of you might be thinking, “Um… OK…. But how?” That’s what today’s blog post is all about. 😉 Here are five ways in which yoga and writing are similar, and how I’ve benefited from having both in my life.
#1: Increased Focus Through Mindfulness and Meditation
A yoga session typically begins with a reminder of why it’s a mind-body practice. Instead of launching into physical exercises, you spend a few minutes in a sitting meditation. This is when you “check out” from the external world and “check in” with your body, using slow, deep breaths to focus on and release tension or physical stress – and to empty your mind of thoughts.
For some students, the latter might seem like a Herculean feat. But it can be done, with patience, practice, and a visualization technique. (My yoga teacher often tells us to let thoughts pass by as if they’re flowing downstream on a river and out of sight.) What makes this meditation so powerful is how it intensifies your concentration. For the rest of the class, your sense of balance is steadier, your stretches deeper, and your ability to catch the subtle nuances of each pose clearer. So, by meditating at the start of a yoga session, you’re ensuring that you’ll reap every possible benefit from your practice.
So what if you meditate at the beginning of a writing session? I experimented with this over the summer, using the “let your thoughts go” idea to increase my creative focus. The results couldn’t have made me happier. My mental transition from daily life to writing went more smoothly, and my sessions were more productive and fulfilling. Now I can’t imagine starting my writing sessions without meditation. And judging from these articles at Psychologies and The Writing Cooperative, it seems that adding a mindfulness ritual to your writing process can not only enhance your concentration, but also spark new ideas, cultivate discipline, and boost your self-esteem.
#2: The Uniqueness of Each Yoga Student’s / Writer’s Practice
No two bodies are exactly alike. So no two yoga students will perform one posture the same way, or share the same feelings about that posture. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) will feel a-MA-zing for some students but agonizing for others. The point is, everyone experiences yoga differently. Most instructors recognize this; and instead of forcing students to mimic their movements to a T, they emphasize that you “find what feels good.” In other words, if you’re unable to perform a pose without risk of injury or significant discomfort, you’re welcome to switch to a different pose that still offers a workout but without the pain.
A writer’s practice is also individualized. Some writers “pants” their stories; others prefer to outline first. Some prepare a beverage, light a candle, or do a quick writing exercise before getting started. The “speed” of their writing, their weekly schedule, the way in which they approach revisions – these and other aspects will differ from one writer to the next. This is why it’s impossible to compare one another’s writing process. Each is shaped by our unique circumstances, psychology, and personal tastes. So, like with finding what feels good in yoga, the true best practice for writing is what works best for you.
#3: The Determination to Never Give Up (on Challenging Poses or Your Writing)
I remember the first time I completed Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana). Initially I used a block beneath my elbows because my hip flexors, hamstrings, and torso “refused” to let me lower my forearms onto the mat. But over time, those muscles must have become more flexible. Because one night, I realized I no longer need the block. (I would have celebrated, but since it’s yoga, I relished the stretch instead. *smiles*)
There are plenty more yoga poses I’ve yet to do successfully. (Crow Pose is next on my list. *gulp*) It might take a while for my body – and my brain – to feel strong and steady enough to tackle certain ones. But as long as I keep doing yoga, someday I’ll master them. Or, at least a few of them. (Upward Facing Two-Foot Staff Pose might be a little too ambitious!)
The same persistence pays off with writing. Every project, and every step you take to see each project through to fruition, is its own challenge. There will be setbacks, but the only way past any challenge is by meeting and overcoming it. If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to keep trying, learning, and making mistakes. You have to keep writing. And just as you’ll eventually complete an advanced yoga posture after months (or even years) of practice, you’ll eventually reach your biggest writing goals.
#4: Catharsis During Times of Stress and Anxiety
I’ve made no secret of how the past 18 months have taken a toll on my mental health. Day-job stress, creative setbacks, and other areas of life have frequently led to anxiety attacks, muscle tension, and nearly constant worrying. I can’t put all of the blame on my external circumstances, though. My own habits and mental “programming” are also responsible for how I’ve been feeling. The good thing is, I’m now practicing healthier ways of thinking and handling stress, partly because yoga and writing became my go-to methods for catharsis.
As I mentioned earlier, yoga is a mind-body practice. The mental and spiritual aspects, from deep breathing to meditation, are just as important as the physical exercise. Studies have shown that yoga can reduce stress and anxiety, as well as alleviate depression and enhance your overall sense of well-being. But all the proof you need comes after class, in how you feel relaxed, re-energized, and more balanced than when you arrived.
Writing is a different kind of practice, with complementary results. Physically it demands energy (it might not seem so, since you’re sitting, but it really does). Mentally, however, it can be an incredible emotional release. It doesn’t matter if you’re journaling or working on a manuscript. Giving yourself free rein to express thoughts, vent frustrations, or acknowledge fears can leave you feeling lighter and clearheaded – much like how you feel after yoga. Imagine what can happen, then, if you make both activities part of your routine.
#5: An Emphasis on Gratitude
Gratitude was already something I’d been practicing years before my first yoga class. By acknowledging one thing I was grateful for every day, I pulled myself out of a period of depression and adopted a more optimistic attitude about life. Since then, it’s become a daily ritual – one that yoga took to the next level.
Explicitly, you express gratitude after the final resting pose, Savasana (Corpse Pose), by rolling to one side and quietly thanking yourself for your practice. But implicitly, every pose, transition, and breath is gratitude in motion. The air in your lungs, the burn in your muscles, the triumph of good balance or nailing a difficult pose, the calm and rejuvenated feeling after class – it’s as if yoga was destined to teach its students not to take a single moment of yoga, or life, for granted.
And just as I’m grateful for my yoga practice, I’m grateful for my writing. This extends beyond the desire to write. Thanks to writing, I’ve had poems published in print and online journals, articles posted at writing resource websites, and an introduction included in a cookbook. I’ve accomplished so much and am proud of each victory. I’ve also made mistakes, suffered setbacks, and learned from each one. Thanks to writing, I’ve made countless new friends when normally I’d struggle to open up. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone by traveling for conferences and retreats (both regionally and internationally) and sharing some of the deepest parts of myself with the world.
Writing has made me more courageous, more resilient, more sure of myself. I might not be where I had hoped to be a few years ago, but that’s OK. Because, like with every moment of a yoga session, I’m thankful for every moment I’ve been writing, and I look forward to where they both take me in the future.
**My yoga instructor took the summer off from teaching due to her previous studio closing. Good news, though: She found a new location in September, so I’m back to spending Monday evenings with her. Yay!
Do you practice yoga as well? How have you benefited from making it part of your routine? How has your yoga practice made a positive impact on other areas of your life, creative or otherwise? And if you’re a writer, have you found other activities that are similar to or have positively influenced your writing?